We all love the summers in the Colorado High Country, but summer isn’t what we really came here for… it’s Winter!! No more #WinterIsComing memes required: Ski season is here! You’ve watched the new Warren Miller movie, waxed your sticks, and made your annual shot-ski toast to Ullr so you are ready #kickaxis and ski, right?
…Almost! Before you head out the door, you might want to slow your roll and make sure your body is prepared for the season! No one wants to get a season-ending injury, especially before the season has really had the chance to get going. Here at Axis, we have found that preparation and prevention are always preferable to recovery! We had a wonderful talk by our own PT, Sean Juarez, over in Eagle this fall, about ski injuries. Let’s review the top injuries we see from skiing every season, how they occur and a few basic things you can do to prevent them from ever happening!
Everyone started somewhere when it comes to skiing, and you probably spent your fair share of time falling down too. Head injuries are very common, ranging from a small bonk to a severe concussion, which usually result from falls, skier vs. stationary object collisions (trees, snow guns) or skier vs. skier collisions.
The best thing you can do to prevent a head injury is to wear a helmet! Find a comfortable one that fits your head well. Jazz it up with stickers or even install some wireless speakers if you need some extra incentive to wear one. Also important is to know your limits as a skier. Ski in control at all times, don’t get into terrain above your skill level (or at least know a way out of that terrain) and be aware of other skiers around you.
We hate seeing knee injuries, but they certainly can happen when you strap 5-foot wooden planks to your feet! The most common injuries we see are strains or tears of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) or the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). Injury to the MCL is usually the result of falling when the feet are rotated (for example, when snowplowing). ACL injuries usually happen when landing with bad form from a jump or when you are fighting to prevent a fall.
The best prevention of a knee injury is preparation! Strengthening the muscles around the joint can help protect your knees, as well as improve your skiing ability. Squats, bridges and other leg-focused exercises can help build your quads, hamstrings and calf muscles, which will all work to keep your knee in alignment.
Your equipment is also key to knee injury prevention. Make sure you have your ski boots and bindings inspected and ASTM tested annually at your local ski shop. The ski techs will test the bindings for your body weight and height (be honest on your paperwork!) to make sure they will release correctly in a fall. If bindings are set correctly, they should help prevent too much torque on your ligaments.
The shoulder is a fairly loosely constructed joint that can be subjected to awkward forces during a fall. The most common injuries we see are damage to the rotator cuff, dislocations and broken clavicles (collarbones). The most frequent culprit behind a shoulder injury is actually your ski poles. If the tip is planted or caught on something, and you fall with your wrists strapped in, it can create an opposite force on your shoulder joint.
The most basic prevention is to not use your ski pole wrist straps, especially when skiing in trees or high-traffic areas where you are more likely to catch them. That way if you do catch them on a branch, or if you do fall, your hands will be able to release the poles safely.
Injury to your Ulnar Collateral Ligament is so common, it’s actually referred to as “skiers’ thumb.” Most cases of thumb injuries result from falling with a ski pole in your hand. Like with shoulder injury prevention is as simple as unstrapping your wrists from your ski poles, so that if you fall, you can let go and the poles harmlessly fall to the ground.
To prevent ANY injury, you should be building up your strength, balance and agility, with special focus on a strong core and leg strength. If you’ve been recovering for an injury, or just slacking in the offseason, it’s never too late to #DropItLikeItsHot and get some extra squats in! Check out our Stay on the Snow Blog for more exercises you can do to prepare for ski season.
Start each day with a warm-up lap to get your muscles all firing. Colder muscles are more prone to injury, so take it easy at first and lap some easy green or blue runs. Chairlifts cause a lot of falls. Know what chairlift you are going to get on and make sure you know how to load. If you aren’t sure, watch a few skiers get on before you, especially on the T-Bars at Breckenridge and Vail! Most injuries happen when you are tired, so take breaks when you need them. After all, it’s a great excuse to have another hot cocoa or burrito in the lodge!
Falling is how we learn and improve sometimes. It’s ok to fall, but if you feel a little less-than-confident and you need an early-season skill tune-up, don’t be shy about taking a lesson! All ski resorts offer single day adult clinics for all levels of skier and some even have a discount for season pass holders. There are women-specific ski clinics and multi-session clinics offered at all our local resorts, although we are very partial to the women’s program at Araphaoe Basin! No matter how long you’ve been skiing, lessons and clinics can be great to bring your skiing to the next level, or even make new ski buddies. #Skiwithabuddy is always wise, in case someone does have an unfortunate accident, or in case you forget where you parked the car at the end of the day!
Equipment matters, so take care of yours. We already covered the importance of bindings, but having your skis waxed and tuned makes a difference in your ability to ski smooth and straight. Be sure to wear your helmet to protect your noggin (and look super sweet) and make sure your boots are fitted properly so you can enjoy your day on the mountain.
Preparation is the best prevention, so take the time to prepare yourself for ski season. It will be worth it when you can #kickaxis all season long!