Ski injuries: Beginners most at risk | SierraSun.com
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Ski injuries: Beginners most at risk

Jeremy Morrison

When you strap on a board or jump onto a pair of skis, an inherent risk is being courted. You are not about to play a game of shuffleboard or knock through a few rounds of croquet, you are embarking on a downhill glide of considerable momentum through a maze of rocks, trees and other bodies traveling at comparable speeds.

Each winter season the mountains claim the lives of a number of recreators, while many others haplessly encounter snares that land them in the emergency room, or at least a bit of pain.

“We respond to a spectrum of injuries,” said Ward Chesnut, ski patrol director for Homewood Mountain Resort.

From twisted ankles to cracked skulls, injuries come off the hill in all shapes and sizes. While the statistical breakdown of ski area-related injuries is interesting, the competing variables involved seem to cancel each other out and make for a fairly constant track record insofar as numbers and frequency.

According to Steve Robb, assistant patrol manager at Alpine Meadows Ski Area, a higher percentage of injuries can be attributed to beginners.

“The majority of accidents are beginners,” Robb said. “The experts don’t hurt themselves as often, but when they do, it’s pretty bad.”

During the 1999-2000 ski season, 38 percent of the injuries at Alpine Meadows occurred on groomed runs. This hefty percentage can be attributed to both the dense traffic on the runs and the high number of beginners navigating the easier terrain.

These incidents on the groomed trails are more-often-than-not minor and do not require the victim to be transported to the hospital, Robb explained; sprained wrists and ankles, as well as tweaked knees, are a popular fare with this crowd.

More experienced skiers and snowboarders, comfortably at home in the steeps and trees, tend to hurt themselves less frequently but with more flare. Attempting to soar in another league – full of big airs and dizzying twists – these snow hounds venture into a mine field of broken bones and concussions.

“If someone’s unconscious we consider it very serious,” Robb said, explaining that these more dire injuries require the downed person to be transported to a hospital.

According to Todd Conradson, emergency medical services supervisor for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, his team currently responds to an average of four calls on a typical Saturday; the NTFPD covers Alpine Meadows and Homewood.

With the industry’s increased marketing ploys aimed toward everything ‘extreme’, a growing number of beginners are experiencing this harsher variety of injuries.

“You’ve got two types,” explained Chesnut, who use to patrol for the extreme-laiden Squaw Valley USA. “You’ve got beginners who realize they’re beginners, then there’s the people who watch the movies and figure, ‘eh, I can pull that off’; these are the people that usually become statistics. When I was up at Squaw we use to haul’em off like cord wood.”

The introduction of half-pipes and terrain parks has also increased one’s chances of getting injured on the mountain. Instead of having to seek out naturally formed jumps and drops, the general public is not presented with a smorgasbord of ramps, rails and the like.

“You put kids up in the air – they can get hurt,” Robb said.

Another reason a higher percentage of injuries can be linked to novices may be due to the fact that skiers and riders with more experience under their bibs tend to stifle injuries until they can be dealt with outside the hoopla of the ski patrol and ambulances.

According to Teresa Moore, a registered nurse in Tahoe Forest Hospital’s emergency room, locals will sometimes wait until the morning after an accident to seek medical attention in an effort to avoid the afternoon crowds and extended waiting-room stays.

On the other hand, inexperienced ski area visitors sometimes overcompensate and request assistance when it isn’t totally necessary.

“If there was no ski patrol, 90 percent of the people [we respond to] would make it off the hill themselves,” Robb said.

Technological advances within the equipment industry may be the primary saving grace for a sport in which one attaches one’s self to planks before pointing their nose toward the base lodge.

“It’s gotten better since the old days,” Chesnut said, citing equipment modifications that have made the sport easier on the knees and ankles.

According to Ben Redfield, a salesman at Porter’s Ski and Sport, many ski bindings are now designed to release their boot during crucial falls. While digging through powder for that illusive ski may be irritating it’s considerably more desirable than undergoing reconstructive surgery on a knee.

“Up until last year, or the year before, beginners kind of lost out in the technology,” Redfield said, explaining that safety features are no longer relegated to higher-end equipment. “It has now trickled down.”

Increased use of helmets has also added a little padding to the unforgiving slopes. While a majority of the yougins seen rocketing down the hill have their heads encased in the protective shell, a growing number of seasoned skiers and riders are also warming up to the helmet.

“It’s becoming more fashionable to wear a helmet,” Redfield said. “The whole Sonny Bono-thing has made a definite impact. I think people are realizing the danger of skiing.”During the 1999-2000 ski season, 38 percent of the injuries at Alpine Meadows occurred on groomed runs. This hefty percentage can be attributed to both the dense traffic on the runs and the high number of beginners navigating the easier terrain.

These incidents on the groomed trails are more often than not minor and do not require the victim to be transported to the hospital, Robb explained; sprained wrists and ankles, as well as tweaked knees, are a popular fare with this crowd.

More experienced skiers and snowboarders, comfortably at home in the steeps and trees, tend to hurt themselves less frequently but with more flare. Attempting to soar in another league – full of big airs and dizzying twists – these snow hounds venture into a mine field of broken bones and concussions.

“If someone’s unconscious we consider it very serious,” Robb said, explaining that these more dire injuries require the downed person to be transported to a hospital.

According to Todd Conradson, emergency medical services supervisor for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, his team currently responds to an average of four calls on a typical Saturday; the North Tahoe district covers Alpine Meadows and Homewood.

With the industry’s increased marketing ploys aimed toward everything “extreme,” a growing number of beginners are experiencing this harsher variety of injuries.

“You’ve got two types,” explained Chesnut, who used to patrol for the extreme-laden Squaw Valley USA. “You’ve got beginners who realize they’re beginners, then there’s the people who watch the movies and figure, ‘Eh, I can pull that off’; these are the people that usually become statistics. When I was up at Squaw we use to haul ’em off like cord wood.”

The introduction of half-pipes and terrain parks has also increased one’s chances of getting injured on the mountain. Instead of having to seek out naturally formed jumps and drops, the general public is now presented with a smorgasbord of ramps, rails and the like.

“You put kids up in the air – they can get hurt,” Robb said.

Another reason a higher percentage of injuries can be linked to novices may be due to the fact that skiers and riders with more experience under their bibs tend to stifle injuries until they can be dealt with outside the hoopla of the ski patrol and ambulances.

According to Teresa Moore, a registered nurse in Tahoe Forest Hospital’s emergency room, locals will sometimes wait until the morning after an accident to seek medical attention in an effort to avoid the afternoon crowds and extended waiting-room stays.

On the other hand, inexperienced ski area visitors sometimes overcompensate and request assistance when it isn’t totally necessary.

“If there was no ski patrol, 90 percent of the people [we respond to] would make it off the hill themselves,” Robb said.

Technological advances within the equipment industry may be the primary saving grace for a sport in which one attaches one’s self to planks before pointing one’s nose toward the base lodge.

“It’s gotten better since the old days,” Chesnut said, citing equipment modifications that have made the sport easier on the knees and ankles.

According to Ben Redfield, a salesman at Porter’s Ski and Sport, many ski bindings are now designed to release their boot during crucial falls. While digging through powder for that elusive ski may be irritating, it’s considerably more desirable than undergoing reconstructive surgery on a knee.

“Up until last year, or the year before, beginners kind of lost out in the technology,” Redfield said, explaining that safety features are no longer relegated to higher-end equipment.

Increased use of helmets has also added a little padding to the unforgiving slopes. While a majority of the youngins seen rocketing down the hill have their heads encased in the protective shell, a growing number of seasoned skiers and riders are also warming up to the helmet.

“The whole Sonny Bono thing has made a definite impact. I think people are realizing the danger of skiing,” Redfield said.


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