Tips to Avoid Injuries on the Slopes

After all the time and money spent planning a winter getaway, why would you take any risks? Here are steps to help avoid injuries on your ski trip.


Ski patrollers are some of the most unappreciated people on the mountain—until you need them in an emergency. Unless you’re getting caught for ducking a rope, or careening out of control on a beginner slope, odds are you're staring at a red coat with a white cross due to an injury. Getting a sled ride down the mountain is probably not one of the top things you thought of while planning your ski trip.

While many ski injuries are sometimes unavoidable, there are things you can do to help minimize injuries and get your money’s worth out of your ski vacation, rather than spending it on medical bills.

Choose Your Gear Wisely

Beginning- to intermediate-level riders who rent ski or snowboard gear can sometimes buy the wrong gear. What will help you the most in this situation? Don't lie about your weight or ability.

Why? When you rent skis, the shop will make adjustments (known as release, or DIN settings) based on weight and ability, which will help keep you in your skis, but more importantly, get you out of them quickly in case of a bad fall. The most common skiing injury is a tear to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knees, which is often the result of a ski that stays on your foot as you twist and fall backward on the slope.

Skis and snowboards that are too long, too stiff or too heavy can make a good day go bad very quickly. Skis that you can’t turn quickly can get you into trouble, and heavy skis can tire you out quickly—if you’re relying on pure strength over technique.

The most critical piece of gear in either skiing or snowboarding is a well-fitting boot—not too big or too small. Good quality ski socks (not cotton, and not too thick) can be your best investment. A proper boot fit can help avoid blisters, shin splints and the worst discomfort—cold feet. If you decide to buy your own equipment, look for a shop with a boot-fitting specialist.  

Don’t Get in Over Your Head

Ability-wise, you should always ski or ride with control and avoid terrain that is above your skill level. On the flipside, you become a better skier by pushing your limits and trying out newer and steeper terrain.

Double black diamonds will come in time, but only after you have sufficient lessons and practice on easier slopes. Don’t venture outside of resort boundaries without a qualified guide or the necessary knowledge and equipment if you find yourself in avalanche territory.

Ski etiquette also states that you always are responsible for avoiding people in front of you. This is especially critical when you are a fast skier coming up on slower beginner skiers, who often take erratic turns and can be difficult to get around.

Shaping Up for Your Ski Vacation

Being in good physical shape is the No. 1 thing you can do to get the most out of your ski trip. You don’t need to be an elite athlete, but you’d be surprised how much a little gym time can make a difference. Getting physically strong will in turn help you become a stronger skier. After all, don’t you want to be able to ski as many runs as you can, every day, without getting exhausted too quickly?

During the weeks before your trip, look for Pilates-based workouts or sports-specific conditioning classes at your local gym. In addition, try to concentrate on these key areas:

  • Cardio Fitness. Spend three to five days a week, doing at least 45 minutes of cardio work. It may come in handy at high altitude, and will definitely help if you want to try cross country skiing instead of downhill pursuits. [Read about how to minimize the risks of altitude sickness.]
  • Legs and Knees. Simple squats, lunges and weight lifting go a long way toward preventing major injuries.
  • Core Strength. Tweaking your back on the hill isn’t fun. Use an exercise ball to work on abs and back extensions.

If you do feel tired while skiing or snowboarding, it’s important to listen to your body and take breaks as necessary. If you’re on the trail, pull off to the side—never stop in the middle, below a jump or blind rollover. If you can, head to the closest lodge for water and a snack, and rest for a little while before heading back out.

If you’ve really overdone it on the slopes in the morning, don’t overdo it and push yourself to ski all day. There’s nothing wrong with quitting a little early if it helps prevent a serious injury. Besides, there are (usually) fewer people in the resort hot tub in the mid-afternoon.


2008 Ski Season Opening Days
See the 2008 list for opening days for the top ski and snowboard resorts in the United States and Canada.

Themes: Mountain Vacations

Activities: Skiing, Snowboarding

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