Tonya Cruikshank / Skifield Medical Coordinator / Queenstown, New Zealand
Floating through knee-deep powder or carving down fresh corduroy with the morning sun on your face, skiing is the best sport in the world. A perfect triad of speed, nature and adrenaline! Yet why on one day can it feel like a perfect run but on another a total lemon?
As skiers, we spend our time sliding fast down a slippery incline with one or two planks clipped tightly to our feet. In the event of a stack (technical term) there are some large forces to contend with.
I remember aged eight watching my father tie wooden skis to hiking boots and set off down a rarely snow-covered local hill. Yes, our skis are fancier these days and yes, there have been huge developments in ski and binding technology but accidents still happen. There are other hazards: rocks, sliding snow, metal equipment and the inevitable mixing of skiers and snowboarders, both of whom view and use the same terrain in different ways.
From a medical perspective, these hazards can create a challenging mix of sports injuries and require the ski field area clinician to adapt to a new way of working, away from the hospital and with less equipment.
Knees bend with regularity, squeezing cartilage, stretching and tearing collaterals and cruciates. Shoulders frequently dislocate, typically amongst the repeat offenders of the terrain park. Patellae, elbows, hips and fingers may also jump out of joint, not to mention any fracture dislocations. Sharp ski edges can create clean deep wounds, wrists break under the forces of direct landings and unfortunately at times heads and spines are injured.
What should you do?
On a clear day, many doctors are to be found on the slopes. If you are not the official clinician and you come across an injury, what should you do?
Keep it simple and safe / prevent further injury to the injured person – cross your skis in the snow, stand someone above you to keep others from stacking themselves too. Avoid heroics: ski area patrollers have a wealth of experience in scene safety, first assessment and transport. Offer your assistance but allow them to do their job. They will tell you how you can help.
Keep the person warm / hats and more layers of clothing if possible, though be careful moving any parts that may be injured.
Summon help / usually the best way to do this is to send someone down to the nearest lift or patrol base and they can then radio the ski patrol. In the backcountry someone may need to ski down or skin up to get cellphone coverage- generally much better on ridges than valley floors.
Look after yourself / if you plan to venture into the backcountry, learn about keeping yourself safe and have a healthy respect of avalanche terrain. The Mountain Safety Council runs great avalanche awareness courses. Never ski alone, carry the right equipment (transceiver, shovel and probe at a minimum) and most importantly practice using them regularly.
Learn more / think about an Advanced Wilderness Medicine Life Support or become a ski doctor yourself.