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Keep safety in mind when participating in winter sports

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Joe Klimaski
  • 445th Airlift Wing Occupational Safety Manager

Ah yes, we’re finally on the cusp of the holidays… Oktoberfest has passed, fall is in full-effect and the holidays are upon us. But most importantly, winter and snowboarding season is almost here

If you’re anything like my family, we make it a point to take an annual snowboarding trip to Whitefish, Mont. There’s nothing like spending a full week in Northwest Montana with feet of fresh snow and massive, untouchable mountain terrain that’s virtually impossible to ride in just one week.  With that thrill however, comes a laundry list of inherent risks and potential dangers.

If you enjoy the pleasure of snow sports, just know there are a number of counter measures out there to keep you safe while on the mountain.

Winter sports are an obvious form of exercise. It’s important to take the necessary time to warm-up. I remember back in the day when I was in my 20s, I could roll out to the mountain and start tearing it up. I considered warming-up nothing but a burden, a complete waste of time.  Unfortunately time is brutal, and if I attempted a stunt like that now, Vegas odds are at least 3/2 that I’d end up with a torn hamstring, ACL, etc.  I’ve learned a lot over the years through a string of idiotic injuries and I quickly realized that an effective warm-up prior to any type of exercise is ultra-important.

Snowboarding is absolutely no different. Taking 10-15 minutes to dynamically and statically stretch is unarguably crucial before binding in and hitting the mountain the hard.

Next up?  The wear of personal protective equipment. Head injuries are an unfortunate yet common occurrence on the mountain, and snow blindness is the “real deal.”  While you may not look hip in a helmet while on the mountain, helmets and goggles (to avert snow blindness) preserve visibility and are paramount on the mountain.

Also, remember these three rules when skiing or riding; always look before you turn; turn in the opposite direction to avoid collisions; and the lower rider and skier always has the right of way. 

While it may be fun to blow by fellow riders and skiers at more than 40 miles per hour, do so in a controlled and courteous fashion to avoid injuries to both yourself and others. 

Probably the most important tip to remember when on the mountain is to ride and/or ski within your parameters, and always ride and/or ski with a buddy. 

If you’re a back country snowboarder, ensure you carry a day pack with necessary supplies (i.e. extra layers of clothing, food, water, flashlight, fire source, small e-tool, and most importantly a transceiver/avalanche beacon), as you never know what could or will happen in the backcountry. The mountains and Mother Nature are completely unpredictable and can be deathly unforgiving. I’ve personally had friends fall into tree wells in the Montana back country (on numerous occasions), and had we not had the necessary recovery equipment, disaster may have occurred. 

Similarly, riding and/or skiing within your safety parameters and with a buddy is an absolute must.  Cutting through the glades or going off-piste on big mountain terrain is more of a thrill than seeing the Buckeyes smoke Alabama like a fine Cuban cigar in the 2015 College Football Playoff, but it’s also absurdly risky and cavalier if you’re not an expert-level rider or skier. Bottom line… Know your limits, ride and/or ski within your level of experience, and exercise risk management at all times.

Well there we have it. A handful of common sense safety tips to keep you safe on the mountain in less than three minutes.  While I’m guessing only a small fraction of 445th Buckeyes will head to mountains this winter, I felt it was important to discuss winter snow sports and mountain safety, because while riding and/or skiing is an amazing way to spend your well-earned time off, both can be inherently dangerous when risks are ignored.