How to Stay Healthy While Hitting the Slopes
by Cuyler Hudson, PT, DPT, FAFS
Winter is here, and around here that means an uptick in injuries due to skiing and snowboarding. I’m very aware that winter sports are a leisure activity, and the vast majority of people are not willing to undergo a full prehab program, and I will definitely not be telling you to be doing a banded warm up in the lift line to keep those “glutes activated”. However, there are some very basic things to keep in mind while on the slopes to keep you safe and healthy.
1) Wear a Dang Helmet:
Head injuries can affect you for the rest of your life, and it doesn’t matter how slow you go or careful you are, all it takes is one pizza when you should have french fried, and your head can bounce off the snow pack. Using a helmet reduces your risk of a head injury by over 60%. What’s more, it’s not just the crazy kids in the terrain park that get head injuries, the fast majority occur on the ski runs!
2) Perform a Simple Warm Up:
While I would never want you looking like a complete Jerry doing an overly complicated warm up outdoors in the cold, a simple warm up before putting on your ski gear is a very smart idea. A hugely disproportionate amount of injuries occur on the very first run of the day. Why? Same reason people pull hamstrings when sprinting during their first at bat in a rec softball league. There is not enough blood in your muscles when you first start exercising, proprioceptors are not firing yet, tissue is not gliding yet. All this means you are weaker, stiffer, and less prepared for skiing/snowboarding during your first run. Doing 2×10 squats, lunges, and side-lunges with bodyweight is all you need to kick start your body and hugely decrease your risk of having a very bad day on the mountain.
3) Manage Your Fatigue Level:
While many injuries occur during the first run of the day, the MOST amount of injuries happen during the last run of the day (or at least, in the late afternoon). Listen to your body, I know you (probably) only get a few times a year to be on the mountain, but this also means that your body is likely not conditioned for 25+ runs. Fatigued muscles are weak muscles, meaning you have less stability and are at a greater risk of injury. It’s important to know to call it a day if you are feeling very tired, or at the very least stick to some easy runs towards the end of the day to manage risk.
4) Fall Gracefully:
How you fall will hugely affect your chance of injury. As Wu-Tang put it, the most important thing is to protect ya neck (and head). This means if you are falling backwards, tuck your chin and head forwards. In a backwards fall, NEVER reach out and try and catch yourself either, this is recipe for a wrist or shoulder injury. Instead, bring your arms in towards your body and absorb the blow with your back. If falling forward, bring your forearms in towards you body and push them into the ground as you feel, protecting both your chest and your head from impact. During a sideways fall, once again DO NOT reach out and try to catch yourself, instead lift your arm a bit to take the impact with side of your body and not directly on your shoulder. Lastly, once you’ve fallen, DO NOT try to get up while still sliding down the mountain, many times this results in your skis getting tangled up and risking a knee injury. Just ride it out and hope nobody got it on camera.