Many people see skiing as the ultimate winter sport. Few other sports combine stunning scenery with the exhilaration and adventure of skiing. But, as with many sports, it does come with some risks. Speed, combined with mountainous terrain are a recipe for injury, but following a few safety rules can help you stay safe on the slopes.
The FIS (International Ski Federation) has established 10 rules of conduct to keep you and others safe on the slopes. Here’s what you need to know (applies to snowboarding too):
- Respect for others: Behave in such a way that does not endanger others.
- Control of speed and skiing: Move in control and adapt speed to personal ability and terrain, snow and weather, as well as to the density of traffic.
- Choice of route: If coming from behind choose a route which doesn’t endanger people ahead.
- Overtaking: Provide enough space when overtaking.
- Entering, starting and moving upwards: Look up and down the slopes before setting off.
- Stopping on the slope: Unless absolutely necessary, avoid stopping on the slope in narrow places or where visibility is restricted.
- Climbing and descending on foot: When either climbing or descending on foot keep to the side of the slope.
- Respect for signs and markings: Follow signs and markings at all times.
- Assistance: You are duty bound to assist at accidents.
- Identification: Whether a responsible party or not, you must exchange names and addresses following an accident.
The adrenaline rush of skiing means that accidents can happen, but we can minimise accidents and injury to ourselves and others if we all follow the rules. Beginner and inexperienced skiers should especially proceed with caution, and taking note of a few other things can make your experience on the slopes a little safer:
- Wear a helmet: Ski helmets are now a common sight on the slopes to prevent head injury. Skiing can be a dangerous sport, with people sliding down the mountains at up to 50mph, so it’s important to stay protected.
- Avoid collisions: You need to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Beginners skiers need to beware of losing control and crashing into another skier, and they must always look uphill before setting off.
- Look out for ice: Icy slopes form when the snow melts and then refreezes, particularly if there hasn’t been snowfall for a while. And snow gets pushed to the side of the slopes by other skiers, exposing large patches of ice, which can become slippery.
- Dress appropriately: Keep yourself warm by wearing layers, along with a hat under your helmet. Wear warm gloves and socks, and wear ski goggles to protect your eyes.
- Know your binding setting: Incorrectly adjusted ski bindings account for many leg and knee injuries. The DIN setting is calculated based on your boot sole length, age, weight, height, and ability level. The higher the DIN, the higher the force required to release from your bindings. Use an online calculator to work out your setting, or an experienced sales assistant in a store or rental shop will be able to calculate it for you.
- Take a break: Skiing is physically tough, so if you’re tired, take a break. You’ll burn a lot of energy, so you need to make sure you’re drinking and eating enough while resting.
And it may sound strange, but you’ll need to pack sunscreen too. Even though temperatures may be extremely cold, the potential for sunburn can be high. The risk of sunburn is much greater in the mountains because the atmosphere is thinner, and less pollution is present to filter out the sun's harmful UV rays. Snow can reflect almost 90% of UV radiation so rays are much more likely to burn areas such as your chin and nose, which can be extremely painful. Apply sunscreen 30-minutes before you go outside, and carry a small tube in your backpack so you can reapply frequently. Water resistant sunscreen is best in the snow, and take a lip balm too to protect your lips.
Why are there different coloured slopes?
To stay safe while skiing, it’s important to stick to slopes suited to your ability. That’s where the different colours come in. Each ski resort has a rating system that will help you decide whether a particular run is OK for you, or if you need a little more practice first.
European resorts usually have circle-shaped signs to indicate the difficulty of their slopes. Here’s a rundown of what the different colours mean:
- Green: Very easy and gentle. These are suitable for beginners, or are used as practice slopes.
- Blue: Easy. These runs are usually groomed and on shallow slopes (less than 25% gradient).
- Red: Intermediate. These routes are steeper or narrower (or both) than the blue runs. However, they will generally be groomed and the gradient of the slope won’t be more than 40%.
- Black: Expert. Sometimes a black route may only be slightly more demanding than a red route. Other times it can be extremely steep.
The thing to remember is that routes are graded relative to others in the same resort. So if you struggled on a red run, then you might want to give the black run a swerve until you’re feeling more confident.