Keeping Safe whilst on the slopes

Many people worry about how to stay safe whilst on the slopes. A ski slope is certainly a dangerous place and hazards are numerous. However, if you obey a few simple rules you will reduce your chances of becoming involved in a serious collision. Even the most minor of incidents can damage your confidence for the rest of your stay and will subsequently increase your chances of becoming involved in a second accident.

After paying so much money for the pleasure of staying in a lovely chalet in a winter wonderland, you really do not want to spend a fortnight stuck inside whilst everyone else is having fun. The following advice will ensure that you have a good time whilst staying safe at all times.

The National Ski Patrol Responsibility Code

The National Ski Patrol has constructed a responsibility code which you should obey at all times in order to keep yourself, and those around you, as safe as possible. The code is as follows:

  • Always make sure that you are in control whilst skiing so that you can avoid colliding with others.
  • Remember that those ahead of you on the slopes have right of way.
  • Never stop in a position which is not clearly visible from above.
  • When you are preparing to join a trail, always give way to those already on the slopes.
  • Always do your best to stop ski equipment from travelling down the slopes after a fall.
  • Obey all signposts and warning signs at all times and never enter areas which are marked as closed.
  • Before using any ski lift, make sure that you know how to use it properly.

Many of these rules and regulations are simply common sense, but make sure that you bear them in mind at all times.

Skiing on congested runs

If you have ever visited a popular ski resort at peak season, you will know how crowded the slopes can get, especially during the early hours of the afternoon. At times like these, you really need to consider the following advice:

  • Control your speed: Never ski in a manner which you perceive to be dangerous. Do not push your limits and always keep to a sensible speed. It will be far easier to deal with an obstruction ahead of you if you are travelling at a moderate speed.
  • Never stop in the middle of a slope: No matter what happens whilst you are skiing, never stop in the middle of a slope. This can cause other skiers to crash into you which can seriously injure both you and them. Instead, gradually slow down and then glance uphill and all around you to find a suitable place and time to come to a complete stop.
  • Alert others of your actions: If you intend to overtake another slope-user, alert them as to which side you will be passing them on. Simply call out the relevant direction (for example “right side” or “on your left”) and the skier ahead of you will be able to alter their movements to let you pass safely without fear of collision.
  • Give children the space they need: Many skiers, especially those who enjoy skiing at speed, find young children an annoyance. However, you must always ensure that you give them the space and time that they need to ski in a safe fashion.

Choice of slope

Marked trails

When looking at the resort map and choosing your desired skiing area, you should bear several things in mind. Firstly, never overestimate your ability. If you are new to skiing, stick to the nursery slopes and blue slopes. Do not be tempted to push yourself too soon and try a red slope because this can be very dangerous and will result in you losing confidence, which is an essential requirement for skiers of all abilities.

If you are an expert, you may be tempted to ignore signs which mark a trail as closed whilst in search of a real thrill. However, when mountain officials make the decision to close a trail, it is because there is a real danger of serious injury if you decide to use it.

Off-piste skiing

If you do decide to go off-piste, you should be aware that you are putting yourself at an increased risk of being caught up in an avalanche. The following tips will reduce your chances of suffering a serious injury:

  • Always ski in a group if you decide to go off-piste.
  • Either hire an official guide or appoint a member of your group to be the leader. This individual should be responsible for making decisions in emergencies.
  • Be careful of cornices and never approach the edge of a drop-off.
  • Use wider skis rather than narrow skis on off-piste slopes.
  • Consider purchasing a transceiver and carry a small shovel with you.
  • Carry a compass and consider taking lessons in avalanche awareness before you reach the ski resort.

It really is worth investing in a transceiver prior to leaving the UK. There are several good models on the market, including:

  • The Ortovox X1: This model was altered after its release to become a three-antenna transceiver. The direction indicator will light up when you are within 15 metres of the avalanche victim. The controls are easy to use and it comes with a very comfortable harness.
  • The Ortovox D3: This model is a three-antenna digital transceiver which displays the distance indicator and direction indicator as soon as it locks on to the transmitting beacon. It only weighs 360 grams and is a good choice for those wanting to keep safe on the slopes.

How to fall safely

Although it may sound illogical, there are some relatively safe ways of falling if you feel you are about to take a tumble. Firstly, try your best to relax. This may be difficult but you are far more likely to suffer a serious injury if you are tense. If you sense that you are about to fall over, it is best to simply let it happen. If you try to regain your balance, you could end up crashing into obstacles such as rocks or trees.

If it is at all possible, try to fall uphill as this will reduce your chances of sliding. However, if you do start to slide, never attempt to interrupt your slide with your skis. This may seem like a good idea at the time but it can be extremely dangerous.

Ideally, the impact of the fall should be focussed upon your shoulders and hips, rather than areas such as your knees or elbows. Never put your hands out in an attempt to break your fall, especially if you are falling at speed. Wrists are, unfortunately, very easy to break and although you may think that they can bend without snapping, this is not true.

General ski equipment

Never even think about borrowing equipment from your friends or family. If you are a snowboarder and fancy a couple of hours hurtling down the slopes on a pair of skis, do not give in to the temptation of borrowing equipment from friends who are the same size as you. Always rent equipment from a ski shop or an official rental location in the resort.

Whether you are buying ski boots or renting them, ensure that they fit properly. If your boots are too big or too small, your ankles may tilt and you could be knocked off balance. Always provide accurate information concerning your skiing ability, weight, shoe size and height to the person adjusting your bindings. If in doubt, overestimate your weight and underestimate your skiing ability. If you fall over whilst skiing and your bindings do not release at precisely the right moment, your chances of injury will greatly increase.

Helmets

Most of us wouldn’t think twice about wearing a helmet whilst cycling or horse-riding but many of us choose not to wear one whilst skiing. There could be several reasons for this choice, including fashion concerns and misleading views about comfort. However, both the National Ski Patrol and the Professional Ski Instructors of America encourage skiers to wear a helmet even though it is not compulsory for those hitting the slopes.

When you stop to think about how dangerous it is hurtling down an icy slope surrounded by trees and filled with obstacles, including other skiers and snowboarders who can behave in a worryingly unpredictable manner, it makes absolute sense to invest in and wear a good helmet.

Whether you are a beginner or an expert skier who loves to indulge in off-piste activity, you have numerous choices when it comes to buying a helmet. Manufacturers make specialist helmets for men, women and children, and the following examples come highly recommended.

For men

  • The Giro G9 Helmet: This helmet boasts a Featherweight design and allows for fantastic peripheral vision, which is essential for keeping safe on the slopes. It is adjustable and very comfortable and also comes with earflaps which are removable. You do not need to worry about getting too hot whilst wearing this helmet, as it has 15 vents which work together to transport cool air around your head.
  • The K2 Blackhawk Helmet: This helmet comes with a washable head liner, active channel venting and ear liners which can be removed. Comfort is guaranteed with this helmet since it only weighs approximately 630 grams.
  • The Boeri Vortex Helmet: This helmet was introduced for the start of the 2006 ski season and is very versatile. It is good for skiers and snowboarders who enjoy showing off their skills in the snow park but also like to cruise down the mountain. You can choose the precise amount of ventilation provided by the helmet by adjusting its seven passive chimney vents and altering the removable plug system.
  • The Boeri Tactic Helmet: This helmet has hard-shell technology and seven plug-activated heat-dissipating chimneys. It boasts a one-piece ear and neck cover, which will keep you warm and comfortable at all times. The Head-Loc fit system will make sure that your helmet fits snugly on your head, increasing both comfort and safety.

For women

  • The Boeri VIP Helmet: This is a multi-impact helmet which is stylish but will keep you safe. The polycarbonate outer shell is lined with a plush interior to guarantee comfort. On really cold days on the slopes you can close the microplast vent covers, but if you get too hot you can open them up again. The chinstrap is lined with a fleece material to ensure that it does not irritate your skin.
  • The Smith Intrigue Helmet: This helmet boasts an AirEvac design which maximises airflow and helps to control your body temperature. It has snap fit ear pads and a removable goggle clip. The special Helmet Fit System means that it will fit heads of all shapes and sizes and the furry interior lining provides amazing comfort.
  • The Giro Ember Helmet: This helmet offers great peripheral vision. It offers Thermostat adjustable venting, which allows you to control your body temperature without removing the helmet from your head. It boasts a fantastic strength-to-weight ratio as a result of its two Hardbody shells and its EPS liner.

For children

  • The Giro G9 Helmet: This helmet offers the features found in the senior model but is designed especially for children. It is capable of absorbing the impact of a fall and has warm, comfortable earflaps to provide protection from the elements. It also boasts 12 air vents to help control temperature.
  • The Boeri Stinger Helmet: This helmet offers great ventilation as a result of its revolutionary cooling system. It has a flexible sizing system and removable ear pads. The chinstrap is covered with a fleece material to provide comfort for younger skiers at all times.
  • The Smith Holt Helmet: This helmet has snap fit ear pads and a removable goggle clip. It makes use of a Youth Helmet Fit System, so it is guaranteed to fit your child comfortably.

For racers

  • The Boeri Competition TB01 Helmet: This helmet is designed specifically for those wishing to indulge in racing during the ski season. Its Kevlar/fibreglass model will impress even the most experienced skier. It is sleek, stylish and boasts multi-vent features to help keep you cool at all times.
  • The POC Skull X Helmet: This helmet offers comfort, great ventilation and is guaranteed to keep you safe on the slopes. It has a relatively thin shell which is made from stainless steel and is extremely strong. This helmet will make you feel like you have invested in a custom-made model as a result of its revolutionary ‘snug fit’ system.
  • The Boeri RB01 Helmet: This helmet boasts a full shell construction and offers removable earpieces. The comfortable liner is removable so you can keep it clean at all times. The Quick Draw metal chin strap is very comfortable and allows you to do up your helmet securely in no time at all. It is the latest model to be included in the Boeri Competition line.

Goggles

The weather conditions which you will experience whilst skiing necessitate the use of ski goggles. It can be confusing when it comes to choosing the right goggles but it is essential that you are able to see clearly at all times whilst on the slopes. If you usually wear glasses, you may wish to consider purchasing a pair of over-the-glasses (OTG) goggles. However, if you have perfect vision, you may be best sticking to regular ski goggles which are smaller.

Once you have purchased your goggles, you need to make sure that they fit properly. They should not be too tight or too loose. If the goggles are too tight they will start to hurt your face as the day progresses and will distract you, preventing you from concentrating on the skiing action. This can obviously be dangerous, but if they are too loose they will not protect your eyes from the snow and wind. As a general guide, when you place the goggles on top of your helmet they should be able to rest comfortably without being stretched.

Before making your purchase try on several different pairs of goggles and consider various shades of tinted lenses. Ask the shop assistant if you can take the goggles outside to see how they will work in natural light. Some skiers have found that goggles which offer an orange tint are the best. This is because they pick up on shadows and help you to see variations on the slopes. It is essential for your safety that you are able to spot the bumps and icy patches on the slopes ahead of you.

Over-the-glasses goggles

  • The Smith Knowledge Turbo Fan OTG Goggles: These goggles are guaranteed never to compromise your vision by fogging over. It boasts Vaporator lens technology and a Porex filter. You will easily be able to adjust the goggles to fit your head with the model’s QuickFit strap adjustment system. Comfort is guaranteed as a result of the floating membrane. This specification reduces pressure which may be felt in the area around your temples.
  • The Oakley Proven OTG Goggles: These goggles have a foam configuration which creates a snug seal around your eyes. Sweat will not accumulate as a result of the triple-layer face foam and your vision is guaranteed to be perfect with the anti-fog treatment applied to the goggles. The goggles are lightweight and comfortable and are also built to last. The scratch-resistant material, Lexan, will guarantee protection against general wear and tear.

Regular goggles

  • The Uvex F1 Magic Goggles: These goggles are not at risk of fogging over because they utilise a double lens system and have been treated with the company’s revolutionary Supravision treatment. They are very durable and offer fantastic ventilation as well as a comfortable fit.
  • The Smith Wall Street Ignitor Mirror Goggles: These goggles bear the influence of rimless eyewear, a technology which has increased in popularity over recent years. They boast interchangeable goggle technology, patented Vaporator lens technology with Porex filter, a sensor mirror lens, a QuickFit strap adjustment system and carbonic-X lenses.

Goggles for children

  • The Oakley XS O Frame Goggles: These goggles boast the features which have made Oakley’s senior models famous in the world of skiing. However, they have reduced the cranial geometry of the goggles to make them suitable for younger skiers. The goggles have been treated with F-2 Series treatment to make sure they never fog over. Glare will not be an issue whilst on the slopes as a result of the texturing on the interior surface.
  • The Smith Gambler Pro Goggles: These goggles are suitable for skiers who are at least six years of age. The Flexion outrigger system makes the goggles very safe whilst ventilation is guaranteed as a result of the dual lens system. Young children will love the bright colours of the external frame and parents will be relieved to note the helmet and glasses compatibility.

Conclusion

These tips are not meant to scare you or take the fun out of your skiing holiday. Rather, they will hopefully provide you with the confidence to have a fantastic time on the slopes. Whilst some of the equipment is rather expensive (especially the helmets), it is certainly worth investing in it before you leave the UK. Ultimately, common sense is the most important thing to take with you to the ski resort. Keep your wits about you at all times and just be sensible (which means choosing not to indulge in that large glass of red wine at lunch).