Tender Tendons and Slippery Slopes


It’s easy to forget about the possibility of injury when drifting through metres of powdered snow 2000m above sea level. The same as how, when you’re in Alps, it’s easy to forget about that annoying young guy in the office who has been there half as long as you and gets twice the credit, or the broken lamp in the living room that your partner keeps yelling at you to fix. Amongst clear blue skies, snow covered goggles and 6 year old locals who are scarily fast on a pair of skis, such outdoor adventures always come with an element of danger. Of course there are countless other risky sports, however I think people often overlook just how serious injuries produced from skiing and snowboarding can be. One caught edge could mean a broken collar bone and six weeks of physiotherapy. One slippery ice patch might equal a busted knee and crutches. I guess the upside is you might not have to see the irritating guy in the office with six weeks off work.

Not only does skiing give the chance to replace the view of the adjacent apartment block with seemingly endless mountain ranges, but it also drives us to make the most of what we can’t do at home. This sport somehow spurs us to get out of bed at 8am in order to be the first of many keen individuals on the slopes. And naturally once we’re in our element, a mixture of excitement, the altitude and the six-and-a-bit pints that are still lingering inside us from the previous night push us to go higher, steeper, faster. So I still find it rather worrying the amount of people who choose not the wear helmets both on and off-piste. Hurtling down an icy slope at 50mph lacking any sort of head protection seems like the equivalent of driving down the A23 in a car with no body, no framework and no seatbelts. But maybe we’ll throw in some snow on the dual carriageway to cushion the landing.

With the most common ski injuries involving the knee, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) becomes a frequent topic of injury-related conversation among skiers. The ACL is the short central ligament connecting the femur to the tibia and can be subjected to rupture or tearing. As the lower leg is forced forward when the upper leg remains stationary, the ligament becomes overstretched. Luckily the advancement of ski, boot and binding designs has allowed for softer falls and release of skis before your legs manage to throw themselves all the way over your head, or perhaps the head of whoever else you’ve managed to take out down the run2. However, recent ski and boot design also has its drawbacks; the insulation around the lower legs puts a higher amount of pressure on the knees upon falls. In addition, the curved edges of newer types of carving skis reduces friction between the skis and snow, pulling skis away from you when turning and taking your knees with them as well. You might think at low speeds you have less chance of injury – which is usually true if you take a tumble and land on your head – however knee injuries can often end up worse as there is a lack of an abrupt force to open the bindings1.So what can we do to prevent these accidents? Not pushing yourself to the absolute limit is a sure-fire way of reducing the chance of breaking both legs at once. And to be honest, a beginner throwing themselves down icy moguls is never going to look cool. Taking lessons to improve technique is always good and having correctly-fitted bindings is vital; research has showed that skiers who have the wrong DIN settings or borrow others skis are eight times as more likely to injure themselves. In addition, a day of rest – preferably sitting in a hot tub, treating yourself to something that’s not pasta or baguette, or just having a four hour nap – gives your muscles a chance to recover1.

With the winter Olympics grasping everyone’s attention, the high risk of injury from snowsports is slowly becoming more apparent. Only recently did Czech snowboarder Sarka Pancochova go plummeting head-first down the womens’s slopestyle course, smashing her helmet on landing. Michael Schumacher’s disastrous accident a few months’ back was spread across the news; these headlines are often all it takes for people to think twice about taking risks on the mountains. It is great, however, to have the chance to support and admire the incredible British skiers and snowboarders that have competed so far. These guys are pulling off moves that I couldn’t even land on SSX games on the PS2. But does this give us the temptation to attempt such ridiculous stunts? Let’s hope it’ll give rise to a new generation of gold medallists as opposed to a new generation of back braces. With so many accidents occurring off-piste, it’s becoming more and more important to prepare for the worst. Attempting to trek miles from the nearest chalet in order to have a ‘sweet ride’ in a potential avalanche zone, dressed only in baggy shorts and an XXL hoodie is only going to end in tears. And probably a fat medical bill. The vast majority of people (particularly students, I’ve found) who don’t realise how much of a burden medical expenses can be, is also rather troubling. Surrounded in an NHS bubble in the UK, it’s easy to forget how insanely expensive it is to buy even a packet of paracetamol abroad. So don’t be too surprised if you find out that your parents have sold the dog in order to get your broken arm in a sling.

So whether you’re intending to pull off that 14,000-McMelonGrabPorkPie (or any trick with a similarly ridiculous name) or attempting to merely just stay standing on a snowboard, a little protection can’t hurt. Decide which slopes are suitable and invest in winter sports insurance and you’ll have yourself a nice getaway. Down a bottle of gin following a NekNominination and go hurtling down a black slope on your second day and no doubt you’ll be back at home with your partner yelling at you about that broken lamp in the living room again before you know it.

1 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/snowandski/748928/Top-tips-for-avoiding-skiing-injuries.html

2 http://www.ski-injury.com/prevention/alpine_prevention