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Safety Tips: Snowboarding

Like surfing down a frozen white wave, snowboarding is a great way to have fun and get exercise during those cold winter months. It's relatively easy to learn, and it can take you to some of the most spectacular places on Earth.

But snowboarding 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 Snowboarding Safety Important?

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

Also, since snowboarding 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 and snowboarder 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 [and snowboarding], 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 snowboarding.

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 a snowboard and boots, you will also need warm clothing, protective eyewear, and a helmet intended specifically for snowboarding or skiing.

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

Dress for Excess

As anyone who has snowboarded 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 snowboard 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 snowboard include:

Before You Make Your First Turns

One of the most effective ways to prevent injuries while snowboarding is to make sure you're in good shape before you go. Stronger muscles will not only help you maintain control, they'll also make boarding 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 snowboarding.

When you get to the ski resort, if you've never boarded before — or even if you have — sign up for snowboard lessons. Even the best athletes in the world can't board 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 group lessons work very well too and allow you the opportunity to make some new friends.

A Note on the Snowboarder's Blind Spot

One major difference between snowboarding and skiing is that you will be facing sideways when you board. This creates a blind spot behind you. Always be aware of who or what is around you at all times, and be certain there are no other boarders, skiers, or obstacles in your blind spot before you make a heel-edge turn. This is particularly important for beginner snowboarders.

It can be hard to take your focus off the slope ahead to make sure it's safe to turn, but it is vital that you make the effort each and every time you do.

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 boarding 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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