Before winter even rolls around, thousands of families have booked their ski holiday – a week of sun, slopes, and memories. Whether your family members are novice skiers or experienced snowboarders, it’s important for each person to familiarise themselves with a few safety precautions in order to prevent injury during ski season.
The last thing you want is to ruin a fun getaway in the mountains because you’re suffering from uncomfortable pain thanks to the way you’re sliding down the courses, or worse, cause serious physical injury to yourself. In fact, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), about 600,000 people in the US are injured each year as a result of skiing and snowboarding. (1)
Specifically, children and adolescents are more prone to suffer ski injuries – so what can be done to minimise this risk, in both parents and their kids?
How risky is skiing? Ski injury statistics
The good news is that your chances of serious injury are low. In Switzerland, one of the most popular winter holiday destinations, reports claim that injury on the slope occurs in approximately 3 per 1,000 skiers a day. (2) However, when looking at the statistics, it’s actually teenagers and youths between the ages of 10-19 years old who are picking up more injuries on the slopes than adults.
Downhill ski injuries in children and adolescents
Children and adolescents enter a very rapid growth phase including hormonal change, and it often occurs before their strength and coordination skills have fully developed. That means that they might look like they’re getting older but their bones, ligaments, and joints may still be child-like and have not caught up with the growth process yet.
Thanks to this surge in hormones, these kids naturally become risk-takers desperate to swap the bunny slopes for the black diamonds – evidenced by the fact that there is a bimodal distribution of knee injuries. Beginner skiers and experienced young skiers actually have the same risk of injury because they push too hard and try to ski too fast.
Skiing safety tips: How to keep your family safe on the slopes
First and foremost, the earlier you can discuss safety with your child, the better. It should be engrained in their minds before hitting the slopes. If you’re not an avid skier but have a teenager who is interested, insist that they ski with some adult supervision.
Although many children and adolescents are technically capable of skiing and snowboarding to a high level, both through race courses and off-piste, their technical capability often far outstrips their maturity and understanding of how to mitigate risk.
Therefore, parents must do whatever they can to ensure the safety of their children when skiing, such as equipping them with the right kit for the right conditions. For example, if you purchase some ski gear online, especially skis, make sure you get them adjusted to you and your children. When it comes to fitting skiwear for your kids, it’s imperative that you get the kit adjusted to fit your child's foot size, weight, and ski capability. Of course, skiing on second-hand or borrowed kit is completely fine, however you must make sure that the bindings have been adjusted correctly for you or your child. Most rental shops around the slopes will be able to lend a hand with tips to adjusting ski gear to you and your child. Need more convincing? It’s been reported, but not proven, that ski gear that hasn't been adjusted correctly has been shown to have a whopping 800% higher risk of injury! Also, while there are a number of common skiing injuries, the knee is the most frequently injured joint.
How to prevent ski-related knee injuries
The ACL is one of the four main ligaments within the knee that connect the femur to the tibia. The knee is essentially a hinged joint that is sensitive to pressure and can tear causing extreme pain and could lead to surgery. You or your child can avoid tearing your ACL and prevent injury when skiing or snowboarding by:
1. Build core and leg strength
Strengthen your core and lower extremities for skiing with simple exercises three to four weeks before you hit the mountains. A combination of elliptical, biking, and weight training can be excellent ways to help you tolerate a full day on the slopes.
2. Adjust your skiwear
Make sure you and your children’s ski boots fit, bindings are adjusted, and ski length is appropriate for your height and skill level. And remember to always wear a helmet.
3. Brush up on your skills
If it’s been a while, take a skiing technique class with a professional before you hit the slopes and defamiliarise yourself. Alternatively, have lessons in the resort.
4. Stick to terrain that is a comfortable
Challenging yourself is fine, however build up to it. Try comfortable slopes that are not overwhelming and always make sure that your weight isn't back when going downhill.
5. Remember the rules of thumb
Hands and weight forward, legs parallel, and hips, knees, and ankles flexing equally. And most importantly, if you’re tired when you’re skiing, rest. Injuries happen more commonly when skiers are fatigued.
While skiing is a wonderful sport and an opportunity to learn about risk-taking and how to manage it, it's imperative that we recognise the vulnerability of children as they go from childhood to adolescence as this sport has the potential to create serious injury if these areas are neglected.