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Protecting yourself from injury on the ski hills is as easy as paying attention to what you wear, using care and how you prepare.
In the wake of the snowy, wintry weather, Trauma Services BC (TSBC) is reminding those hitting the slopes this winter to take precautions against serious injury. Despite an encouraging 12 per cent drop in injuries in the 2018/19 winter season, statistics gathered over five years show the rate of hospitalizations for ski and snowboard injuries in B.C. is going up.
“B.C. is home to some of the best ski resorts in the world and skiing and snowboarding is a great way to stay active during the winter season, but it comes with an element of risk,” said Dr. David Evans, medical director for TSBC, and trauma surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital. “The good news is that most injuries are preventable by simply wearing a helmet, and avoiding excessive speed or reckless behaviour and learning how to lower your risk of injury. This helps reduce the chances of injuries, lengthy hospital stays and risk of permanent disability.”
In the 2014/15 winter season, 418 people were hospitalized in B.C. with injuries caused by skiing or snowboarding. Over the next three winters the number of injuries steadily increased, peaking in 2017/18 with 573 people requiring hospitalization.
In 2018/19, according to B.C’s provincial trauma registry, that number dropped to 503, a reduction TSBC hopes will continue. According to the BC Coroners, each year in B.C. there are about 10 deaths from skiing and snowboarding.
“Continuing to ski or snowboard when you become physically tired increases your risk of falling and injuring yourself,” said Micheline Wiebe, provincial director of TSBC. “It is important to also know your limitations and know when to call it a day, ensuring proper rest.”
Follow these three steps to protect yourself from injuries on the hills:
- A helmet, goggles and consider wearing wrist guards
- Suitable clothing for cold and wind
- Stay in bounds, observe signs and warnings and keep off closed trails
- Stay in control and ski or snowboard within your abilities. Go at a safe speed.
- Remember that people ahead of you have the right-of-way
- Whenever starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield
- Watch out for ice, obstacles, other people and trees
- Learn about tree wells and how to reduce your risk
A tree well is a deep hole or depression that forms beneath the lower branches of an evergreen tree because the tree’s branches prevent snow from collecting and packing around that area. The resulting hole can be metres deep. Skiers or snowboarders falling towards a tree well often lean into it and find themselves upside down, unable to remove their equipment and descending deeper into the well as they struggle. This can lead to death from suffocation/asphyxia. Reduce your risk of falling into a tree well by staying on groomed runs and skiing or snowboarding with a partner and keeping in sight of them. If you see someone head-first in a tree well, treat it as an emergency and act fast to get them out.
- When getting your skis or snowboard tuned, ask the shop technician to take it easy when sharpening the edges. Extremely sharp edges can cut through clothes and lacerate skin.
- Add the ski hill emergency number to your cell phone contacts list. If you need to use it, the emergency operator will dispatch ski patrol right away and get you a faster response than if you send someone for help or wait for a passerby.
- Pack a whistle. If you end up hurt or in a tree well you can make noise to get attention.
Trauma Services BC, a program of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is dedicated to ensuring all British Columbians have access to a high performing, comprehensive, integrated and inclusive provincial trauma system. For more information, visit the Trauma Services BC website.