SAN DIEGO – Planning a ski vacation over the holidays? Start preparing now, advises avid skier and Alvarado Hospital orthopedic surgeon Scott Hacker, M.D. And he would know.
During his sports medicine fellowship at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colorado, Dr. Hacker worked with many professional athletes. He currently travels the world as a team physician for the United States Ski Association and Olympic Ski Team.
As many skiers already know, knees are particularly vulnerable to injury. But did you know that the type of knee injury a skier is likely to suffer might depend on snow conditions? According to Dr. Hacker, fractures are more common on hard-pack snow days. During powder conditions, when snow is much softer, ligament injuries and muscle tears are more likely.
Dr. Hacker said there are ways to ski around the risks. He offered these important tips for maximizing your fun on the slopes.
Before Your Trip
Build Lower-Body Flexibility, Core Strength — Take advantage of the ski-conditioning programs offered at many local gyms. Dr. Hacker particularly recommends hip stretches, that work both flexors, to help prevent muscle tears or pulls. There’s also a lot you can do at home. The “wall sit” is great for strengthening the quadriceps. Pilates and yoga help build abdominal core strength.
Time For A Tune-Up — Have a professional check over your ski equipment. Be sure your boots fit well and that poles are the right length. “California skiers in particular must keep edges nice and sharp,” Dr. Hacker said. “This will help maintain control when hitting icy patches.”
At The Slope
Ski At Your Ability Level — Your buddies may be heading over to the black diamonds, but are those runs really right for you? Dr. Hacker said the risk for injury is very low when skiers ski at the appropriate skill level. But he cautions that a run’s difficulty may vary depending on snow and weather conditions. “The difficulty of a run can change dramatically in a couple hours due to steepness, lighting and snow,” Dr. Hacker said. “Just because it is rated at a certain level, it may not be right for you. Use the ratings as guidelines.”
Ski In Good Form — Minimize your risk for injury by keeping both shoulders facing down the hill and turn from the waist down. If you are a beginning skier, invest in a ski school class. And even if you are more advanced, a ski instructor may help you further refine your technique.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings — Always know the whereabouts of other skiers, snowboarders, trees, snowmaking equipment and chair lift poles. Watch out for ice patches, rocks, crevasses, hazards and areas that have been marked out-of-bounds.
Wear A Helmet — Hitting a tree can be deadly. Helmets are simple and effective protection. Dr. Hacker always wears one, shouldn’t you?
Watch Out For Altitude Sickness — Your body may need some extra time to adjust when traveling from San Diego to high altitudes. You may not sleep as well, and this could impact your skiing the next day. Adjust your schedule as necessary. To lessen the affects of altitude, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol.
Stay Hydrated — It’s dry out there on the mountain. Carry water and stay hydrated. Remember to wear sunscreen and to protect your eyes with sunglasses or goggles — even on cloudy days.
Never Ski Alone, Especially In Backcountry — If you are injured, you’ll need a buddy to alert the ski patrol. One of Dr. Hacker’s sports medicine colleagues recently broke a hip while skiing the backcountry in Vail. “He couldn’t get up,” Dr. Hacker said. “If his buddy hadn’t been there with him, he probably would have died.”
Think Twice About That Last Run — Most ski injuries occur at the end of the day — when skiers are tired. Be careful, especially that first day. Head back to the warming lodge for some après ski.
Above all, avoid going all out like a “weekend warrior.” Take it easy and have fun. The slopes will be waiting for you tomorrow!