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Come Off The Mountain In One Piece

The right prep and gear—along with some quick thinking—will help keep you injury-free all season

Men's Health—November 16, 2011

By John MacGillivray, M.D.

Winter is approaching—it’s time to dust off the skis and snowboards and jump on those lifts. In fact, a record 60.54 million thrill-seekers did just that last season, according to the National Ski Association. With so many athletes hitting the slopes, knee twists and hand injury remain frequent sights in my office. While skiers can’t prevent all spills, they can reduce the incidence of injury by keeping in shape and also by knowing when to address aches and pains.

Skiing and snowboarding require a lot of strength and good balance. As an avid skier for over 40 years, I firmly believe in a pre-season strength and conditioning program that concentrates on the quadriceps, hamstrings and the core, and also includes endurance exercises such as plyometrics, elliptical training, and lunges. Many injuries on the slopes occur after fatigue sets in, so being strong and in shape can help prevent harmful falls.

When you gear up for your season, pay particular attention to protecting your head and neck—these receive the most hazardous snow injuries. They offer the most protection for low speed impacts and for falls involving head contact on the snow. 

Traveling south from your noggin, pay attention to your thumbs. The inside, or ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), is the most commonly injured, causing pain that is known as “skier’s thumb.”

If you’re a boarder, your wrists are the most vulnerable. When snowboarders fall, they instinctively extend their hands in an attempt to soften their landings, which can lead to a wrist sprain or fracture. Studies have shown that wearing wrist guards, particularly by beginning snowboarders, decreases the incidence of wrist injuries.

Alpine skiers need to protect their knees. Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears are very common—the number of ACL reconstructions I perform per week doubles during the ski season. They are frequently caused by the “phantom foot” phenomenon, which happens when the skier is off-balance, sitting with their hips down below the knees, and their weight focused on the inside edge of their downhill ski.

Now, here’s by far the most important way to prevent ski or snowboarding injuries: keep your sticks or your board under control, and be aware of others around you. Many injuries I see are from collisions that could have been avoided. So enjoy the upcoming season, but don't take risks you aren't prepared for. Stay safe!


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