No shortage of safety tips to keep skiers and riders plowing the powder
January 10, 2013
Steamboat Springs — There's enough snow to ski almost every corner of Steamboat Ski Area, and hopefully plenty of powder in the forecast. This is the sweet part of the season. Here are a few safety tips to help skiers and snowboarders navigate the season without injury:
Be bound to good bindings
Vermont-based ski safety expert Carl Ettlinger has been documenting skiing injuries at Sugerbush Resort in Vermont and studying ski equipment for four decades. He said there's plenty of fine equipment out there, but that in some ways bindings have regressed because companies are ditching what once were standard safety features to trim costs on low-end models.
He said the safest bindings don't depend much on the ski boot.
"The more the boot has to slide inside the toe of the binding, the more you'll be held hostage to that environment," he said.
You don't want much or any motion between the binding and the boot, and an antifriction device is important.
Boots can be key
Ettlinger also had advice for proper boots. The hardness of the plastic is important. Check the areas of the boot that will be in contact with the binding, and make sure those spots are made of tough plastic. If you can scratch into it with a finger nail and leave a mark, it's too soft.
Mike Rakowski, a 24-year veteran of backcountry guiding for Steamboat Powdercats, said it’s essential to carry the necessary equipment for a trip into the backcountry.
That means avalanche beacons, proves and shovels.
"Having them and knowing how to use them is No. 1," Rakowski said.
Ettlinger has compiled a website filled with tips. Some of the most persistent tips relate to falling correctly. Plenty of knees are wrecked after a skier already is destined to hit the dust. Falling properly can avoid that.
First, he suggests a skier refrain from fully straightening the legs in a fall.
"If your ultimate goal is to bail out by means of a controlled fall, knees should remain flexed until you have stopped sliding," he said.
Don't get up until you've come to a complete stop. Trying to pop right back up can put a lot of unnecessary stress on a knee and easily can lead to a season-ending injury.
Don't use hands to break a fall.
"Keep your arms up and forward in any kind of fall," Ettlinger said. "Pushing off or breaking your fall with your uphill arm greatly increases the chance of injury."
Ski with a friend
There's a lot that can go wrong, even for those skiing safely, and having a buddy nearby is no guarantee against the potential dangers.
Ettlinger said a skier who ends up head down in a heap of snow needs to remain calm; panic will only make things worse. Then kick off the skis, if possible. That will make it a lot easier to dig out. Then find an airway.
It's all easier with a friend.
"There's never a downside to skiing with another human being," he said.
What you take into your body on a day of skiing or riding might easily go overlooked, but Dr. Delia Roberts, who put together a series of tips for ski resort employees, said it can be essential to maintaining energy and reaction time on the slopes, and that can help avoid injury.
Athletes who followed her eating program were able to react as much as a full second faster when faced with a complex visual stimulus.
Her main key: complex carbohydrates. That means starches, not sugars.
"It can make a really big difference to your energy level," she said.
Her suggestions for breakfast included wholegrain, no-sugar cereal with low-fat milk or toast with nonfat cream cheese and fresh fruit. She advised power snacks during the day, such as whole grain bagels, low-fat and high-protein muffins, fresh fruit, raw veggies or nuts, among other items.
For lunch, she again pointed to avoiding processed food and sugars.
"I would suggest a whole-grain bread with lean chicken or turkey, veggies, a piece of fruit and a glass of milk would be perfect," she said.
If that's tough to find at your particular lunch stop, a grilled-chicken sandwich on a wheat bun can fill in.
"But I'd stay away from the fries," she warned.
It all comes down to blood sugar fluctuations and avoiding them.
Roberts said some skiers will try to avoid drinking lots of liquids in order to avoid bathroom stops.
That's not the most solid logic. She said staying hydrated is very important, and it can affect mental capacity and muscle aches.
The key to drinking water and avoiding those time-consuming bathroom breaks is to sip it rather than chug it.
"If you chug it, the kidneys think it's too much, but a sip at a time will get you through the day," she said.
That Stoker beer with lunch doesn't have to be a day-ruiner, either. But it does dehydrate, so Roberts said to compensate with an extra cup of water.
Be physically fit
Skiing and snowboarding can be tough business, and hitting the slope without being in at least moderate physical shape can keep a skier from preventing an injury.
Balance is among the most important traits on the mountain. Keep upright, knees above the hips and arms out in front. That's a lot easier with good core strength.
"People don't normally think about skiing and their core. They think about strong legs, but a core will help maintain the right position on skis," she said. "When you're skiing and the light is not quite so good and you hit something unexpected, you need the ability to recover, and that usually requires your core, not your legs."
Rakowski said he's seen massive changes in equipment in his more than two decades guiding on Buffalo Pass, and that much of that has helped reduce injuries. There still is plenty today's skiers and riders can do to stay safe.
"We tell people to ski without pole straps in the backcountry," he said. "There's more of a chance of getting it caught in shrubbery. Skiing without the strap reduces shoulder injuries."
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com
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