With his outside knee straight between his hip and ankle - not bent and tucked in against his inside leg - Bill McCawley demonstrates the proper way to make a turn with modern skis. Turning with the knee between the hip and ankle can help prevent ACL injuries.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

With his outside knee straight between his hip and ankle - not bent and tucked in against his inside leg - Bill McCawley demonstrates the proper way to make a turn with modern skis. Turning with the knee between the hip and ankle can help prevent ACL injuries.

ACL injuries can sideline skiers for the year

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Bill McCawley demonstrates an improper way to stand up after a fall. The method shown here, pushing into a crouching position with only the uphill arm, is dangerous for the knees.

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Bill McCawley shows the proper way to stand up after a fall. It's easier on the knees to push with the uphill arm and reach across with the downhill arm using a ski pole.

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Andrew Barfield demonstrates a dangerous stance, sitting back on his skis with his outside knee tucked at an awkward angle. If one of his skis caught a mogul or hit a pile of snow, he'd be at risk of blowing out his ACL.

Protect your knees

Skiers are 365 times more likely to blow out their knee than members of the general public. Here are a few tips to help avoid such a season-ending injury:

- Stay out of the danger zone, which is having weight on the back of your skis, hips below your knees and arms and shoulders back.

- Ski with a hip-wide stance and keep the outside knee on a turn between your foot and hip.

- Keep arms and hands forward during a fall, then wait until coming to a complete stop before standing up.

- Don't stand up into a knees-bent crouch. Try and push off the snow laterally into a standing position.

On the 'Net

Check out the ACL injury prevention video featuring Steamboat Ski Area's Nelson Wingard

— Dave Moon blew out his ACL eight years ago, and he didn't feel at all bad about it.

"I was skiing at a high speed on a very difficult run at Jackson Hole," he said. "We got in some rocks that were covered. We didn't even know we were skiing through boulders."

Just what lay under those snow-covered bumps became obvious as he flew toward an even larger boulder field. He slammed on the brakes to avoid hurtling into them, and in doing so, he blew out his anterior cruciate ligament.

It was an entirely different story when he blew his other ACL just a month ago. That injury was preventable, and because of that, he said it was all the more regrettable.

"I was teaching a lesson - a slow intermediate - and took a fall. It was a very soft fall into my hip, and I was sliding down the hill at like 3 miles per hour," he said. "The mistake I made was trying to get up out of a fall. I didn't even think about it, I was going so slow.

"My ski caught an edge, caught the snow and stopped. With my body weight still going down, it torqued my knee. I felt my knee dip, then a pop."

Like that, his ski season was over, even before much of the Steamboat Ski Area had opened for the winter.

Solving a problem

ACL injuries can be a nightmare for skiers and snowboarders everywhere. With a few simple precautions, the risk of sustaining and injury can dramatically be reduced.

That's the message in a video prepared for resort employees by Pinnacol Assurance, the Steamboat Ski Area's worker's compensation insurance company.

Pinnacol provides the insurance for 15 different ski resorts in Colorado. On-staff ACL injuries plague them all.

"One of the most expensive injuries we deal with (is) the ACL, and we have a lot of people skiing for a living and there is a high number of injuries," said Keith Rice, Pinnacol's ACL prevention expert. "We started working with a number of ski areas to help bring those numbers down."

Rice headed an effort to put together a new video that became required viewing for Steamboat employees. With the help of experts at many of the insured resorts - including Steamboat Ski & Snowboard School Director Nelson Wingard - he wrote a script and served as director for the clip.

"As ski school director, I'm looking to do anything I can to keep my people safe on our mountain," Wingard said. "The video idea came out of a conversation Keith and I had at a risk management conference. Some of the knee injuries related to the way people were approaching the sport.

"We were having enough injuries that it was definitely worth investing my time in."

The message

Wingard said one primary problem is that people haven't learned to ski correctly on the parabola-shaped skis that now dominate the market.

"Technology in skiing has changed, so your ski technique needs to as well," Rice said, pointing out that such a change can prove especially difficult for ski patrollers and others who mastered the craft decades ago. "People that learned to ski on straight boards have a habit of tucking their knee in severely so they can get to the edge of the ski. With new skis, they don't need to do that.

"When you tuck that knee, it's in a vulnerable position. That's the way the older guys did it, but it's not going to work today."

A more modern technique involves tilting the ski on its edge by tilting at the hip more than the knee. The result leaves the leg on the outside of a turn straight from the ankle, through the knee to the hip.

It's also dangerous when a skier is leaning back.

The "danger zone" is when skiers have their weight on the back of their skis, their hips below their knees and their hands and shoulders back behind the knees. Sitting far in the "back seat," an ACL can easily pop if a ski were to catch on the snow or slam into a mogul or heavier snow.

Danger also can flare up during and after a fall.

"I should have stayed down and let myself slide to a complete stop," Moon said.

It's important to stand back up without putting unnecessary stress on the knee. It's at times easier pulling up into a crouch, then standing up. It's safer, however, to push up from the slope and straight into a standing position.

Corrections

The video featuring Wingard debuted before the 2007-08 ski season. It seemed to have an effect, as ACL injuries among ski school instructors took a nosedive.

A new version of the video may be in the works. In that, Nelson said he'd like to see snowboarding injuries addressed in greater detail.

"That was one of the big criticisms. We do a poor job addressing snowboards," Wingard said. "One of the leading causes of snowboard injuries is a board getting nudged while waiting in a liftline."

Whatever the cause, Moon said the injury is devastating.

"It's a nightmare injury because you're looking at surgery and rehab, and you're going to be out for a while," he said. "I try to ski smarter (since his first injury), and I try to know what certain situations to stay out of. That's why I kick myself because of this injury. I should have known better."

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