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-An overview by Emilio Trampuz -


Click on the image for a larger view.


Safety Hexagon

The 6 major components of a safe day on the slopes:



Turning skills - "Don't crash and burn - Learn to turn"

Turning is what our sport is all about, yet many people have very poor control over the shape, size and speed of their turns. Just try to get a group of people to do synchronized turns, and see how few people can do it. We propose a whole new vision of safety and fun on the slopes, by promoting the development of turning skills and encouraging ski areas to slow down traffic on the slopes by providing interesting and fun obstacles to practice turning.


This vision started with an open letter to ski areas written by Emilio Trampuz (our newsletter editor) based on several personal experiences that pointed to a number of problems, and suggested a number of possible solutions.


See illustrations of possible new developments at ski areas, on the Vision page.

Voice your own opinion and express your ideas in our Forum.

See other people's reactions to these ideas here.



1. Communication 

It's best to always ski with at least one or two ski buddies, but this is not always possible, or you might temporarily get separated from your buddies.  To help you stay in touch with other people, especially in case of emergency, it is helpful to carry as many of the following gadgets with you as you can:

a) A whistle - to attract attention, especially if you become injured in a remote area.

b) Two-way radio - so you can talk to others in your group. Our club uses channel 6-19.

c) Cell-phone - to summon help if your two-way radio is out of range.


2. Bindings

More so than any other piece of equipment, safety bindings saved us from many broken legs and made out sport far safer. Give thanks to Hjalmaar Hvaam, a local, Oregon skier, who invented the first safety binding.  Also thank many others who followed and perfected safety bindings, allowing them to release in many different directions.


These days, bindings are close to perfection. They will release almost every time, provided they are set properly.  Always use the recommended DIN setting for your particular height, weight, and skiing style.  If the factory recommended setting is 6, don't crank it up to 10, unless you are looking for trouble.


It is wise to err on the side of caution.  When I have my bindings adjusted, I usually tell the technician that I am an intermediate skier, even though I am actually advanced.  This will mean that my bindings will be set a notch lower, making release easier.  As long as I ski properly, well centered on my skis, the bindings will hold just fine.  If I do make a mistake and fall, I'd rather the bindings release more easily, making it less likely I might twist my knee before the release occurs.


3. Helmets - "Protect your noggin when you go toboggin' "

There are many situations where a helmet will definitely make you safer. This is obvious. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that in 2002, about 23,000 skiers and snowboarders suffered head injuries. The CPSC estimates that 40% of those injuries would have been prevented or lessened if the person had been wearing a helmet.


But, it is also important to be aware of a helmet's limitations. Remember those other 60% of injuries, where wearing a helmet did not help. Helmets might give you a false sense of security, making you feel over-confident, invincible, and maybe even reckless. Helmets will definitely protect your head from superficial bruises, cuts and scrapes. But, their usefulness in collisions is limited to lower speeds, because they can't totally prevent internal injuries and concussions.  Here's what you need to know about helmet use:


a) Prevention is the best cure. It's best if you never put yourself in a situation where a helmet might be needed. Avoid excessive speed. Never put yourself in a situation where you don't have time to plan your next couple of turns. Never let your equipment get ahead of you. Never ski where you can't see what's ahead, and be extra cautious at places where trails merge. Always anticipate what others around you may do, and give them plenty of space to do it.

"Never ski faster than your guardian angel can fly!"


b) A helmet is good for one collision only.  Then it needs to be replaced.  In fact, some helmet manufacturers suggest that you get a new helmet every two years, ... because materials deteriorate with time, and the helmet might be subjected to numerous little bumps during the course of two years (including accidentally falling to the ground when left unattended).


c) In a direct head-on collision, a helmet can protect you only up to speeds of about 12 miles per hour.  At higher speeds, even if your helmet protects your skin, it cannot prevent your brain from continuing to move forward at high speed after your head has come to a sudden stop. Your brain smashes into the inside of your skull, creating a concussion, ... and even possible death.


Example 1: A cyclist died when he crashed headfirst near the finish line during a road race at Portland International Raceway on July 12, 2005.  The cyclist slammed headfirst into a steel post filled with concrete. “He was wearing a helmet, but it didn’t do much at 30 mph,” said Lt. Allen Oswalt, a spokesman for Portland Fire and Rescue.. Oswalt said the cyclist suffered “huge head trauma” and died at the scene. Medical personnel treated the cyclist within seconds, but there was no chance to save him. (Associated Press article dated July 13, 2005.)


Example 2:  A Shelton (WA) man died Sunday, July 10, 2005, when his motorcycle went off the road and struck an embankment, ejecting him into a ditch.  Garry Edward Smith, 31, died at the scene. He was driving south on state Route 3 when his 1999 Harley-Davidson left the roadway, according to a news release from the Washington State Patrol. He was wearing a helmet. The Patrol cited speed as a factor in the crash. ("The Olympian Online", July 13, 2005.)


d) Helmet might get snagged.  Though rare, there is a possibility that a helmet could get snagged by a branch, or by a passing ski, or some other object. This could cause a neck injury, by twisting your head, ... and in extreme circumstances might even cause death.


Example:  The February 1999 death of 3 year old Eugene Arnold in a Pennsylvania playground is bringing attention to a danger many previously thought was unlikely in the United States: strangulation by a helmet strap. Safety experts have been aware of deaths and non fatal accidents in other countries involving children who were wearing bike helmets while on playground equipment or in trees. Arnold was playing on a slide in an apartment complex playground in Fairfax Township, Pennsylvania. He crawled into a space between two overlapping platforms at the top of a slide. When his mother and a friend found him, his body was hanging off the platform while his head and chest were still stuck on the ledge.  BHSI, a non profit safety organization, is updating its bicycle safety pamphlets. The pamphlets mention the danger and warn that young children should take off their helmets when they get off their bikes. (An Article from "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News" March 15, 1999.)




"For Action You Need Traction"

"4-wheel drive for uphill action - ABS for downhill traction"


Getting to the slopes safely and returning home in one piece is a big part of the safety equation. Here are just some pointers. Traction is the key to safety on the road.


a)  Four-wheel drive is excellent for uphill traction.  But, it doesn't help much when going downhill. However, for the morning drive up, with 4-wheel drive, you will very rarely need to get out to mount chains on your tires, as long as the conditions are not extreme and you drive cautiously.


b)  Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) is what you need for downhill traction, to prevent the wheels from locking up and the car slipping on icy roads.  For your evening drive home, remember that 4-wheel drive won't do much for you.  Only ABS brakes or "traction control" can help you on the downhill portion of your trip.


c)  Traction tires are recommended in winter conditions.  But note that all-weather tires or mud-and-snow tires are not considered to be traction tires. Only tires bearing a special mountain logo are true traction tires.  Click here for the article on chains and traction tires, which explains under what circumstances you can get by without chains.


d) Chains are always helpful on snowy and icy roads, and sometimes they are the only possible way to proceed.  Always carry chains, and put them on when the signs advise you to do so.





"Know your snow"



Learn about avalanches, what causes them, how to test the snow, how to skirt dangerous areas, etc. Educate yourself. Read books about avalanches. Take a class.

When skiing out of bounds, in un-patrolled terrain: 

  - Don't go alone. Have at least one ski buddy.

  - Wear an avalanche transceiver.

  - Carry an avalanche probe and shovel.


Powder / Crud 

Start learning to ski powder cautiously, first only along the side of groomed trails, so you always have an easy out if conditions get too difficult.

Take precautions when venturing away from the groomed slopes. Don't go alone. Have a buddy. Even pair up with a stranger.



All your movements on ice have to be more subtle than on packed snow. Don't use too much angulation. Don't lean into the turn. Don't trust ice. Go gingerly, as if you were walking on eggshells.  Tone down everything you normally do on snow. Slow down. Adopt a wider stance on skis (for stability). Avoid icy slopes, if at all possible. Think of it as driving a car with completely bald tires.  Keeping your edges extra sharp might help a little.





"Never ski what you can't see"


Terrain parks 

Always inspect the layout of the terrain park, and all the obstacles in it, before you start launching yourself in the air.  Know exactly where and how you will land.



You should always be able to see and plan at least a couple of turns ahead of you. Don't look straight at the trees. Focus on the spaces between the trees. Your body has a natural tendency to follow your eyes. Visualize your path through the trees.  If you don't know what's behind a tree, slow down or stop. 


Steep terrain

Be extra cautious when skiing the steeps.  But, also, don't be hesitant. The steeper the slope, the more you have to lean forward and really commit to a turn.  The steeper the slope, the quicker you have to bring your boards around (the shorter the turn radius).

Mistake #1: Hugging the hill, instead of staying perpendicular to the terrain.

Mistake #2: Sitting back on your heels (hesitating, fearful).






"It's up to you to eskew"


Most of the rules revolve around avoiding a collision with other snowriders. So, learn to avoid, to get out of the way, and to go around the other person safely.


1.  Always stay in control.

     Learn to control your turns. Ski within your abilities.


2.  People ahead of you have the right of way.

     It is your responsibility to avoid anyone who is further down the mountain, below you. You see them, They don't see you. When passing them, give them enough space, and be prepared in case they suddenly decide to turn toward you, into your path.  When people ski fast and suddenly decide to turn and traverse, it is amazing how quickly their path can cross yours. Be prepared for such unexpected moves and give them extra space.


3.  Stop in a safe place for you and others.

      Don't stop just over a crest where others can't see you.

      Don't stop in the middle of a narrow trail.

      Don't lay down in the snow, where you are less visible. Make yourself visible.


4.  Whenever starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield.

     Think of a trail as a busy road.  Before entering, look uphill for any oncoming traffic.


5.  Use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

     Safety brakes or safety straps are now mandatory on all our snow-toys. Use them.


6.  Observe signs and warnings, and keep off closed trails.

     There's always a good reason why the ski patrol puts up signs and ropes. There could be exposed rocks ahead, or cliffs, or avalanche danger.  Don't duck under ropes that indicate a closed trail, and follow the advice on the signs, ... and you'll get to go home safely at the end of the day.


7.  Know how to use the lifts safely.

     There's Don't be afraid to ask the lift operator for assistance if you are new to the sport, or if you have a small child with you.   The lift operator can always slow the chair down for you and lift the child onto the seat.  NOTE: The child should always be on the side of the chair closest to the lift operator.



See more on Safety on our Articles page.


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