Family Skiing

Tips for ski season injury prevention (for the Los Angeles Times)

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By Dana Sullivan Kilroy

February 16, 2013

Nothing ruins a skiing or snowboarding weekend like having to hitchhike down the hill in a ski patroller’s sled — or in an ambulance. Fortunately, the overall rate of skiing injuries has declined by 50% since the 1970s, according to the National Ski Areas Assn., a trade organization. (Snowboarding injuries are a different story: They’ve nearly doubled in the last decade — partly because the sport itself is relatively new.)

“We see fewer injuries among skiers because of significant improvements in the equipment,” says James Gladstone, an orthopedic surgeon and co-chief of sports medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Skis are shorter and hourglass shaped, he explains, making them more responsive and easier to turn. And, more important, ski bindings release more easily than those of a generation ago, reducing the risk of fractures in the lower legs.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2009 found that skiers who are injured have a few things in common: They are male and have a “high readiness for risk.” In this study, that meant they were eager to try jumps and moguls. But no matter what your age, gender or proclivity for thrill-seeking, skiing and snowboarding are inherently dangerous.

So what can you do to reduce the risk of injury?

“First, start thinking about conditioning long before ski season arrives,” says Gladstone, who was a collegiate ski racer at Dartmouth College and has worked as a ski instructor. Skiing and snowboarding both demand a lot from the muscles in the quads and lower back, and from the knees. “I make my kids start climbing the 10 flights of stairs to our apartment well before winter starts,” he says.

It may be too late for preseason conditioning, but these tips will also help keep you and your family safe on the hill:

• Make sure your — and your kids’ — equipment fits. Borrowing equipment from well-meaning friends is never a good idea. “Using equipment that is right for your size and skiing or snowboarding ability is essential,” says John Monson, a spokesman for Sugar Bowl Resort in Norden, Calif., near Lake Tahoe. Wearing gear that is too big is especially dangerous; if your feet “slop” around in ski or snowboarding boots, you have less control. And skis or a snowboard that are too long are difficult to maneuver.

• Make sure your equipment functions. If you own your ski gear, have the bindings examined by a ski shop technician at the beginning of each season. “The technician will make sure the bindings release properly, based on your boot size, weight and height and skiing ability,” says Monson. A binding that releases too easily, or doesn’t release when it should, can lead to injury. Skiers and snowboarders should also have their boards tuned, which typically includes waxing the bottom surface and having the edges sharpened.

• Don’t go out cold. Before you slide onto the chairlift, do some dynamic movement exercises to warm up your muscles. “Do windmills with your arms, swing your legs back and forth and do abdominal twists so you’re not so stiff when you start,” says Gladstone.

• Stay forward. “Your instinct, when you get going too fast, is to lean back,” says Gladstone. “This only makes you go faster. Really work on keeping your weight forward on your skis and your snowboard.”

• When you start to fall, just go with it. The more rigid you are, the more likely you’ll be hurt when you fall, Gladstone says.

• Wear a helmet. Helmets do not decrease the risk of skiing- or snowboarding-related head injuries, but they do reduce the severity, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Finally, take lessons. At Sugar Bowl, two-hour group lessons for skiers and riders of all levels — from never-evers to advanced — are included in the price of a lift ticket. “No one is ever too good for instruction,” Monson says.


Skiing “Granny” Runs

First, let me say that I adore my son Liam. He is 14 — and everything that goes along with being 14 — but for the most part he is a terrific kid. Late Saturday night he returned home from an exhausting (emphasis mine) spring break week in Palm Springs with his good buddy. They spent the week wakeboarding, fishing and hiking. I’m in grad school and had a different spring break than my kids this year so Liam went off with another family and the rest of us had a stay-cation.

Since yesterday was the last day for us to ski at Mt. Rose I insisted (again, emphasis mine) that he come along on a family ski day. His friend, H, wanted to come with us so off we went for a beautiful day of slushy spring skiing. The boys did one obligatory run with Liam’s sisters,  Rob and me…and then they begged us to let them go ski on their own. 

I have to admit I had mixed feelings about this because I knew where they were headed: The Chutes. This terrain at Mt. Rose is insanely steep — 45-degree pitches — and strewn with all sorts of obstacles. When the conditions are good, the runs are amazing but for the most part I avoid the area unless there is a ton of new snow.

Since we’d had some snow on Thursday and Friday I knew it wouldn’t be too icy, so off they went. Liam raced for 5 years and is a beautiful, technical skier. H is even better. The boys are both significantly better skier than I have ever been but…did I mention they are 14?

Anyway, off they went with instructions to not doing anything stupid and to meet us for lunch 90 minutes later. Exactly 90 minutes later this is what they looked like when they found us on the sun deck.

Heading to the Chutes at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe

Apparently the snow was amazing. It was the best snow of the whole season. The powder is at least a foot deep. It’s like winter in there. Got it.

When they couldn’t convince me to go back to the Chutes with them after lunch they graciously agreed to take a few “granny” runs with me. Granny runs?!  And then they were gone again. Have I created a monster or what? 


Great Deals on Ski/Snowboard Gear are Happening Now

Even though it seems like winter just got going — at least in Tahoe — today is the last day of ski season at a few places, including Mt. Rose, where we ski. I hope we’ll get in another day or two at Squaw or Alpine or Kirkwood but as I put away the ski/snowboard gear today I took note of what we might need for next year. We have our own ski swap going in the garage — there must be a dozen pairs of kids’ ski boots and skis in the garage out there — but this is the time of year when I try to pick up a few things on super sale.

I did a bit of online shopping and here’s a sampling of what I found (even though I went with a B&W theme, there are lots of colors in all this stuff available):

Socks: Icebreaker socks are built to last. They’re also lightweight and super breathable. I love these thin ski socks that have a little bit of compression in the heels.

Helmets: At Skis.com ‘s end of season sale everything is an additional 10% off, including these helmets.

Goggles: REI has good deals on Smith goggles for men, women and kids.

Gloves: A few weeks ago I wrote about my all-time favorite mittens. I just bought another pair because they are now on sale for $22. Unbelievable.

Jackets: At Sierra Trading Post there are great deals on a bunch of my favorite brands, including Obermeyer. I like thisdown “sweater” for  $76:

and this heavy duty Oakley jacket for $126:

Boot bags: I got one of these Transport bags a few years ago as a gift and it makes getting from the car to the lodge while carrying assorted kid gear so much easier. You can score a great deal on Amazon.


Don’t Forget the Sunscreen. Or: I’m a Bad Mother.

I spent a gorgeous Easter Sunday @MtRoseSkiTahoe with my family. We made the decision to skip the crowds at church and instead get closer to God outside —  after all, Mt. Rose is at 8,000+ feet elevation!  It was a beautiful and blessed day in every respect.

In fact,  it was one of those spring skiing days like you read about. One of those sunny spring-skiing days like the one that caused my first blistering sunburn when I was about 10 years old.

As we were driving up the hill I asked Carina to put sunscreen on her face. Turns out she put on a dab when she needed a glob. Her bright pink cheeks are evidence of my negligence.

I don’t think her burn will blister, but the bottom line is that I should know better than to rely on my 8 year old to take care of her own sunscreen! We have a few more days of spring skiing left in us, so I’ll be taking over the sunscreen application from here on out.

My immediate challenge is to figure out which type of sunscreen is the best option for me and my kids?  Understanding what sun protection factor (SPF) ratings really mean and what the various active ingredients actually do once you smear them on your face (and beyond) can be confusing.

What’s the difference between sunscreen and sunblock? Do we really need to apply sunscreen more than once a day? And what do those SPF numbers actually mean?

Most of us assume SPF 45 is three times stronger than SPF 15, but in fact it’s only about 5 percent more potent. An SPF 15 product blocks roughly 93 percent of UVB rays; SPF 30 blocks 97 percent; and SPF 45, 98 percent. This matters because many people wrongly assume that high-SPF sunscreens render the wearer invulnerable to sun damage and need to be applied only once a day.

The bottom line is that we all need to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen — one that is labeled to protect against UVA and UVB rays. And we need to use a lot more of the product than we think. In an environment such skiing or snowboarding, we need to apply that product first thing in the morning and then again at lunch time. Between the elevation and the fact that the snow reflects sun like a mirror, the rays are just too strong. The FDA has new guidelines coming out in June and I’ll write a follow-up post once I see those guidelines.

Have you ever experienced a skiing/snowboarding related sunburn?


Alleluia! Skiing on Easter

It was hard to decide: church in church or church on the hill. The hill won:

I can’t think of a time that I feel more grateful for all the blessings in my life than when I am skiing with my family.

One of my favorite things about Reno is the weather. We have four distinct seasons but none is so extreme that you get sick of it. At least I don’t. My favorite season is winter, of course, but it’s hard to beat spring skiing.

We timed our arrival to Mt. Rose today just right. During this time a year the snow can be so firm that it’s hazardous…at least for skiers like me who never learned to ski on the east coast. But today was a glorious sunny day at Mt. Rose. We were skiing by 10:00 just when the snow had softened enough to make it pleasant. By 2:00 it was slushy enough to be hazardous but we’d had our fill. We stopped by the “church” service at the top of Lakeview chair and then headed home.


Plan Ahead: 2012-2013 Passes on Sale Now

This is the time of year when lots of resorts offer passes for the following winter season at screaming deals. For some of them all you  have to do it put down a deposit and you can pay the rest in the fall. Here’s a sampling:

Now that Vail Resorts owns 8 resorts in Tahoe and Colorado, maybe this is a season to plan a road trip. Even the most expensive pass, the $659 Epic Pass, is a good deal considering there are no blackout dates. If you’re willing to give up some holiday periods or other high-traffic days, you can do a lot better. Put $49 by April 15th to get the best price: Snow.com.

At Tahoe’s Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. A dual-mountain pass is $379 to $729 depending on blackout periods: SquawValleyUSA.

Ski at Winter Park, Mary Jane and Copper Mountain SkiColorado with the Super Pass for $419. All that’s required is $49 down: SkiColorado.

Snowbomb.com is one of my favorite sites for picking up all sorts of ski-related deals. You can find decent discounts on 1 or multi-day tickets, plus deals on ski tuning and rentals. Snowbomb deals are mostly limited to California and Nevada resorts, but the company’s sister site, LiftTickets.com offers deals in Utah and Colorado.

I’m not as familiar with resorts on the East Coast, but at OnTheSnow, there are lots of deals for Vermont.

And did you know that if you buy your tickets online via LiftTopia — a site that offers tickets at resorts all over the world — you can save up to 80%?

Did you get your money’s worth on your ski pass this season?


Skiing for Wounded Warriors

Julia and I played hooky on Friday and headed to Alpine Meadows to participate a ski-a-thon fundraiser for The Wounded Warrior Project. We joined our friends the Kips who are dedicated to the annual event. Phelps Kip is an orthopedic surgeon in Reno who has worked with the U.S. Ski Team for many years, and for the last three years he and the Sierra Regional Spine Institute have also been major supporters of the annual WWP event. My husband Rob is a Navy veteran and so the Wounded Warriors is an organization that we enthusiastically support.

Wounded Warriors  offers veterans a range of life-enhancing services, including a sponsored vacation that gives veterans a vacation and the opportunity to learn a new sport…skiing, snowboarding, sled hockey and golf among them. At Alpine Meadows, which has a world-renowned adaptive ski program,  WWP teams up with Disabled Sports USA,  to work with the veterans.

We gathered in the main lodge at Alpine Meadows at 8:00 a.m. and were each given a GPS unit that we were to keep on all day so our runs could be tracked and tallied (the team who got the most runs won a prize). We were given a list of chairlifts we had to ride two times each. From there is was up to us to decide which runs we wanted to take. Since harder runs earned higher points, the girls picked out a challenging series for us.

The conditions were challenging. The snow was Sierra Cement like you read about. Boot high slush that was very tough to turn in. But we made the best of it and completed our 14 runs in, well, not exactly record time (4.5 hours, including a leisurely lunch break).

All in all it was a great day in honor of a very worthy cause.

This video gives more detail about the event and Wounded Warriors: