Monday, January 7, 2013

Safety on the Hills

      Spring is a mere ten weeks away and January and February can be the snowiest months in the mid-Atlantic. You can either remain indoors for the long haul or embrace what nature offers. Downhill skiing and snowboarding let you take in the winter wonderland and get much-need winter exercise. But if you’re new to snow sports, you’ll want to take a lesson to learn how to put on the gear, move around, slide downhill and stop—all skills needed to avoid potential accidents.

Injury on the slopes 
     All sports involve a chance of injury. Area ski resorts prepare for occasional falls and accidents by equipping its slopes with ski patrollers and onsite first aid clinics. “Skiing, snowboarding and tubing enjoy excellent safety records,” says Mike Schuman, safety director at Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. While most injuries require basic first aid like bandaging, splinting and applying ice, Whitetail establishes guidelines with hospitals such as Meritus Medical Center to provide important information about injured ski resort customers. “We have an understanding of what kind of information the hospital needs and how they want our care here to be consistent with what they’re going to follow up on,” explains Mike.

      Orthopedic surgeon Ralph Salvagno, M.D. with the Center for Joint Surgery and Sports Medicine and trauma surgeon at Meritus Medical Center, is often called in for ski injuries. “Typically with skiers you tend to see long bone injuries such as the tibia, which is the lower bone beneath the knee and femur,” explains Dr. Salvagno. Snowboarders often fall backward, use their hands to brace the impact and find themselves with a wrist fracture or shoulder injury.

      In both skiing and snowboarding, beginners suffer almost three times more injuries than the more experienced participants, according to the Wilderness Medical Society. A skier’s ability, speed and the improper adjustment of equipment are factors in snow sport injuries. Both Dr. Salvagno and Mike from Whitetail agree that prevention is key. “Everybody likes to see the tricks, but you really need to ski within your limits,” warns Dr. Salvagno. Before you take on the mountain, follow these snow sport guidelines.

Snow Sport Safety 101
  • Get professionally fitted for all ski gear and buy or rent skis that are appropriate for your skiing ability. According to the National Institute of Health, poorly adjusted bindings are directly related to injuries. Bindings are adjusted to your height and weight, so have your bindings and boots fitted at a ski shop. For ski poles, make sure your arms form right angles when the handles of the poles touch the ground and your hands grasp the tips. 
  • Wear a ski-specific helmet, not a bike helmet 
  • Take a lesson. Beginners and moderate skiers or boarders benefit from lessons that provide basic skills such as turning and stopping, operating your equipment and preventing injuries. 
  • Avoid frostbite or hypothermia by dressing for warmth. Choose mittens over gloves, invest in snow/ski pants and dress in layers.
  • Ski with a friend and obey the skier safety code (printed on lift tickets and posted throughout the ski area). Stick to the posted runs and never ski into an “off limits” area. 
  • Stop skiing when you feel tired. Snow sports can be physically demanding. Also, drink plenty of water as dehydration affects endurance. 
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. First, your senses need to remain sharp hitting the hills and second, alcohol is a diuretic and may cause or worsen dehydration. 
  • Know your skiing abilities. If you’re a beginner, stick to the “green” runs. According to the Wilderness Medical Society, most skiing fatalities occur in people who exhibit high-risk behavior. 
     Whitetail and other area ski resorts run programs that encourage helmet and ski safety. “We do everything we can to get information into the hands of people who are coming here so they can ski and snowboard defensively and really reduce their risk,” emphasizes Mike Schuman.

By: Anne Gill and Linda Norris 

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