A Quick Overview Of Your 2014-15 Ski Season
I for one have a massive love / hate relationship with winter. It’s cold, it’s dark, but this also means that I get to layer up with the new season knitwear and of course..we get to enjoy Christmas and new years festivities (which, most importantly, is inclusive of all the extra festive trimmings that come with the season). But now we’ve hit January and all the festive excitement is over, the need to escape the dreary grey landscape is overwhelming, and what better way than to head to Val d’Isère (various other resort choices are available) to the glistening slopes. Now I know many people grumble about snow in the UK, about how its fun for an hour or so… but then it’s just a nuisance that hangs around for weeks and causes the country to come to a stand still, but foreign snow can be FUN! Whether you’re a first time skier or a veteran, I’m going to take a look at a few different aspects of the sport to help you get the most out of your season.
Firstly, if you are a first time skier, TAKE SKIING LESSONS! Regardless of whether you are going with experienced skiers, a trained instructor is able to teach you skiing (or snowboarding) to a high standard and make miniscule corrections to your technique. Small errors in technique can be missed by ‘amateur’ instructors, which in the long run can end up in you suffering an unwanted injury (That bit’s coming up later).
Next you have to make sure you have all the correct skiing equipment before setting off. Get your ski boots professionally fitted and always wear your helmet (I know they’re not ‘cool’, but no excuses!). Head injuries are the most common admittance in alpine hospitals during ski seasons and the risk of a catastrophic head injury is reduced by 60% in skiers / snowboarders when a helmet is worn (Sulheim et al, 2006).
It’s extremely important to remain vigilant while skiing, especially during the busy periods. Most accidents and injuries are caused by falls and collisions between two or more skiers (although sometimes objects), and therefore being aware of your surroundings will reduce any injury risks.
Downhill or cross-country?
Again, if you’re new to Skiing, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests that you stay on piste and take the easy green and blue downhill runs. These runs are often wide and well maintained for a sleek decent at no more than a 12 degree angle. An intermediate level skier may want to progress onto a red run. These runs are more often groomed than not (small, narrow sections may not be), and run at a gradient from 12 – 20 degrees. A more advanced and confident skier will be able to progress onto black downhill runs. These slopes are of a higher gradient (usually from 20-45 degrees) and may or may not be maintained, therefore requiring vastly more agility and technique to negotiate any moguls hiding in the run. With an increase of gradient comes an increase in decent speed upon downhill skiing, so you need to be confident that you are able to meet the standard of the other skiers on your run, and be able to predict their movements in order to avoid collisions and injuries.
Cross-country skiing can include ski touring and groomed trail skiing. Both of these are considered off piste, although groomed trail skiing is done on a trail that is maintained by the ski resort, thus probably more appropriate for a beginner level skier wanting to try some off piste activity. Instead of skiing downhill, there are differing terrains within cross country skiing, sometimes requiring you to ski up small inclines, navigate forests and potential avalanche locations and adapt to the differing snow surfaces. Cross country treks can last between hours and days, often with specialist cross country resorts providing for the latter.
Depending on what you what to get from your season depends on what form of skiing you should partake in. If you are coming on your ski season to enjoy the piste, get into the wintery spirit and enjoy the food and the après ski, then downhill skiing will suit your every need. If you did however intend to go skiing to burn a few calories and keep active during the winter months by doing something slightly more enjoyable than endless running in the British gloom, then cross-country may be more appropriate for you. On average cross country skiing burns around 500 calories per hour, whereas downhill skiing burns around 350 calories per hour (for 70 kg woman – men and heavier people may burn more calories per hour).
Common skiing injuries.
As a sports therapist, I see an increase in a number of injuries around the winter months that are commonly associated with skiing. Not only is this due to plummeting temperatures, but to the specific pressures that are placed upon the body during skiing.
Medial collateral ligament and Anterior cruciate ligament sprains or ruptures within the knee joint are exceptionally common, accounting for about 60% of all skiing injuries. These sprains occur when the knee is twisted under pressure while falling (which as you can imagine is quite often during a season on the slopes) as there are large forces placed through the inside of the knee joint during skiing motion. Another injury that can be associated with the knee joint twisting is a meniscus tear. The meniscus is the cartilage that sits within your knee joint, which can be damaged if it is met with a rotational force under pressure.
‘Skiers thumb’ relates to a sprain or rupture of the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb and accounts for up to 20% of all skiing injures (If not obvious by the name…). Injuries to the ulnar collateral ligament occur when the skier falls on an outstretched thumb, with the injury risk increased when gripping an object such as a ski pole.
Fractures and dislocations of the upper extremities are possible although far less common. Falling upon an outstretched arm and hand can lead to fractures of the scaphoid, radius, ulnar, humerus & clavicle, and dislocations of the shoulder and very rarely the elbow.
Finally head injuries are generally caused by a direct trauma to the head, whether this be due to a collision with a fellow skier or with a fixed object / ski lift. Head injuries are vastly reduced by wearing helmets (as previously discussed), but there is always still a danger that an extremely high impact incident can still cause head trauma. Thankfully these injuries are very rare and can be avoided at most costs, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Easy on the après ski…
You’ve had a long day skiing, but the sun is lowering and the runs are closing for the day… But that doesn’t mean that the holiday spirit has to cease with the slopes. You may fancy a sophisticated meal prepared by your chalet staff or hitting the resorts bars until the early hours, chances are there will be some form of alcohol flowing in various quantities. Whether your preferred tipple is a glass of mulled wine or copious Jager bombs, the effects on your next day on the slopes can stretch beyond a hangover from hell. Although there is very little current research to suggest that alcohol has a direct impact on injury occurrence in relation to skiing, the lasting effects of alcohol do affect processes such as reaction time, balance and perceived risk which all factor into the risk of an injury occurring (Burtscher et al. 2008). There has been some evidence to suggest that approximately 50% of skiers and snowboarders who have fallen and suffered an injury, have consumed alcohol or drugs while on their ski season, comparatively to 20% of skiiers who haven’t consumed alcohol or drugs obtaining injury.
Studies show that alcohol impairs the cognitive components of reaction time to a stimulus (Hernández et al. 2010) thus suggesting that on the slopes, a person who has been drinking heavily the pervious evening, will react slower to unexpected stimuli (eg, another athlete cutting across them) and therefore are more likely to acquire an injury. Agility has also been shown to be impaired through alcohol consumption and so the skier’s ability to act upon the stimuli they are faced with in conjunction with their increased reaction time further increases the risk of injury (Lorino et al. 2006).
So there you have it, a quick look at what you can do with your ski season and how to prevent it falling awry. Always remember that safety is paramount… and if you’ve eaten too much over the festive season and want to battle the inevitable Christmas weight gain, try some cross country skiing.
Burtscher, M., Pühringer, R., Werner, I., Sommersacher, R., & Nachbauer, W. (2008). Predictors of falls in downhill skiing and snowboarding. na.
Gaudio, R. M., Barbieri, S., Feltracco, P., Spaziani, F., Alberti, M., Delantone, M., … & Avato, F. M. (2010). Impact of alcohol consumption on winter sports-related injuries. Medicine, Science and the Law, 50(3), 122-125.
Hernández, O. H., Vogel-Sprott, M., Huchín-Ramirez, T. C., & Aké-Estrada, F. (2006). Acute dose of alcohol affects cognitive components of reaction time to an omitted stimulus: differences among sensory systems. Psychopharmacology, 184(1), 75-81.
Lorino, A. J., Lloyd, L. K., Crixell, S. H., & Walker, J. L. (2006). The effects of caffeine on athletic agility. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 20(4), 851-854.
Sulheim, S., Holme, I., Ekeland, A., & Bahr, R. (2006). Helmet use and risk of head injuries in alpine skiers and snowboarders. Jama, 295(8), 919-924.
Written by Victoria Monson