The Down Low on the Down Slope: Preventing Skiing-Related Injuries

Downhill, cross-country, skate skiing, even uphill—on groomed trails, off the beaten path, through the forest, or across a snowed-over golf course—skiing popularity remains evergreen. Of course, along with the joy and exhilaration of the sport comes skiing-related injuries.

Dr. Monika Radloff, a sports medicine physician treats such injuries at Cayuga Medical Center. “When I talk about skiing, most people really are thinking about downhill skiing, but there are actually a lot of different things you can do once you have a pair of skis on your feet,” Dr. Radloff says. “Each of these has different physical demands and injury risks.”

Types of Injuries

The majority of injuries occur in downhill skiing. “Most are really traumatic,” cautions Dr. Radloff. “People falling and hitting the hard slopes and collisions with other skiers or trees.” Lift accidents also occur.

Typically, lower body skiing injuries affect the knee. “Anytime your knee twists with a ski attached to the end, it’s not a good thing for that knee.” A sprain or tear of the ligaments is likely, and a surgical repair may be necessary.

Upper body injuries mostly occur when people fall or attempt to stop themselves. Fractures of the wrist, collar bone, clavicle, or humerus may occur. “The other injury we commonly see is a shoulder dislocation, especially when you are trying to reach out and catch yourself,” notes Dr. Radloff.

One other event that gives cause for concern is head injuries. Running into a stationary object, colliding with another skier, or falling and hitting one’s head on the ground are three common ways a skier may suffer a head injury. “You can sustain anything from a concussion to bleeding in the brain or even a skull fracture,” states Dr. Radloff.

Prevention Tips

Dr. Radloff points out that skiing is not simply something you can pick up cold. Rather, you must maintain your fitness throughout the year before resuming the activity. “A week before you hit the slopes is not really the time you should start thinking about your fitness. You need to be keeping up with it throughout the summer.” Building up cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance and strength should be a year-long approach.

The next area of injury prevention to focus on is equipment. The bindings, which fasten the ski boots to the skis, must be set so they properly release during a fall. Skis should be tuned up regularly. Appropriate clothing, in multiple layers, must be worn. And, of course, don’t forget the helmet to prevent the risk of head injuries. “They are actually quite comfortable. They keep your head and ears nice and warm. It’s also a good way to keep those goggles in place,” advises Dr. Radloff.

Most injuries occur when the skier is fatigued, so take breaks throughout the day. If your legs are feeling tired, head to the lodge for a rest. This is one of the biggest risk factors Dr. Radloff hears from patients, “They tell me, ‘Well, I was on my last run of the day when I fell.’” Rather than pushing yourself past your limits, it’s better to call it a day and avoid a potential injury.

Stay Frosty

Like any physical activity, there are risks and rewards to skiing. With awareness of your limitations and your surroundings, you may lessen your risks while capturing the rewards. Dr. Radloff advises taking lessons, learning the proper techniques, and remaining aware of the terrain as well as other skiers. “You always have to be aware of what’s going on around you.”

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