If you have ever wanted to learn how to ski, or if you ski already but have not much experience in skiing or snowboarding then you may find this article useful.
Most Common Injuries
The most common ski injury one can have is a knee injury, mainly the knee ligaments. When it comes to snowboarding it is usually the wrists that tend to get injured the most often. Although knees can also be at risk while boarding when using the lifts, or having to move when only attached to one binding.
While there is loads of information about how to avoid skiing or snowboarding injuries, they are quite generic i.e. drinking plenty of water, warming up, wearing helmet and all the right equipment. It seems like there is lack of mindset advise.
The advise I am going to give you is based on personal experience, watching other people get injured and having to go through injury myself.
Skiing might seem to be quite challenging when you first start doing it, and it can be quite frightening and overwhelming. Once you have the basics such as; the right binding setting for your weight and experience, the right boots and a helmet which you should get from a ski rental company, or get a professional from a ski shop to do it for you, you can then start focusing on the skiing part.
When I started skiing, I had no lessons from any ski instructors as I did not really want to pay for it. This may or may not be the best thing to do, as professional tips and coaching can be really useful. However I had loads of friends who were patient enough to tell me few things about skiing when I tried to learn it.
Learning to Ski
The way I started was definitely the worst way to learn how to ski, and certainly the most effective. This was the first time I went skiing in my adulthood life. I did ski as a child, but could not remember anything, so I was literally at beginner’s level.
I went out skiing before the ski slopes were made ready and before they opened for the winter season. In addition it was windy and it was snowing. At that point I did not even know what gear I needed. All I had was the ski jacket and salopettes. I did not have any goggles, no scarf or proper gloves. All I wanted to do is to follow my friends and go skiing with them. I thought it won’t be a big deal as I spent around 5 years playing ice hockey so I though I could easily pick this up.
So I went skiing without knowing how to stop, in very bad weather conditions. With deep snow and second to none visibility I started my lessons to learn how to ski.
As I followed the team, I started to realise that this may end very badly. It started on a quite easy blue run and it quickly turned into a red run. For people that do not know what this means, it is basically the level of difficulty, speed and how steep the slope is. Green and blue are the easy slow runs, whereas reds and blacks are the advanced runs.
I was pretty much asking for something really bad to happen to me. Fortunately for me I managed to stay in one piece, however unfortunately for one of my friends it ended in a snapped ACL ligament in the knee. She was also on a beginner’s level.
As the winter season went on, I was skiing and getting better day by day and this carried on for about 2 months. I think the key why I was not in hospital until that point was the confidence that I had. I thought I could do whatever other skiers could do. I had no fear to make mistakes.
I took a lot of falls at the beginning. The ski falls I took were usually pretty funny and not painful. I have been skiing on reds, blacks and even started to learn how to ski off piste.
My ACL injury
Unfortunately on one of the days, when the slopes were quite icy I decided to take a short cut. Skiing through little bits off piste, to get back to the hotel quicker. I was following more experienced skiers who tried to make it easy for me to follow.
Then the worst happened. I took a bad fall, as I came across hard piece of ice under the snow which send one of my skis off my boots and the other ski has not came off when I fell causing big strain on me knee and resulting in my ligaments to snap.
When I started my rehabilitation with the ski physio, we had loads of time to chat, and one of the things I learned from the physio, which helps me to understand why I have not had an injury until that point was because of the speed. The physio did tell me that most of the ski injuries happen on slow speeds, because there is not enough momentum for the bindings to release.
This fall I took which caused the injury was definitely not the hardest, scariest or frightening fall I had this winter. I took falls before doing like 50-70 km/h on red runs, where the goggles, ski poles and skis went flying and flying for meters down the mountain, including me rolling down doing flips, eating snow and and knocking other skiers out on the way, where nothing serious ever happened. Those falls looked so bad that it made other people stop, be worried and ask if I was okay, and I was always great. However when I did injure myself I was going pretty slow as my confidence levels weren’t high, the shortcut was short and it happened not long after I’ve set off.
Thinking back and linking this knowledge to the fall my friend took at the first ski of the winter, which resulted in same injury I could clearly remember she was going really slow. The reasons for this were the weather conditions and the state of the slope, which created a lot of fear, stress and lack of confidence.
The same goes for boarding, the closest friend I had which I shared my accommodation with ended up with a dislocated shoulder, while boarding on a green run in front of the hotel. He is an experienced snowboarder and can easily do all the advanced runs. Many times when he took falls when we went on jumps nothing ever happened, due to speed that was needed to do a jump. Whereas the time he was not paying much attention and was going slow on a green run, it ended in a very painful injury.
There is two conclusions which I learned from this experience; one is to not take short cuts, do not ski in risky conditions and do not go off piste and the other conclusion is to fully one hundred percent go for it and do not slow down or hesitate. I know which one I would rather pick, but I leave it to you to decide.
When it comes to snowboarding, luckily I did not have any injuries from this activity, however it is slightly different and high speed falls hurt a lot on a board. When you catch an edge going fast, it can get really painful.
However when it comes to falling, usually on a higher speed you won’t have enough time to try and stop the fall, which is the prime reason for injuries when snowboarding. The reason why it is usually the wrists and shoulders that get hurt is because naturally we try to stop ourselves from falling. We have this automated reaction where we put our hands in front of our body to stop the fall somehow. This does not work, and can result in bone fractures and unpleasant injuries.
The issue with board is that it won’t come off when we fall, so going too fast can be dangerous when inexperienced.
Keep your hands close to your body
The key to avoid injuries on a snowboard is to keep your hands close to your body when you fall, but going in at steady speed with confidence is also important. This rule kind of works with most of sports, where you become hesitant and try to back off from doing something at the last minute. This will actually result in a higher chance of hurting yourself than if you were to go for it and fail.
Going on lifts
Last thing, when you board and have to take off your binding to move when going on a lift, try to go steady and push yourself off with the board being in front of you rather than behind you.
It is easy to twist your knee the same way, as if you had a ski fall and skis did not come off. This could result in a snapped ACL, which is a serious injury. I would probably avoid butt lifts when snowboarding for beginners, I nearly ended up with this injury on a butt lift. When you fall and only one leg is attached to the binding, the knee can twist dangerously.
I would definitely recommend getting some professional coaching when it comes to boarding, it is slightly more tricky than learning how to ski. You can however watch some YouTube tutorials that can illustrate how to behave on a snowboard.