Skiing and snowboarding can be enjoyed for a lifetime without incident or injury. That said, there are factors that will increase our likelihood of mishap, and ironically many of these are behaviours or habits that we develop as we gain confidence and skills on the slopes. For the sake of our bodies, our longevity on the slopes and for the safety of those around us, here are 5 ski resort habits that we should avoid.
1. Riding with headphones
Unfortunately this trend has not been helped over the years by helmet manufacturers building speakers into the helmet earpieces, making it all too tempting to add a soundtrack to our riding. As far as safety goes, being able to clearly hear our surroundings whilst skiing or boarding is important, as our eyes can miss incident warning signs. Particularly true for snowboarders who have a natural blind spot, being able to hear someone passing closely or approaching can be the earliest indicator. By eliminating our ability to hear, we will also miss important announcements, warnings, and any other reason why our attention is needed on the slopes. The effect of the music can also embolden us – and therefore our riding – and see us taking greater risk than we would have otherwise. It can also create a disconnected, videogame-esque reality as we defend, enhancing our vulnerability. In short, we are more likely to have a collision if we are listen to music through headphones than if we were not.
2. Not lowering the safety bar
As we become more at home on the slopes it is easy to cut corners and not be as stringent with safety measures than we formerly were. While the safety bar once felt like a life-line as a beginner, it is easy for a more seasoned rider to feel so comfortable on the chairlift that we forget – or choose not to – lower the bar at all. While we may feel confident that we will not slip off of the lift, we cannot control the operation of the lift itself, and a sudden stop can easily throw us forward, or create a severe swing to to the lift. Most lift stoppages are sudden and without warning. A less common but still possible second potential danger is that of having a medical issue of our own. Anything that makes us loose consciousness, faint or double over puts us in a very vulnerable situation in the absence of a safety bar, one in which we could easily fall from the lift and at times, from a great height.
3. Ducking ropes or ignoring signs
Simply put, signs and ropes are in place for a reason. Be it to stave you away from uncontrolled or unstable avalanche terrain, or to stop you unintentionally dropping cliffs or slipping into a glide crack, ski resorts have very good reasons for keeping their guests out of certain areas. When we glimpse fresh power or untouched corduroy, it can be extremely tempting to gravitate towards to `the goods`, especially if we have done so before without incident. Sadly though it is a fact that many tragic stories – particularly in The Alps where the backcountry and piste exist so closely together – begin with someone ignoring a sign or skiing under a rope. And these stories are rarely about new or inexperienced skiers or snowboarders.
4. Chatting on the phone whilst skiing
As with riding with headphones, engaging in a phone conversation whilst skiing may feel glamorous, but is a significant distraction that increases your chance of an accident. It is all too easy to switch off to our surroundings and instead become absorbed in the conversation, making us less aware of those around us and unable to recognise potential collision trajectories. This again often occurs to the overconfident, and true focus is removed from the present.
5. Not knowing when to call it a day
Most accidents happen at the end of the day, with the highest percent happening on the very last run. There are many reasons for this, including poor slope conditions that are often left icy and chopped up after a full day of slope traffic. Most often however it is because we are tired and begin to cut corners in our technique and form, leading to sloppy skiing and biomechanically weak body positions. Our legs often abandon us first as the muscles tire, and once that happens we often lean back, making absorbing variable conditions and remaining centred all the more challenging. As our mass shift backwards and our legs continue to tire, our efficiency is lost, and we are prone to fumbling our way down the mountain. The absence of correct form makes a fall more likely, and the chance of injury from that fall is multiplied as our body is no longer protecting us. The feeling of maximising our time on the slopes and the associated expenses that go with that is a huge reason why so many skiers push themselves beyond their limits, and it is also not uncommon for pride to play a part in this too as individuals do not want to admit that they have had enough, or slow companions down. It is important to listen to our bodies, and to `call it a day` while we have energy enough to get down in a safe and comfortable manner.
It is often harder to shake a habit than it was to create it, but if our goal is many more enjoyable years spent on the slopes – we will all be better off if we can avoid these ones.
Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan.