First Aid for Skiers – 10 Essential Points to Remember

If you are planning on having fun on the slopes this winter ensure everyone stays safe by remembering these 10 things that will help to help prevent, or deal with any incidents.

1. Incident prevention

  • Make sure that you have the right gear to stay warm and dry through the day.
  • High-quality eyewear goes a long way towards keeping you out of trouble, so pay careful attention to conditions and choose the right goggles, sunglasses or eye protection.
  • Eat a good breakfast. Stop often to warm up and drink non-alcoholic fluids to keep hydrated.
  • Make sure any loose scarves or backpack straps, are tucked away to avoid snagging on tree branches or chairlifts.
  • Charge up your mobile phone and keep it handy, but in an inside pocket that’s warm – to avoid the battery draining quickly through being cold.
  • Read the safety notices as you board the lift or buy your ski pass; pay attention to all posted hazards and warnings.
  • Carry a piste map with you and get familiar with the area.

1b. Don’t get carried away!

Most skiing accidents happen when pistes are busy during peak holiday periods, and then at the end of the day when legs are tired, and the snow has become cut up and lumpy, or slushy.

So try not to get carried away – that black mogul run you like the look of is probably best not tackled at the very end of day 1!

Take it easy over the first few days of your trip and acclimatise yourself and your body to the demands you are asking of it. Listen to your body, you’ll be using unique muscles and lots of energy to keep moving and keep warm. Know when you are tired and it’s time to call it a day – the black runs will still be there tomorrow.

If an incident does happen:

2. Scene Safety / Make others aware of the incident

When an accident occurs, stay calm. It is recommended practice to mark the site of an incident with crossed skis or a board planted in the snow just upslope of the incident. This will alert other skiers to the accident and help them avoid hitting you.

3. Airway management

After a fall check the casualty’s airway. If they are talking to you it is a good sign, but if they are unconscious check inside their mouth in case the airway is blocked with a mouth full of powder snow. Do not push anything into the throat by putting your fingers deep into the mouth, use a shallow sweeping motion to clear out any snow.

4. Head injuries and concussions

Look out for signs that the casualty has banged their head, and be aware of the concussion signs:

  • Change in the personality of the casualty, perhaps irritability
  • Persistent headache since the incident
  • Nausea or vomiting since the incident
  • Memory loss about the incident or before the incident
  • Unusually sleepy
  • Blurred vision or double vision

Monitor the casualty for a couple of days after the incident and if any of the signs above start to appear seek professional medical advice.  Remember that if you suspect concussion at all, the casualty must not continue activity until they are fully recovered, possibly several days later or more. If In Doubt, Sit Them Out. Find out more about concussion management here.

Remember also that casualties suffering from a bang to the head, may experience a lucid interval before deteriorating.  If they are otherwise OK, but you suspect a head injury, take the time to go for a break in a cafe, (drink water, not alcohol or caffeine).  Take a time out and ensure that their condition improves rather than worsens prior to continuing.

5. Hypothermia

Exposure to the cold can develop into hypothermia as cold blood from the surface of the body moves to the body core, reducing the body’s core temperature. This can happen if the conditions were worse than you expected, and you spend a lot of time sitting still on chairlifts without ever really getting going.

Wind and damp clothes rapidly accelerate the effects of the cold. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, lethargy and confusion, and later, muscle stiffness.

If the symptoms are minimal, moderate exercise and energy filled food or warm drinks will stimulate the circulation and warm the body. So a hot chocolate stop and some star-jumps are a good place to start!

The first step in treating more severe cold exposure is preventing further heat loss. Move to a warm environment, away from the wind chill effect caused by the wind. Remove wet clothing and replacing it with dry clothing if you have it. For serious hypothermia then you need professional help.

Keep the casualty warm and stable and call for the Piste Patrol. Preventing hypothermia is always your best option! Dress in layers, carry extra clothing and stop regularly to eat and drink

6. Sunburn and creams / goggles

Reflected light from ice and snow considerably adds to the power of the sun and it is possible to burn quickly even on a cloudy day. Because the altitude intensifies the effects of the sun, it’s easier to be sunburnt.

Always cover all exposed areas with high factor suncream and ensure you have good quality sunglasses or goggles (check out our blog about sunglasses here). Ensure you apply regular SPF lip balm.

7. Frostnip

Frostnip, which is a precursor to frostbite, can be seen on the slopes on cold and windy days. Watch out for unnaturally white patches of skin on the faces of your companions or on your hands as this can indicate frostnip.

Take regular breaks and thaw cold flesh on the face with body heat from your hands. Or if your hands are affected put them in your armpits to warm up.

To help prevent frostnip, make sure skin is not directly exposed to cold air. The face and neck are especially vulnerable because the wind can multiply the effect of the cold. Make sure clothing or straps are not too tight since that will decrease blood flow to the skin and increase the risk of frostbite. Mittens will keep fingers warmer than gloves. Drink enough fluids to help your circulatory system keep you warm, and eat enough to offset the extra energy expenditure your body uses to keep warm.

The other area to watch out for is your toes, ski boots are never the warmest of items to be wearing, especially when buckled uptight.  So again, regular breaks to warm up, release the buckles and allow blood to flow again, is the best advice.

8. Dehydration and altitude

At altitude, there is less oxygen and an increased risk of dehydration. Our bodies will adjust to this but when you have just flown in from sea level and start skiing straight away we need to be mindful of the effects of the lowered oxygen level and dry air. Fatigue and headaches can be a problem at altitude and could lead to tiredness and mistakes on the slopes. Stay hydrated and give your body time to adjust to the altitude.

Cold dry air can often cause nosebleeds overnight too. If you experience this, a bowl of water placed in your bedroom which gradually evaporates can help to increase air humidity and prevent nosebleeds.

9. Incident Reporting

  • Alert the rescue services – the telephone number is normally on the piste map
  • Place of accident (piste name and nearest piste marker, or chairlift pylon number)
  • Establish the facts of a serious accident
    Names and addresses of people involved as well as witnesses.
    Number of people injured
  • Place, time and circumstances of the accident
  • Terrain, snow conditions and visibility
  • Record the type of injury

If you are within the resort boundary, a piste patrol will be with you reasonably quickly once called, so ensure your casualty is breathing effectively, and keeping them still otherwise is usually the best advice if they have a serious fall.  Carefully removing their skis or board, and unclipping boot buckles can really help with their comfort too while you are waiting for help.

The best way to feel confident about dealing with first aid incidents on the slopes is to take a specialist first aid course. At First Aid Training Co-operative we run 2-day outdoor first aid courses which not only cover the basics but also how to manage serious accidents in the great outdoors. Click here for full course details.

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