Regrettably some trips to the ski fields end with a trip to the doctors or after hours medical centre. Dr Alistair Blomley, Medical Director at Riccarton Clinic, says, “Working in a clinic with x-ray facilities, which is on the way home for many people as they return from their day on the slopes, I get to see lots of snow sport-related injuries.”
Wrist injuries are the most common thing seen over the winter months as a consequence of a fall when skiing or riding. It's instinctive to put your hand out on falling. This transmits significant force through the wrist joint. Dr Blomley says, “We call this a FOOSH injury (Fall Onto an Out-Stretched Hand) and often damages a wrist bone called the Scaphoid or the bottom end of one of the two forearm bones – usually the Radius. Both injuries are painful and will consume a lot of your precious time!” An adult with a fractured Scaphoid or Radius may 'just' need a cast but this could still be for up to eight weeks. This may mean you need alternate duties at work for this time, or if you have a physical occupation you may not be able to work at all. It almost goes without saying that it will seriously limit your time on the slopes too. We are fortunate in NZ to have ACC which provides earnings related compensation. They will pay 80% of your wage after the first week of incapacity, however, this often makes things pretty tight if your budget was already a stretch and if you are self employed it can be a disaster!.
Dr Blomley warns that, “a more significant fracture can lead to surgery, prolonged rehabilitation, more time off work, and then possible long term joint stiffness and a risk of early arthritis.”
Doom and gloom from a single moment where it all goes pear-shaped. So, the key to maximising time on the slopes and avoiding injury is to do everything you can to avoid that accident.
Dr Blomley spends much of his normal working day advising people on how to reduce risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other illness, by following healthy lifestyle advice. Many of the same messages can be extended to injury prevention, with a few additions specific for winter sports.
Fit for purpose?
Don't be a couch potato all summer, then expect to be able to rip up the slopes. Spend some time getting fit for the snow season. Optimise your weight – this can seriously save your knees! Stop smoking. Drink in moderation. Too wet or cold to go outside to exercise? Too expensive to go the gym? These are EXCUSES. There is ALWAYS something you can do. Bodyweight exercises engage multiple muscle groups, like skiing, and strengthen the core too – check YouTube for examples. Get the legs strong with some hill walking, running or cycling.
Having modern and well fitting equipment is essential. Ideally get your own – fitted by a pro. If this is not an option, then rental equipment is now of a very high standard and will be adjusted correctly for your height and weight. Unless you really know what you are doing, be cautious about borrowing gear or buying second hand. A bargain pair of skis could turn out to be costly if they are responsible for a broken leg!
Helmets really are a no brainer. Just get one and WEAR IT. There is evidence that the use of wrist guards when snowboarding can reduce the risk of wrist fracture in a fall and many ski fields insist on it when hiring equipment. Don't forget to get some suncream on and use a decent pair of sunnies or goggles, depending on the day. It is easy to burn when on snow, at altitude, on a nice clear winter day.
You are never too good, or too old, to benefit from a lesson. Good technique will use your main muscle groups and avoid overusing those minor muscle groups that quickly tire and remain sore for days.
Try to contain your enthusiasm. If conditions are marginal, then wait for them to improve. It is surprising how busy the icy slopes can be on a freezing cold and windy day early in the season, and how quiet they can be on a sunny day toward the end of the season. Being collected by an out-of-control snowboarder hurts as much as a self-inflicted tumble and is more likely on a busy day.
Ski and ride within your abilities. Be aware of your surroundings. Obey the rules! This not only applies to on the ski field, but also on the access road on the way up. Don't drive like a muppet.
Nice to have some tunes on the go but save them for the lift queue and the lift. You'll ski and ride better if you can focus on your technique and hear what is going on around you.
Food, fluid, and fatigue
Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol on the slopes. Ensure you eat before you leave home and take regular breaks during the day. Be wary of going for that 'just one more' run. It is at the end of the day, often on tired legs and in flat light, that many injuries occur.
Dr Blomley says, “When you consider the cost of a season pass and equipment, plus the potential costs of time off work if injured, then avoiding injury in the first place makes a lot of sense!”