Ten ways to stay safe on the slopes this winter

Published on : Thursday, December 3, 2015

download (1)It’s not just skiing that may be enticing tourists to the slopes this winter. There’s also snowboarding, snowshoeing, sledging, paragliding, ice-skating and ski jeering … the list goes on. And with this greater choice comes greater risk. Dr Tim Hammond, Chief Medical Officer for international assistance and travel risk management company CEGA, offers ten tips to help keep winter sports enthusiasts safe.


Get insured for a range of activities


The idea of paragliding may not appeal to you right now, but when you get close to the action you might change your mind. Find out about all the activities on offer at the resort you’re going to and take out a winter sports travel insurance policy that includes anything you or a family member may want to try – before you set off. “Remember that the European Health Insurance Card won’t cover your costs if you have an accident and need an emergency repatriation back to the UK from another European country,” says Dr Hammond. “It will only pay for basic state healthcare.”


Acclimatise to the altitude


Oxygen levels in high altitude resorts  are much lower than the norm. This can cause altitude sickness, and, with it, nausea, confusion, headaches and shortness of breath. It can also affect concentration and reaction times. Symptoms will be worse at the top of a mountain and, if you’re taking a trip to the bar at the summit, bear in mind that alcohol won’t help.


“Most people will acclimatise to high altitudes within a couple of days, and you can reduce the risks by drinking plenty of water, resting on your first day at a high altitude resort and even staying at a slightly lower altitude for a day or two on the way up,” says Dr Hammond. “Children and those with respiratory illnesses and impaired lung function will be worst hit.”


Get to the top safely


Falls from button lifts are common and you could find yourself off-piste and injured after slipping off. Getting onto a chair or ski lift, especially with a snowboard in hand, can also be tricky. Don’t be worried about asking an operator to slow lifts down for you (or your children), or for advice about how to get on safely. Always pull the bar down on chair lifts and make sure that loose scarves, clothing or backpack straps are well secured.


Stay on the official routes


Whatever you’re doing on the slopes – stick to the official routes. If you venture off-piste (even walking), always go with a guide, as trails may be difficult to follow – and check that your insurance covers you. “Without a guide, you’re more likely to invalidate your insurance, get lost and have an accident,” says Dr Hammond. “It’s also important to stay on the slopes that match your ability. If you find yourself out of your comfort zone, take off your skis or snowboard or get off your sledge and sidestep down the edge of the slope.”


Stick with other people


Unless you’re in the busy heart of a resort, it’s wise not to set out alone on the slopes. Even if you have a mobile phone, you may not be able to call for help in an emergency. You need to exercise the same caution at night – even in the middle of a resort. “If you’ve been out clubbing and have had a few drinks, don’t set off back to your accommodation on your own,” says Dr Hammond. “Alcohol can make you disoriented and increase your chances of getting lost – and, with dramatically reduced temperatures at night, mountain resorts are not safe places in which to be lost.”


Reduce the risk of injuries


The faster you go down a mountain, the more likely you are to have a collision and a serious injury. Ski or snowboard within your capabilities and wear a helmet to protect your head. Knee and shoulder injuries come top of the list of ski accidents, whilst wrist injuries are common for snowboarders. Maintaining a healthy weight and getting fit before setting off on a winter sports holiday may help to reduce risks.

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