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Safety Tips: Skiing

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Flying effortlessly down a snow-covered slope, feeling the wind in your face, and soaking up the beautiful mountain scenery — there's a lot to love about skiing. It's a sport that you can learn at a young age and continue doing for the rest of your life, and it can take you to some of the most spectacular places on Earth.

But skiing can also present some very real dangers, from frostbite and sunburn to blown knees and head injuries. Follow these safety tips to learn how to stay safe on the slopes.

Why Is Skiing Safety Important?

Skiing involves moving at very high speeds down steep hills past other skiers and natural and man-made obstacles. Falls, some of the spectacular variety, are going to happen, regardless of how good a skier you are, and collisions are relatively common.

Also, since skiing takes place at high altitudes in the winter, the weather can range from sunny and bright to bitterly cold, with conditions changing rapidly from one slope to the next and from one hour to the next.

The skier safety code, which is printed on virtually every lift ticket and posted in numerous places around every ski area, lists some of the "inherent dangers and risks of skiing, including: changing weather conditions; existing and changing snow conditions; bare spots, rocks, stumps, and trees; collisions with natural objects, man-made objects, or other skiers; variations in terrain; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities." That's a pretty fair assessment of some of the dangers you'll encounter while skiing.

Gearing Up

Before you venture out to the slopes, it's very important to have the right gear and know how to use it. In addition to skis, boots, and poles, you will also need warm clothing, protective eyewear, and a helmet intended specifically for skiing or snowboarding.

Here's a list of what you should bring each time you head up the mountain:

Dress for Excess

As anyone who has skied on a cold day can tell you, it's no fun if you don't have enough warm clothing. Likewise, on hot days having too many clothes can make you sweat, which will lead to you getting cold when the sun dips behind a cloud or the mountains. The best way to tackle this situation is to dress in layers that you can shed or put on depending on the temperature.

Here's a rundown on what sort of clothes you should wear when you ski to avoid hypothermia and frostbite:

Additional Items

In addition to the gear and clothing previously mentioned, other items you might want to bring with you when you ski include:

Before You Make Your First Turns

One of the most effective ways to prevent injuries while skiing is to make sure you're in good shape before you ski. Stronger muscles will not only help you maintain control, they'll also make skiing more fun. If you know you'll be hitting the slopes in the winter, make a point of getting regular exercise in the summer and fall. You'll be glad you did. And always remember to warm up and stretch before you start skiing.

When you get to the ski resort, if you've never skied before — or even if you have — sign up for ski lessons. Even the best athletes in the world can't ski on their own the first time out. The best way to learn is from a trained instructor certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). Private lessons will give you the most one-on-one time with an instructor, but less-expensive ski school lessons work very well too and are an opportunity to make some new friends.

Be Smart on the Slopes

So, you've gotten yourself in shape, you've got all the right equipment and clothing, and you've taken a few lessons. Congratulations, you're finally ready to go skiing on your own. There are still a few important things to remember to keep yourself safe, though:

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2014

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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