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Ski

Ski Safety: How to Stay Safe on the Slopes

Skiing is one of the most exhilarating sports out there, and an incredibly enjoyable experience to be shared with others. However, mountains and slopes can form a hostile environment even at the best of times, and with great skiing power and speed comes great responsibility.

We’ve compiled this skiing safety guide for the upcoming season to bring you expert advice, dos, don’ts and professional pointers to help you hit the slopes in safety.

Our guide is great as a starter induction for beginners but will also come in handy to more experienced skiers who wish to refresh their knowledge, of safety techniques for themselves and fellow skiers, before tackling the pistes this winter.

We’ll cover mountain safety and avalanche awareness, as well as provide you with advice on how to act, and things to avoid at the scene of a skiing accident, in the unlikely event you may come across one.

These tips are meant as basic training for safeguarding your own and others’ safety and to ensure that none of your skiing adventures are marred with bad incidents. There’s nothing worse than having the joyful excitement of a skiing holiday ruined by a preventable injury early on in your break, especially if you aren’t covered by travel insurance.

Official FIS Rules and Code of Conduct

The FIS (International Ski Federation) has a set of rules and regulations regarding skiing and snowboarding that are as legally binding as the road traffic code.

This means that skiers of all levels and backgrounds should be familiar with the content of these rules and follow them religiously. As much as the sport’s pleasure should be experienced freely, these rules prioritise skiers’ regard for the well-being of others and list a number of prohibited actions that may result in the endangerment of skiers on the piste.

Read through the FSI’s guidelines and familiarise yourself with slope etiquette if you haven’t before, to keep on the safe side and in line with the legal requirements of skiing, exercising the maximum caution to prevent accidents from occurring on the ski runs.

The following are ten points to always bear in mind:

RESPECT

Never endanger others through negligence, disregard for rules or general code of conduct.

CONTROL

Adapt the manner and speed of your skiing to your ability and to the general conditions on the mountain.

ROUTE CHOICE

The skier in front always has priority, so leave enough space between you and them.

OVERTAKING

Leave plenty of space when overtaking a slower skier in order to avoid collisions.

ENTERING & STARTING

Scan the mountain up and downhill each time before starting or entering a marked run, to determine how clear your route is.

STOPPING

Stop only at the edge of the piste or where you can easily be seen.

CLIMBING

When climbing up or down, always keep to the side of the piste.

SIGNS

Obey all signs and markings and alert others to their presence, where possible.

ASSISTANCE

In case of accidents, provide first aid and alert rescue services immediately, as well as nearby skiers.

IDENTIFICATION

All those involved in an accident, including witnesses, should exchange names and contact details.

Collisions

Collisions are probably the most commonly occurring accidents on the piste, but the good news is, they’re also the most avoidable. As explained above, exercising basic etiquette and common sense when entering or starting a run, stopping or overtaking, will prevent 90% of collisions from happening.

This is a typical rookie error as it takes time to build a sense of constant awareness for your immediate surroundings. A vital attribute for skiers is to always be on high alert to be able to pre-empt threats and react quickly to incidents that take place around you.

Equipment and Gear

All ski wear and equipment are designed to provide protection from the immediate physical risks associated with skiing. Whatever you wear, don’t make the grave error of underdressing. It’s always better to have too many layers than not enough. Check out our handy guide on layering up for skiing here. High-quality, comfortable ski jackets, salopettes, thermal layers, boots, socks, hats, ski gloves and ski goggles are indispensable to ward off the cold and moisture that threatens your health and comfort.

Furthermore, your gear and equipment should all be safety-tested and specifically made for wearing in extreme conditions. Check your items for quality benchmarks and that they adhere to European standards.

We can’t stress the importance of wearing a ski helmet enough. Though more and more skiers are putting one on, the general resistance to helmets persists in the ski community. Ski helmets are an absolute must for everyone, from novices who are more likely to suffer falls and bumps, to professional skiers whizzing down mountains at breakneck speeds. No excuses, fewer accidents and injuries.

Ski bindings are an essential kit piece that has to be chosen and monitored with safety in mind. Most leg and knee injuries suffered while skiing are a direct consequence of bindings that do not suit the age, height, weight and skill level of the skier, and are therefore completely preventable. Get a qualified ski equipment shop technician to help you choose the best skis for you and make sure the bindings are at the correct setting at all times.

Sometimes, body armour is advisable in cases where experienced skiers seek out technically adventurous jumps and tricks beyond the earmarked edges of the run. Lightweight spine protectors like those worn by horse-riders are valuable defence tools that will shield you from a life-altering spine injury.

Fitness

Fitness is a minor precaution, yet still an important factor to keep accidents and injuries at bay. It costs nothing and the benefits extend beyond just physical preparation for the taxing sport of skiing. However, ensuring physical fitness before attempting a skiing session greatly helps to reduce risks of damage to the body such as over-exertion.

Warming up before skiing and warming down after the termination of a session is paramount. You might be tempted to get your skis on as soon as you arrive at the run, or rush to get an après-ski aperitif while your heart rate is still sky-high, but resist these temptations and do the right thing for your body. A few simple stretches will be enough to get you started and finish you off nicely.

If you’re tired, stop. This may seem obvious, but a great deal of accidents involve skiers whose focus and concentration is at a low after a strenuous day on the slopes. Take frequent breaks, hydrate yourself well, socialise and appreciate your scenic surroundings in between your skiing to keep you grounded and alert.

Lastly, remember that your fitness level is relative to your skill level, and never attempt a run that’s well beyond your current ability. Nursery runs aren’t the place for pros to perform stunts, and similarly, an intermediate-level skier on a double black diamond run is a major no-no. Both scenarios will hurt the skier, and worse – others.

Terrain

Beware of the rock structure and stones on the ski terrain. Stones generally present a hazard early or late in the skiing season, when snowfall is light and the snow cover is thin and fresh. Try to ski as close to the edge of the piste as possible, as snow from the centre is pushed to the sides after heavy use of a run.

In the depths of the winter, packed snow will present a terrain that’s comparable to tarmac in its icy hardness. Be careful– your skis need to be fully tuned and rechecked consistently in this climate. Avoid skiing on large patches of ice unless you’re an able skier, and even then, we advise you to forego icy patches and ski on powdered snow in other slopes.

Avalanche Awareness

Avalanches create high-risk, emergency situations for skiers. They are more common than you might think, and every necessary precaution and measure should be taken to avoid being within the path of or creating an avalanche.

Despite insistent warnings, skiers venture away from the designated runs on their own without a qualified guide on a regular basis. This might not be too risky in stable snow conditions, but bearing in mind that weather at high altitudes changes extremely quickly and drastically, and that early snow means tree stumps and stones are a real obstacle, this is never a good idea.

For avalanches, prevention is better than cure all the way. Your best chances of survival are if you steer clear of its course, but if you’re trapped in its path with no way to escape, the first thing you should do is to remove yourself of skis, poles, and rucksack – if you have it. Try to keep yourself calm and wait out the peak of the velocity, slowly starting to burrow your way out using swimming motions when the slide subsides. Breathing is of utmost concern at this stage, so try to keep your airways clear.

If you plan to ski off-piste, always carry an avalanche transceiver, an extra-long collapsible probe and a shovel. The transceiver emits an electronic signal detectable even from beneath many metres of snow and will aid rescuers in tracking you, or you to track a victim if set to rescue mode. The probe and the shovel will be the only manual tools you require for digging yourself out.

The RECCO® Rescue System is a specialised avalanche safety measure consisting of a microchip system that is often incorporated into technical ski kits which helps a rescue team on a helicopter and on the ground to locate the buried skier.

If you become aware of the early signs of an avalanche, notify fellow skiers and organise a swift evacuation operation that will transport everyone to safety. Learn the tell-tale signs of an approaching avalanche and if you find yourself trapped in the impact area, act rapidly to increase your odds of survival.

Accidents and Emergencies

The following are some useful guidelines to stick to in the event of an accident or emergency on the slopes:

DO DO NOT
Assist the injured person or people immediately and raise alarm concerning their injury, seeking a first-aider and additional medical support if necessary. Add yourself to the casualty list while giving assistance. Instead, approach the injured with care, keeping sight of possible dangers such as other skiers, precipices or suspicious snow.
Follow the ABC rule: airway, breathing and circulation. These should all be unobstructed and artificially supported if the casualty is having trouble with independent respiration. Move a person or remove any ski helmets if neck injury is suspected or confirmed – the neck must remain immobile until medical assistance arrives.
Get help in an efficient, organised way to generate the best and safest response. Keep the victim warm and safe, far away from other skiers and hazards and off the piste, if possible.
If the victim is unconscious, not breathing and a pulse isn’t present, administer mouth-to-mouth ventilation and cardiac compression. These techniques are best learned in safe environments beforehand. Give the casualty anything to eat or drink; alcohol precipitates hypothermia and food may be counterproductive if the person requires an anaesthetic.
If a limb fracture is suspected, immobilise that limb and apply firm pressure to any bleeding wound. Make the injured person as comfortable as possible until help arrives and provide psychological reassurance. Panic or show exaggerated signs of anguish, as this will affect the morale of the casualty as well as the onlookers and others involved in the assistance efforts.

All the gear but no idea? Why not take a look at our all-encompassing Ski Glossary