5 ways to stay safe on the slopes

High profile cases serve to put the risk of ski accidents front of mind, so what can you do to stay safe on the slopes for your next ski trip?

Firstly, think positive. The statistics show that your chances of hurting yourself while skiing are low. French injury rates stand at just over two injuries per 1,000 skier days: a tiny risk.

But there’s still a lot you can do to help keep yourself safe on the slopes.

Piste studies show that ski accidents are more common on days when temperatures are mild, snow consistency is less predictable and the slopes are busier. Take particular caution on relatively gentle blue pistes where you’re most likely to encounter skiers of mixed ability.

In addition to ‘be wary on the blue’, watch your speed, and always look up the slope before you set off, these 5 ways will help you avoid injury on your next ski trip:

1 Wear a helmet

Head injuries represent less than 4% of piste injuries, and wearing a helmet reduces your chance of head injury by 35%.

READ MORE: Why we should all be wearing a ski helmet

2 Get in shape before you go

The organisation Mėdecins de Montagne warns that the highest chance of injury comes on day 2 of your ski trip, the infamous “Second Day Syndrome”, with people who are unfit at highest risk.

Shape up before you go and stretch every day while you’re in the mountains, using video ski fit videos from our fitness partner My Life Tonic, at 50% discount using the code WHOSKI50.

3 Stick to the piste

The number of fatal accidents on marked slopes has declined in recent years. However, off-piste deaths have risen due to increased numbers of free-ride skiers combined with more unpredictable snow caused by greater variability in temperatures and conditions in mountain areas.

If off-piste or back-country skiing is your thing, the Swiss Centre for Accident Prevention advises you to take avalanche training, go out equipped with safety gear and – ideally – only head off-piste in the company of an expert local guide.

4 Swap downhill for cross country

XC skiing injuries represent just 1% of winter sports injuries and no, cross country skiing is not just for the oldies. GB Snowsport cross country athletes are enjoying unprecedented success, with Andrew Musgrave scoring a Top 10 World Cup performance in Lahti this month against an army of Norwegians.

Another advantage: cross country is cheaper than downhill skiing because you don’t need to buy a lift pass.

READ MORE: What to wear for XC skiing ; Is cross country skiing having a moment?

5 Leave sledging to the kids

‘Fun’ fact: more than two thirds of sledging injuries are suffered by adults. Stay sensible and step away from the sledge. Especially after you’ve spent an evening in Dick’s Tea Bar.

Most importantly, every piste user should know and follow the FIS Rules of Conduct, the ‘Highway Code’ of the slopes. Read them on the Ski Club of GB website here.

Should we all be wearing a ski helmet?

I swapped my cosy ski cap (with fold down earflaps) for a ski helmet about four years ago for fear of being hit by another skier or boarder on the piste. These days, it’s unusual to see skiers or boarders not wearing a helmet.

That’s a huge change in slope safety mindset from just a few years ago: studies show that in some US and European resorts, 70% of us now habitually wear a ski helmet. They are not compulsory, although some resorts and ski schools do insist that infants and children wear a helmet on the piste.

In Canada, helmets are mandatory for those learning to snowboard, as well as for those teaching boarders and skiers.

Head injuries

Few parents would disagree that helmets for child skiers are essential, but should you wear one yourself?

Accidents involving high-profile skiers like Michael Schumacher and Natasha Richardson have helped convince many to swap beanies for helmets, although Schumacher was wearing a helmet when he sustained his injuries. Actress Natasha Richardson died from bleeding on the brain after she fell and hit her head while skiing (no helmet).

Benefits of wearing a helmet

As a chilly skier, I was pleased to find that a helmet is much cosier than a hat, it’s less likely to fall off (obviously), doesn’t itch and means you can keep your goggles on your helmet rather than have them taking up valuable pocket space. And as for those helmets that incorporate visors? Swoon!

Vents mean your head doesn’t overheat when you’re tackling a gnarly slope or the sun comes out, so for me my helmet is definitely a keeper.

The only question is how long can I go before buying a new one? There are some seriously desirable styles out there.

Ski helmets and injury

From the point of view of protection from injury, does wearing a helmet make a difference?

The NHS advises that the chances of sustaining serious injury when skiing are low. But if you are unlucky enough to have an accident, research published in June 2018 concludes (unsurprisingly) that wearing a helmet does help protect from head injuries. (btw, the publication Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Journal, where this research is published, has a fascinating contents page namechecking everything from wild boar to venomous snake bites via fire ants and ultraendurance nutrition.)

Scientists who have studied the effects of helmet use by skiers and snowboarders advise wearing a helmet in order to reduce the risk of a potentially serious head injury.

However, many ski helmets are not made of materials that will prevent brain injury if a so-called rotational injury occurs whereby (as explained in a very informative article in the Telegraph here), the brain rotates inside the skull following a collision.

Keep a look out for changes in helmet design and technology that offer increased protection from this kind of injury. (Good excuse for a headwear refresh!)

Find out more:

Ski Club GB advice about wearing a helmet

A factsheet from the charity Headway lists the symptoms of concussion and what to do if you suffer a blow to the head