The primary prevention for reducing ski injuries is to be well conditioned beforehand. A majority of downhill skiers report being injured when they are too tired to avoid a fall.
Cross country skiing also requires conditioning before the season begins as it is an intense aerobic activity that involves many muscle groups. Many skiers use running for preseason conditioning, but care must be taken to begin slowly, before gradually increasing the activity.
Many ski injuries are the result of inadequate bindings. Although today's ski bindings are a great improvement over those of 10 years ago, precaution must be maintained. It's important to give one's correct age, height and skiing ability to the ski shop mechanic. The mechanic uses this information to properly set the bindings. At the start of the ski season, the skier must have his bindings checked for proper releasing of the boot from the ski.
Downhill skiing has its own inherent hazards. It is now recommended that skiers of all ages wear helmets to reduce the possibility of head injuries. When one visits mountain resorts today, they will observe that most children wear helmets for protection. When falls on the mountain lead to either severe head injuries or even death, one possible thought is, would a helmet help prevent such tragedies?
Cross country skiing is a popular alternative to walking or jogging in the winter. It is a healthy social activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. This form of skiing is a demanding sport that combines cardiopulmonary fitness and endurance without the pounding forces to the extremities. Cross-country skiers have the highest maximum oxygen uptake level recorded in competitive athletes.
An important factor in cross country skiing is proper dress in extreme cold. It is advisable to wear several thin layers of clothing that will allow both heat retention and ventilation when skiing. Injury due to cold such as frostbite or hypothermia may be increased by dehydration, wind chill or wet clothes. Frostbite is treated by rewarming the body in a warm bath under close supervision. Areas of frostbite on the nose, cheeks or ears can be treated by placing warm hands on the area. Never rub the area as the tissue could become damaged.
The following are suggestions in the prevention of ski injuries:
•Maintain conditioning of the body prior to actual skiing
•Check all equipment before use
•Listen to your body for fatigue
•Wear ski helmets for downhill skiing
•Get experienced help when advancing to harder and higher levels of the sport
•Stay away from off-course ski trails
Dr. Robert Weiss lives in Westport and has a sports-podiatry practice in Darien. He is a former marathon runner and was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Trials.