Safe skiing

Getting away from the grey mizzle that is rainy Manchester and getting to fly head first down a beautiful mountain; the perfect escape! What people forget though is that skiing isn’t just a holiday pastime, it’s also an extreme sport. The definition of an extreme sport being that there is a level of danger involved.

According to new research from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), of those British nationals that go on winter sports holidays, the majority class themselves as beginner or intermediate. Only 1% of respondents classed themselves as expert.

Nearly two thirds (65%) of winter sports travellers admitted they would ski or snowboard on slopes above their experience in order to stay with a group. More than half also said they would follow a group of mates off piste.

70% admitted they do not always wear a helmet when skiing or snowboarding, and one in five said they wouldn’t wear a helmet if others in their group weren’t.

Simon Taylor, an FCO Consul based in Marseille says: ‘Last year we saw a high number of British nationals end up in hospital with serious injuries. Sadly this included a number of deaths. Many of these accidents can be prevented by taking simple precautionary steps.’

I caught up with SKUM’s race captain Emma Carr to find out more about the risks associated with the sport and how to make sure your holiday is as smooth as a fresh piste. Emma gave me a great list of common newbie errors and advice about how to avoid getting yourself into trouble:

  • Not taking out the right insurance! You have to make sure you have the right insurance for what you plan to do. For example, if you intend to ski off-piste you need special insurance. Even if you fall 1m off the marked piste, your insurance won’t cover you. Drinking alcohol also voids your insurance, and is very dangerous, as is skiing with a hangover. Not recommended!
  • Not wearing the right kit. Helmets are compulsory for the race and freestyle teams but are advisable for everyone. Even if you’re a good skier, it’s the other people who crash into you who will cause you massive damage.
  • Make sure you cover all your skin, even on warmer days. It’s not so much for the cold but for the falls. If you have uncovered skin you can scrape it off when you fall.
  • Not being fit enough. Skiing is a strenuous SPORT. Try to improve your basic fitness before you go. It’ll help to prevent a lot of injuries and means that you’ll get more out of your trip and improve quicker.
  • Also be sure you understand the classification of the runs. Black is scary, green is nice!

Emma’s best piece of advice for first-timers was to take lessons. Even though they’re expensive they get you the basics. You do not just head to the top of the mountain and go for it. As she pointed out, putting your skis on isn’t the hard bit, getting down the mountain is!

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You can also download the invaluable Plan.Pack.Explore guide which is available as an app for iPad and iPhone (iOS 5 and above) and Android devices. The guide contains a wealth of information, from travel health advice to explaining exactly what the FCO can and cannot do if you get into trouble abroad.