Are you out of control?

I am making a sweeping generalisation when I presume that if you are reading this you are more likely to be an inherently sensible person who is keen to learn.  Chances are, this is also how you ski or board, therefore you are less likely to be out of control and this blog is not aimed at you.  However, please please please direct this blog towards people you know who do not give any thought to the rules of the pistes.  In fact, so many people do not even know that there is a skiers highway code!

I am about to go on a rant. I have seen too many collisions and dangerous situations that are easily avoidable over the years. At best, people walk away from the collisions a bit shaken.  At worse, they can be fatal!

In my job, I hear about collisions on the pistes day in and day out.  9 times out of 10, the injuries that I see have occurred to someone that has been the victim of someone else’s carelessness.

Most collisions are avoidable.

I send my 5 year old to ski school twice a week. She absolutely loves skiing but I get a little nervous each time I send her off up the mountain.  I trust the instructor that she skis with and I trust her to be sensible (within a 5 years olds scope of awareness).  However, I don’t trust the people around her.  I don’t trust the skiers and boarders that come hurtling down the runs with very little awareness of the people around them. It is always a huge relief when she gets back safely after each lesson.

On all types of pistes there are people of mixed abilities, travelling at various speeds in varying directions. Skiing and boarding are free sports; you can travel where you want at whatever pace you like. Skiing is liberating, but this freedom should not mean that you do not show respect for others on the mountain.

As I continue my rant, I’d like to point out that I’m not saying that you shouldn’t challenge yourself. You need to challenge yourself to improve, however there are ways of doing this safely.  Challenging yourself does not mean hurtling down a piste out of control.

DO NOT SKI OR BOARD OUT OF CONTROL OR BEYOND YOUR LIMITS. 

In Europe, our pistes are not patrolled like they are in North America.  It is our responsibility to act responsibly! It is our responsibility to teach our children the rules of the road (pistes in this case).  In no particular order, my top tips for skiing safely are:

1 – Make sure that you are skiing or boarding in control.

Can you stick to the line that you have picked to ski or safely change direction to accommodate other skiers or snowboarders?  Have you chosen a safe route? Are you able stop fairly quickly? Can you control your speed?  Are you able to quickly react to avoid the unpredictable nervous beginner skiing below you?

If you are not able to answer a big fat yes to all of the above questions, then you need to check yourself or book a lesson!

2 – Make sure you do not ski or board beyond your limits.

As I’ve previously mentioned, we need to challenge ourselves to progress and improve.  However, there are ways of doing this safely.

I had a client a few weeks ago who presented with injuries that meant he couldn’t ski.  How did the injuries occur? He had one ski lesson in a snow dome before hitting the pistes. After a few successful green runs, he tried his luck on a blue run.  His luck ran out!  I think this was a good thing as he was clearly out of control and therefore he did not only put himself at risk but he significantly put other people at risk.

If you are skiing with a group of mixed abilities, do not put yourself under pressure to keep up with the fastest and the most skilled.  Equally, if you are the stronger skier in the group, do not put pressure on others to keep up with you.

3 – Use ski tracker apps with caution.

In 2012, there was a tragic death in Val d’Isère.  A young man lost control when skiing at speed and crashed into a snow canon.  The impact killed him.  It has been suggested that he was trying to reach top speeds on a ski tracker app.

However, it is not just the youngsters looking for speed thrills. Today, my neighbour told me about a group of lawyers in their 40’s and 50’s who were trying to beat each others speeds by recording their skiing on a tracker app.  I really hope they were on empty pistes where they were putting no one but themselves at risk.

4 – Do not ski after a boozy lunch or when you are seriously hungover.

Would you drive a car over the limit? I don’t think so, therefore don’t do it on the pistes.

5 – Know the skiers code of conduct.

The FIS code of conduct is a list of rules on the pistes, which form the basis of your legal rights and responsibilities as a snow sports participant.  The rules are aimed at reducing the risk of injury on the slopes.  They explain which skier has right of way, rules of overtaking, stopping on the piste and our duty should an accident occur.

If you are not familiar with the FIS code of conduct, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with them before skiing or boarding. Often they are printed on the back of a piste map and they are readily availiable online.

6 – When you stop on a piste, think about where is safe to do so.

Do not stop in the middle of the piste and do not stop just over a ridge where you can’t be seen.  Move to the sides of the piste.  Seriously, this is not rocket science, but seems to be a bit too much to grasp for many people!

Skiers blocking the piste

Skiers and snowboarders spread across the piste instead of stopping at the sides!

7- Teach kids when and how to manoeuvre safely.

Children may not have the safety awareness that we, as adults should have. It is our responsibility to teach them how to use a ski area safely.

Show children where it is safe to stop. Teach them to check for other skiers before starting skiing again.  Teach them to check before joining a piste if skiing outside of piste markers. And teach them to respect those skiing around them, particularly the downhill skiers.

Kids need to learn about ski safety too

Teach kids about ski safety

8 – Rest when you are fatigued.

If you are exhausted and aching take a rest or have a day off.  If your legs feeling heavy you will not have as much control over your skiing.  This can make it more difficult to make quick manoeuvres or to stop suddenly.  Falls and decreased control are also more likely when you are fatigued.

9 – Respect beginner pistes.

Beginners are often nervous and have less control over their skiing.  Having intermediate skiers careering past them at speed does nothing for their confidence.  Beginners are unlikely to be able to manoeuvre quickly if another skier crosses their path. They are also more prone to falls if they startle from someone skiing very close to them. Beginners also may make unpredictable turns, so slow down on beginner pistes.

10 – Check uphill before you head off.

This is a basic safety rule but so often overlooked.  Checking for on-coming traffic (skiers and boarders) sounds obvious………I’ll say no more!

Also, check the coast is clear if you are nipping on and off the piste or at a junction where runs converge.

11 – Adapt your skiing and boarding for the terrain and weather conditions.

If you are on narrow or icy pistes, slow down.  If the slopes are very busy, allow for this.  Pick your route and be prepared for people making unpredictable turns in front of you.

12- Minimise distractions

This can include using a mobile phone or listening to music whilst skiing or boarding.  Wearing headphones to listen to music may mean that you do not hear a skier or boarder close to you, reducing awareness and increasing the risk of collisions.  Use a Go pro mounted on a helmet to take footage on the pistes, rather than skiing along holding your mobile phone or a selfie stick.

13 – Pay attention to the skiers and boarders in front of you.

They have right of way.  At times, the downhill skier may be unpredictable. Allow for this.  Don’t assume to know their route. Children especially may make unexpected turns.  If you choose to overtake the downhill skier, avoid passing too close.

14 – Bravado.

It does not impress me when I hear that someone has managed to get down a red run on their second day skiing! It does not impress me when I hear that someone managed to learn to ski without lessons.  Anyone can clip into a pair of skis and try to stay balanced.  However, controlling the skis takes time, skill and practice.  I am impressed when people ski with skill, not with their egos!

When I hear about people challenging themselves to get down steep runs that are clearly beyond their limits or to keep up with more experienced skiers it either worries me or angers me!  Yes, I know that ski lessons are expensive but there is a reason for this.  In France (and in many other countries), ski instructors have spent tens of thousands of pounds to become qualified .  Top level ski instructing (required in France) is equivalent to a University degree.  These guys and gals know their stuff and they will teach you to ski in control.  You get so much from lessons, whatever your level.  So if you want to challenge yourself and improve, learn from the experts.

You may read this and think blimey, what a kill joy! That is not the aim of my rant at all.  Skiing is more fun when it is done in control.  Being a mountain mum has heightened my radar for crazy skiing and boarding.   Being a physiotherapist means that I often see the consequences of collisions (although the serious injuries bypass me and go straight to the medical centre or hospital).

It is really really important to be aware of these rules and safety tips.  If you manage a team of chalet staff, please share this blog and educate them.  If you are on a group holiday make sure that everyone is informed. And if you have children, help them understand safety rules as soon as they put their first skis on. Have the knowledge to stay safe and show respect for other skiers.  Please don’t be reckless.  And please, please, please think about your slope etiquette to help to avoid injury or even a tragedy from happening.

You can book lessons in Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz through ALP.

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