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Healthy Living: Take on the Maine Slopes with Safety on Your Mind 

Healthy Living – February 7, 2017
Anthony Tannous, MD – Eastern Maine Medical Center

One of my personal interests since moving to Maine last summer was to learn how to ski, a lifelong goal that I hadn’t been able to pursue because of where I lived. Skiing is an incredible sport. It requires remarkable physical ability and is constantly challenging as you are at the mercy of the often unpredictable terrain and environmental conditions. You are also often at the mercy of the countless expert little skiers blazing past you with abandon! It is very hard to pick up this sport in your thirties but I’m giving it a good shot.
My focus is on safety first because the older you grow, the more you appreciate what you stand to lose in the event of an injury. Many of us are familiar with the high profile deaths of celebrities around the world from skiing accidents, such as the Formula 1 race driver Michael Schumacher and the actress Natasha Richardson. These were young fit individuals who lost their lives because of head injuries suffered on the slopes. And I have personally taken care of many other patients with injuries of varying levels of severity caused by unsafe skiing. I see it around me all the time. Some of the more experienced skiers let loose of important safety measures favoring comfort, speed, or even just looking good with the wind blowing through your hair. It is not worth it.
The use of helmets is one of the most contentious issues in the sport of skiing. Currently, a little less than half of skiers choose to wear a helmet but their safety is hotly contested. Most deaths from skiing occur because of high speed injuries where wearing a helmet may prove to be futile however there is no real reason not to wear a helmet and they do reduce the impact of less intense injuries. I know they have protected me personally many times.
It is important not to borrow equipment. Different people of different sizes and skiing proficiency should use equipment including boots and skis that is specifically fitted for them. As for clothing, it is crucial to avoid loose garments that may get entangled in poles and lifts. Stay warm and comfortable and make sure to dress in layers that wick the sweat and keep the wind out. Never forget your goggles and sunglasses. Snow is white and reflects the sun rays in a way that could blind you as you make your way down the slope and burn your skin without proper protection.
Another important rule is that you probably should not use skiing to get in shape. You have to be in reasonable shape to start skiing. You will simply have less of an injury risk if you are physically fit as it is a rather exerting sport. And If you are new to the sport or haven’t done it in a while, just take lessons. Don’t let your pride get in the way of safety. There is no embarrassment in slowly going through the basics with a qualified professional or refreshing some techniques you may fallen out of practice with. Start with the easy routes and work your way up to the more challenging slopes as you hone your skills and increase your confidence. If you need to stop in the middle of a piste, make sure you are in a visible place at the periphery to avoid other skiers. And if you suffer a minor fall and you have any doubts, seek the ski patrol for a quick check up. Many fatal injuries start from minor falls.
And if you are an expert skier, look out for the newbies! The key to enjoying the sport of skiing is to do it safely. And as I continue to learn it, one fall at a time, I will urge you to keep in mind the basic rules of safety that will keep you out of the hospital and on the beautiful slopes of Maine.