Corporate ski tips # 4 - avoiding ski accidents

There is nothing better than meeting up with friends next to a beer and an open fire and recounting the near death fall of a colleague that resulted in nothing more than a broken pole, a grazed elbow and an early finish.

Ski and snowboard falls become folklore and help to cement memories of certain trips and people in minds. They also help to remind us that what we do is inherently risky and that the challenge almost always results in a satisfying day of achievement in what is for most a very unfamiliar environment. There is actually so much that can go wrong both physically and in terms of equipment failure in extremely hostile environments that is it is surprising that at the end of the week there are still lift queues. Innsbruck university teaching hospital has for many years run surveys of A&E visitors to deduce what happened, when and how. Suffice it to say, the rightly named 'capital of the Alps' has a good few customers through their doors and their rooftop heli-port each winter including competitors injured in races. It is always chilling to pass the Innsbruck hospital after the Kitzbuhel Hahnenkamm race week where comatose racers are treated. There are a number of things that are out a skiers / snowboarders control and they are often out of control skiers or snowboarders.

This is entirely anecdotal but my experience is that early in the season during the autumn glacier skiing season there can be a really worrying vibe that can be felt on the glaciers. I remember a few seasons back when the flattish, wide slopes of the Stubai Glacier were swarming with out of control skiers who had put on their gear for the first time of the season and were skiing and snowboarding well beyond the physical capabilities and (at that stage of their winter season) their residual ability - residual as it was likely that they were better than they were skiing / snowboarding but not on their first day back. Early, early season is one to enjoy but look over your shoulder often. Of course someone has to be out of condition or form and that can also be you - take it easy the first days and get back to where you were before the summer arrived.

Home run accidents - Statistically fatigue and general conditioning also play a significant part in the occurrence of accidents. At the end of the day, even more so the last run of the day then almost everyone is more fatigued than they would be at the start of the day and they are also hell-bent on getting down to the resort and onto an apres ski stool. No matter what the skill level, strength plays a considerable role in getting down the mountain on skis or snowboard. Crowded slopes, tired if not exhausted, high volumes and potentially narrow sections - no risk assessment needed - doom looms!

Fear the blues - whilst the piste map doesn't lie, black is in normal circumstances steeper than red or blue or green although an Austrian wouldn't know what you are talking about when mentioning green pistes - August maybe? The likelihood of a serious injury cannot be deduced from a piste map. Whilst steep can induce trepidation, a loss of technique and subsequent control, gentle pistes can also feel welcoming and unthreatening. Anecdotally I know of a handful of terrible accidents and each of them has happened on terrain that was several rungs below the ability of the victim. The issue with a flattish slope is that good skiers and snowboarders will carry some speed. It is unusual for a good skier / snowboarder to fall on this terrain but when they catch an edge, lose concentration or get caught up in a wreck then the terrain is far from forgiving. Think crumple zones in cars - rapid deceleration in a crash situation is far from optimal and is designed out of vehicles as much as possible. And whilst there are exceptions, falls on steep slopes don't involve a serious deceleration (unless something stationary is collided with). Egos can be bruised and nerves excited with a fall on a steep slope but consider the Moto GP rider who slides off the track at massive speed - no sudden deceleration and as bizarre a sight as it is, the first they do is try to re-mount their vehicle. So whilst it isn't advisable to opt for a stack on a black, then an innocent tumble on a blue can be far serious and gruesome.

Equipment failure - faulty equipment that lets you down need not be confined to wrongly adjusted bindings. Poorly serviced skis can be a real hazard as can badly fitted boot - both resulting is serious performance loss and elevated levels of risk. The wrong eye wear can make the skier or snowboarder blind whilst flapping clothing or rucksack straps can see you making a download loop of the chair lift. And fear the ski tech who has a bottle of beer mid-morning next to his waxing bench!

Accident avoidance - don't assume a blue is safe whilst a black is dangerous, arrive reasonably fit, adjust expectations for the first few days to equate to condition and residual performance level and try and make your resort-bound descent just after the piste groomers have climbed past and before the ski patrol sets out!

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