There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as standing at the top of a mountain, sun glinting off the snowy pistes, ready to whoosh down the slopes for a day of skiing. But skiing can be a dangerous sport, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the risks involved before you go.
Get fit before you go
Skiing is vigorous physical exercise, so it’s important to be reasonably fit. If you spend your life shuttling between your desk chair and sofa, you are far more likely to injure yourself when you hit the slopes, so undertake a skiing exercise program for at least a few weeks before you go.
Take Out a Good Insurance Policy
Skiing is classified as a dangerous sport, so you need to take out an insurance policy which explicitly covers it. Make sure it includes all the activities you will do on your holiday, such as skiing off-piste, heli-skiing or tobogganing.
Use the Correct Gear
Hypothermia and frostbite can occur when exercising in cold weather and particularly at high altitudes. Wear protective clothing, including goggles, gloves and padded outer clothes. Underneath your outer layer, wear several layers of light, loose water and wind-resistant clothing for warmth.
Skiing on a sunny day can make you feel very hot, but the low outdoor temperatures quickly cool you down when you stop moving. Layering allows you to adjust to your body’s constantly changing temperature.
In addition, the weather can change dramatically in the mountains in a very short time. It is also important to have the right equipment. Well-fitting boots will help you avoid cold feet, blisters and shin splints. Bindings must also be properly adjusted to release when you lose control. When you fall your ski can act as a long lever, causing your leg to twist dangerously resulting in nasty injuries.
Beware of the Sun
We all hope for good weather on our skiing holidays, and there’s no doubt that sunny weather makes for great skiing conditions, but the sun in Alpine resorts can be very strong even on overcast days. Use a sun block of at least SPF 30 to protect your skin.
Also wear wraparound sunglasses or goggles to prevent snow blindness, a painful condition caused when your cornea gets damaged by the sun. In severe cases, snow blindness can cause permanent damage.
Avalanches and Off-Piste Dangers
In extreme weather conditions any resort may be at risk of avalanche, so never ignore warnings. Resorts will put up signs and flags when avalanche danger is present but do not rely on these alone, ask for local advice on a daily basis.
If a piste is closed, it is because it is unsafe, so never ski on runs which are closed. Skiing off-piste can carry added risks, and you shouldn’t do it without a trained guide otherwise you’re likely to invalidate your insurance.
Improvements in equipment and snow grooming mean people can ski faster than ever before, easily reaching speeds of 40 miles an hour. This increases the likelihood of losing control and the seriousness of the resulting injury.
It has been estimated that the use of helmets would prevent or reduce the severity of head injuries by about 50%. You may feel silly wearing a helmet, but they are increasingly becoming the norm, and could save your life.
Particular care needs to be taken of children when skiing. They are more susceptible than adults to hypothermia and frostbite and can also put themselves at risk because they don’t fully understand the dangers involved or know their limits. Children should always wear helmets.
When we think of skiing holidays, we think of long, leisurely lunches in Alpine cafes, with plenty of beer or gluhwein. But alcohol can affect you more quickly at high altitude, slowing your reactions and limiting your awareness of danger and cold. 70% of skiing accidents happen after lunch, many caused by a combination of tiredness and alcohol.