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Winter Sports Safety Tips

January 2016


The Pacific Northwest is a great place to enjoy winter sports, particularly downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. You can enhance your enjoyment of these winter activities and reduce your risk of injury by being prepared and following a few commonsense rules.

Ski and Snowboarding Injuries

Common injuries related to skiing and snowboarding include:

  • Anterior cruciate or collateral (ACL) ligament injuries of the knee
  • Shoulder dislocations or fractures
  • Shoulder separations
  • Leg fractures
  • Spinal injuries
  • Head injuries, concussion
  • Wrist, hand or thumb injuries

Get in shape: Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and other winters sports can be demanding. Taking time in preseason to strengthen and stretch your back, hips and legs will make your time out on the snow more enjoyable and reduce your risk of injury. Don’t forget to train aerobically, by running, cycling or working out on an elliptical machine to minimize fatigue for those long days on the slopes.

Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition: Think about how you will eat and hydrate throughout the day. Energy bars or trail mix can fuel your body and help with recovery. Water or electrolyte drinks should be consumed based on your thirst. Make sure to train with the same snacks and fluids you will use while you are on the slopes.

Take a class: If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to take a few classes so you learn the skills you’ll need in order to enjoy yourself out on the slopes. Are you a little rusty? Think about taking a refresher course to brush up on your technique.

Check your gear: Make sure you have the right equipment and that it’s right for your size and ability, in good condition and operates properly. Check your ski and snowboard bindings and have them serviced and adjusted if you have any doubts. Most ski shops can help you set the tension on your bindings so they will safely release when you fall. Always wear a helmet when downhill skiing and snowboarding. Make sure it’s in good condition and fits well: An ill-fitting or damaged helmet will not provide you with good protection.

Be prepared for the cold: Dress warmly in layers so you can shed clothing if you get warm but bundle up if it gets cold. Start with thermal underwear and socks, then add intermediate layers of wool or synthetic fleece, and finish with a waterproof and windproof shell of pants and a jacket. A face mask is good to have on hand to protect against frostbite. Top it off with a warm hat and properly fitting gloves.

What Causes Ski and Snowboarding Injuries?

Here are a few of the most common factors that lead to ski and snowboarding injuries:

  • Time: skiing/snowboarding without rest; end of day
  • Skiing/snowboarding above ability level
  • Improper/faulty equipment
  • Inadequate adjustment to altitude
  • Dehydration/fatigue
  • Skiing/snowboarding off trail or in closed areas
  • Failure to observe posted warning signs by the mountain responsibility conduct code

You still can get burned: The sunlight bouncing off the snow makes it easy to get sunburned while outside in the winter. Use sunscreen to protect your skin and wear sunglasses or tinted goggles to protect your eyes.

Check the weather: Before going out be sure to check the weather forecast and avalanche conditions. Winter storms can sweep in quickly and you may not be able to find shelter in time.

Know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite: If you are going to participate in outdoor winter sports you should take a first-aid and emergency resuscitation course so you know how to recognize and treat hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition and both it and frostbite are medical emergencies. It’s important to remember that hypothermia can occur when temperatures are mild, even above 40 degrees, especially if you get wet from rain, sweat or falling in the water.

Be prepared for anything: Make sure you are prepared and have the proper emergency equipment, especially in backcountry or extreme terrain. Start by telling others about your travel plan, including location and when you will return. Travel with a personal locator beacon (PLB), just in case there is an avalanche. Consider utilizing a GPS device in case you get lost or there is poor visibility. Carry a Mylar blanket in case you get very cold. And remember to bring extra food and water.

To learn more about winter sports safety, or to make an appointment with a primary care physician, call 855-520-5151.

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