Growing up, I always heard stories about my mom, the terrific skier—my uncle, too. See, they were ski instructors in college, teaching any and all how to maneuver the mountain at one of the best ski resorts. And when they weren’t teaching, they were zipping down black diamonds like it was no big deal at all. But here’s the thing: Somehow, some way, despite being the descendant of skiing royalty, I had never gone skiing growing up. Still, I (very foolishly) thought that it must run in my blood, so when my best friend said he wanted to go skiing while on our Colorado vacation in October 2019, I was all too eager to sign up without giving much thought to ski injuries.
I got my boots (hated every second of wearing them to the point that I nearly had a panic attack at the thought of potentially snapping my shin in half (they were that tight, but the ski shop dude said I just needed to get used to them) and my lift ticket, and forwent the offer for a professional lesson because my friends assured me they could teach me. (A little foreshadowing for you: They could not.)
Once we began our ascent up the mountain, I tried to relax and texted my mom to help ease my nerves. Surely she, a former kick-ass skier, would have the right words. But when I told her I was in the gondola, she just kept trying to correct me, noting that it’s actually called a ski lift, for a gondola goes to the top of the mountain. But you see, being the mountain’s opening day (it was Halloween), there wasn’t enough snow at the bottom of the mountain, so I had to go all the way to the tippy-top—some 12,000 feet in the air—to attempt the bunny slope. Let’s just say, it didn’t go well. From repeated falls and being unable to get up to falling straight backward on the conveyor belt back up the slope, holding up the entire line, and feeling like I was going to break my leg in the process, I decided it was time to call it a day.
All this to say, if you don’t want to end up like me on your first (or first-time-in-a-while) ski trip, keep reading to learn four ways to avoid ski injuries on the slopes this winter, according to ski expert Kelly Jensen, manager of The Alpineer, part of the Christy Sports brand of stores, in Crested Butte.
4 Tips To Prevent Ski Injuries This Winter
1. Stay hydrated.
This is important both before and during skiing. “Hydration is an important factor in life generally, but even more so during heavy activity or exercise,” Jensen says. “Dehydration can lead to poorly lubricated joints and impede proper muscle movement, while proper hydration can help prevent muscle cramps and tight muscles by maintaining the body’s ability to provide blood flow to working muscles.” With this in mind, maybe rethink the pre-slope party and hold off drinking until après-ski. Additionally, make sure to drink plenty of water both pre- and post-run to ensure you stay hydrated on the slopes.
2. Stretch before and after a day on the slopes
As with any sport, stretching is hugely beneficial prior to skiing. “Skiing can be a cold sport and that cold will affect your muscles,’’ Jensen says. “I stretch in the lift line and before the start of most runs.” When stretching, she says to focus on your hamstrings, quads, and calves. “If you are tight and react to an unseen obstacle or an off-balance moment, your muscles will fire hard or maybe not react quick enough to adjust,” Jensen says. “This can lead a myriad of different injuries to the leg or cause a fall that can lead to varying outcomes.”
3. Wear properly-fitted gear
It’s. So. Important. “Properly fitted ski boots can give the skier more control and thus the ability to make quick direction changes under control to avoid other skiers, trees, variable snow, and any other challenges that may need to be addressed during a day skiing,” Jensen says. “Also, if you are more focused on how bad your feet hurt you may not be in a great headspace to deal with quickly changing conditions.”
If you’ve never gone skiing before, you won’t know exactly what your gear is supposed to feel like — but it shouldn’t be painful. That said, don’t be shy about advocating for yourself and your comfort. Trust me, the last thing you want is to be traipsing around in too-tight boots, on the verge of tears worrying about what injury you might sustain.
In addition to your boots, Jensen says to pay attention to your bindings. “Bindings are an integral part of system safety and cannot be understated,” she says. “Improperly adjusted bindings can very quickly lead to an injury. If the release values are set too high, you may not come out of the bindings in the event of a crash which can result in various knee and lower leg injuries.”
4. Listen to your body
Last but not least, Jensen says to listen to your body. — before and while skiing. “Often, I ease into my ski day with a mellower run whenever I can,’ she shares. “Jumping right into the ‘gnar’ without assessing where your body is at that day may lead to your brain out skiing your body and in aggressive terrain that can result in a fall with consequences.” Additionally, she says that knowing when to call it a day is paramount. After all, skiing while fatigued can lead to ski injuries.
“Skiing can be a very demanding sport with evolving conditions throughout the day so remember these tips, have fun, and keep it injury-free,” Jensen encourages us.
As for me, will I go back out on the mountain? Sure. Will I skip the lesson or head straight to the top? Absolutely not.