Upham

Nina Upham

Fresh powder. Crisp mountain air. Beautiful scenery. We in the Pacific Northwest love skiing and snowboarding for good reasons. However, these winter sports carry their own unique risks. If you’re planning on heading to the hills for some winter therapy, make sure you know how to prevent accidents and injuries.

Knee ligament injuries, wrist fractures, shoulder injuries and head injuries are particularly common among skiers and snowboarders — and recovering from these problems is always harder than preventing them in the first place. 

Follow the tips below to stay safe and enjoy the whole season:

1. Build strength beforehand

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are athletic activities that burn around 400 calories an hour. Cross-country skiing can burn more. Staying active in the offseason can help you avoid injuries and soreness. It’s always important to get in a full-body workout, but if your focus is on prepping for snow season, make sure to fit in some lower-extremity strength training.

2. Don’t get tricky

Going too fast and attempting new tricks puts winter athletes at risk of injury. Remember to always stay in control of your speed. Should you wish to learn some new skills, work with a coach who can help you do so safely. Alcohol can lower people’s inhibitions and cause them to take unnecessary risks. It’s always best to ski sober.

3. Watch the conditions

The slopes tend to get icier the later in the day it gets. Be sure to adjust your speed and consider choosing easier runs as conditions deteriorate.

4. Ski and snowboard in designated areas

It’s safest to stay on groomed trails that are checked for safety and monitored by ski patrol. Backcountry skiing increases the risk of deep snow immersion and avalanches and should never be attempted alone.

5. Dress for the weather — and safety

Wear proper attire for the cold to help avoid frostnip and frostbite. A wicking base layer is good, especially for cross-country skiers, who tend to sweat more. Goggles are critical for protecting the eyes from sun, wind and snow. Use sunscreen on any exposed areas of skin. Snow intensifies sunlight and increases the chance of skin damage, even on cloudy days. A helmet can provide essential head protection.

6. Take care of your body

Treat your body well after it’s worked hard for you all day. Taking time to stretch decreases muscle tension, enhances flexibility, and reduces the risk of injuries. Enjoying a warm bath or relaxing in a hot tub or sauna can soothe tired muscles. It’s also important to keep up on your hydration by drinking plenty of water. See a doctor any time you have an injury that causes significant swelling or bruising or makes it difficult to move a joint. Pain that persists beyond a few days is another symptom that needs medical attention.

Dr. Nina Upham is a sports medicine physician at Vancouver Clinic. She enjoys educating her patients so they can make informed decisions about their care. She learned to ski as a child in Finland and enjoys getting up to Mount Hood in the winter.

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