Ski Resorts

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.


Sometimes Mom Skis with her other Family

It doesn’t happen all that often, but I get to sneak away from my family for an occasional weekend. This past weekend was the 6th annual girls’ ski trip. I was with family, but it was my college family…my sorority sisters.  We’ve known each other for, gulp, going on 30 years.

Did anyone hear about the gi-normous storm we had in Tahoe this weekend? Let’s just say our timing was very, very good. We woke up to a reported 48″ of fresh snow at Ski Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe.

Wait, we actually woke up to this view, on March 17,  from the kitchen window of my friend Mary’s house in the Tahoe Keys:

Talk about the luck o’ the Irish! I mean, could it be any more beautiful?

I wish I could report that we were up and out of the house by 8:00 but we were a bunch of women on vacation with no children or husbands to worry about. By the time we got to Heavenly — the mega resort that straddles the Nevada/California border, it was closer to, um, 8:45 9:30 10:00.

This is a shot of me at the base of Gunbarrel,  Heavenly’s signature double-black manic-mogul run that from this vantage point looks almost flat. Clearly we missed the best of the fresh. Oh well:

I hadn’t skied at Heavenly that many times before Mary bought her awesome vacation house, and, to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite. Over the years I had had a handful of poor customer service experiences that made me want to avoid it.

But then Vail Resorts bought Heavenly and this girls’ weekend became an annual event (thank you Mary!!). Let me just say that the customer service at Heavenly has done a 180! From the minute you pull into the parking lot until you walk off the mountain at the end of the day, the staff couldn’t be friendlier or more helpful. Heavenly has become one of my favorite places to ski. In part that’s because once a year I get to share it with this group of lovelies (Mary, Holly and Corinna and, not shown: “the other” Dana and Patty — we were a smaller than usual group this year but 5 out of six of us made it onto the snow!) But it’s also because the new management makes the whole experience pleasant.


For the record, my friend Corinna (on far right) and I FINISHED the day with a run down Gunbarrel that was so good we took the chair up and did it again! Sunday was just as good. And the mountain was practically empty.

Can’t wait until next year.

My Three Words: Let’s Go Skiing!

My son, who is a suddenly sarcastic teenager, recently told me that I should quit my job as a writer and pursue a new career: police photographer. “A cop because you are such a rule enforcer,” Liam said, “and a photographer because you just l-o-v-e to take pictures.”

Fair enough. I will admit to being a rule follower. And I do love to take photos — especially of my kids. I tell them often that when they have kids of their own they will not be required to take a single photo of them. Ever.  But while they live with me, they are subjected to my whims.

We were skiing a few weeks ago at Squaw Valley and I shot this video to submit to Good Morning America’s Your Three Words. If you haven’t seen this Saturday morning segment — it’s usually the last five minutes of the show — check it out.I just love it. Each week the producers pick a song and then they flash a series of quick video that viewers have sent in. They have themes on occasion. For example, a few weeks ago all the videos were of Oscar nominees. Anyway, it’s fun. Here’s my entry:

My video hasn’t appeared on GMA yet but even my kids think it’s not as embarrassing as they thought it would be.

What have you done to mortify your kids lately? Do tell.