Avoiding Injuries on the Mountain

Posted in On the Mountain
by April on March 28, 2013

The Cautious Surgeon getting some tips!

When it comes to skiing/snowboarding my husband and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum. He is a starry-eyed beginner who loves to meet with his instructor every morning and hone his new skill of skiing. For me on the other hand, I snowboard because I have a torn ACL from skiing 20 years ago and pretty much have given up any sport that requires pivoting or unstable knee movements. Both of us, though have a fear of injury and are too old to throw caution to the wind.

So while on our vacation this year to Park City Mountain Resort we decided to come up with a list of things to do to avoid injury - he being a seasoned general surgeon, and me being a seasoned injured-skiier-now-advanced-snowboarder.

Ask any ER physician or orthopedic surgeon when do most ski injuries happen and they will tell you about:


Most ski injuries happen:

  • After the third day of skiing.  
  • After 3 p.m.
  • Above 3,000 meters (about 9,000 feet).


Unless you have physically prepared for the sport by keeping in shape year around, after the third day your body will be tired and need a day off. After three days of skiing, plan on a day off.  There are a lot of things to do in ski resorts besides skiing! Use that third or fourth day to explore the area, take a dogsled tour, shop, or just sit in the coffee shop with a good book.

When you don’t give your muscles a chance to rest, they tire easily and reaction time is decreased — all leading to more injuries.

Too often people have the attitude that with a short period of time they need to get as much skiing in as possible: consider three days at a time as much as possible. It is a lot easier to take a day off skiing and let the muscles recover than it is to spend a day in the hospital, with extended recovery after.


For most of us, skiing/snowboarding is work. Yes, the gondola takes you up and gravity takes you down -but it is hard work applying the brakes for skiing. The less familiar you are with skiing the harder you work at it.  Take a break after two hours of skiing and get some water, coffee, or tea (don’t worry, the coffee and tea will not dehydrate you but alcohol will). Take a nice lunch break and then think if you want to go back out again.

As soon as you notice your blades are getting crossed, or it is harder to make turns, or stop - it's time to go in.

ABOVE 3,000 meters (9,000 feet)

Altitude, anything above 6,000 feet has changes that affect the body. Unless you live in Denver or in a high-altitude area, it takes weeks to get used to this. You will breathe harder, lose more fluid from your body, and your heart will work harder. This means your muscles will get sore and not react as fast, so you may get in trouble. (OK, technically 3k is more like 9,800 feet, but it just works better to say 3,000 meters instead of 9,000 feet).


The higher you go, and the faster you get there, the more likely you will experience some symptoms of AMS.  The first symptom is usually a headache, also called high-altitude headache. One survey done at a Colorado ski resort at 9,800 ft found that 60% of visitors developed a headache. AMS includes other symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea – sometimes with vomiting, weakness, dizziness, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. AMS feels exactly like a bad hangover. Symptoms can occur from 2 to 24 hours. AMS does NOT develop after 2 days, unless you’ve moved to a higher altitude. If you have been doing well at altitude and then get sick after two or three days you probably have food poisoning, virus, or another medical problem.

The ability to adjust to higher altitude is genetic, as is the propensity to develop any altitude sickness. If your family members get sick at higher altitude then you have a chance of developing it. If you have family members who have had mountain illness, or have developed it in the past, then spend the first night at an intermediate place. Denver is a mile high, and a good place to spend a night to help accomodate. Salt Lake City is a bit over 4,000 feet and Park City is at 6,900 feet. While the lifts will take you to above 9,000 feet, and most ski in those upper areas, you want to have at least a day to accomodate. Consider spending the first day on the lower runs, get your legs about you or arrive a day early and visit the city.


You came to ski, not to drink. The more alcohol you drink, the more dehydrated you become – and in a few days of skiing you are not going to catch up. If your goal is to be on the slopes and have fun skiing, then avoid drinking. The more alcohol you drink the day/night before, the more likely you will get injured. The longer it will take your muscles to recover, and the more swollen you will become. 


It never hurts to get your form back in style with a good ski lesson. If you ski four times a year or LESS - have a professional watch your form, and help you navigate down some runs. They can find a set of runs appropriate for you, get you to work on a few simple items that will advance your skiing or snowboarding, and by improving your form you are less likely to have an injury which is well worth the investment!



Related Snowmamas Posts


Add Your Own Comments

*– required

The views expressed on Snowmamas are those of the individual authors, who are independent contractors of Copper Mountain Resort and Killiington Resort and may not be factually accurate. These views are not intended to reflect the opinions of Copper Mountain Resort, Killington Resort, its owners, its management or its employees. Snowmamas' will receive compensation for their participation as an author.