It’s a question I hear fairly regularly: Are skiing and snowboarding really safe?
The answer is yes. In fact, these exciting winter activities are safer than you might think, and there are several steps you can take to make your next trip to the slopes as safe as possible.
Skiing and snowboarding both provide an excellent physical workout that develops strength, stamina and coordination. They make for fun family outings that allow for differing levels of individual expertise. Best of all, perhaps, skiers and snowboarders learn to enjoy the challenge and beauty of a snowy winter landscape.
Here are a few tips for making sure your downhill adventures are fun and safe.
Wear a helmet
The National Ski Patrol and the Professional Ski Instructors of America encourage wearing a helmet, and for good reason. Studies show that the use of a helmet reduces the incidence of any head injury by 30 to 50 percent.
I have to admit, I was hesitant to get into the helmet habit, but since beginning to wear one a few years ago, I discovered a bonus benefit — ski helmets are warm, warmer than most ski hats. In many cases, a helmet can be worn over a ski hat to double the advantage.
The most important safety tip I can offer anyone ready to take to the slopes — and especially to parents of young skiers and snowboarders — is to wear a helmet.
Know the code
All ski areas in Maine, along with the National Ski Areas Association, promote the use of “Your Responsibility Code,” a guide for safe skiing and riding. Think of the code as a sort of defensive driving course for skiers and snowboarders.
- Always stay in control.
- People ahead of you have the right of way.
- Stop in a safe place for you and others.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield.
- Use devices to prevent runaway equipment.
- Observe all signs and warnings.
- Stay off closed trails.
- Know how to use the lifts safely.
Weather the weather
We all know mosthe weather in Maine can be unpredictable. Layer your clothing. Wear a helmet liner, a hat, and gloves or mittens — and bring extras in case the first pair gets wet or lost. Wear ski goggles that fit properly, especially if you use a helmet or eyeglasses. Some people may want to consider the use of prescription goggles.
Ski areas love new customers, and often offer affordable packages for beginners that include a lesson, a lift ticket, and rental equipment. If you were a skier in your younger days and are getting back into the sport, a lesson will help bring you up to speed on advancements in equipment and technique. Even experienced skiers can polish up their skills with a lesson every now and then.
Alpine sports are frequently compared to running and swimming in terms of cardiovascular exercise. To get the most out of your trip to the slopes, and to avoid potential injuries, maintain a year-round exercise regimen.
It’s always better to ski or ride with a friend or family member. Not only is it more fun to share your experience on the slopes with someone you know, you also can watch out for each other and get help more quickly when needed. Be sure to set a predetermined meeting place with your buddy, in case you get separated. Lots of folks — especially families — use walkie-talkies or mobile phones to stay in touch.
Finally, don’t hesitate to share any questions or concerns with ski area staff. Slope safety is the No. 1 priority for ski areas big and small; if you see something that looks unsafe, tell someone.
By following these tips for safety, courtesy and common sense, you’ll be able to make the most of your day on the mountain.
Mark Shea is the director of the SnowSchool at the Bigrock ski area in Mars Hill.