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Ski patroller offers slope safety tips

A skier enjoys opening day at Arapahoe Basin

A skier enjoys opening day at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Colorado. (Credit: AP/Colorado Ski Country USA)

With snow seemingly always coming down and Presidents Week upon us, it's a popular time for local families to hit the slopes. But before you click into your ski boots, it's important to remember the potential dangers associated with skiing and snowboarding.

Over the past 10 years, an average of 45 serious injuries, such as paralysis and head trauma, have occurred among skiers and snowboarders each year, with 51 during 2011-2012 season, according to the National Ski Areas Association. 

Deaths are reported nearly as often — 41 on average each year, with 54 reported during the 2011-2012 season, the association reports.

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Robert Bristol, of East Rockaway, a ski patroller at Windham Mountain and assistant athletic trainer at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, offers the following advice to help keep skiers and snowboarders safe.

Proper nutrition: Skiing and snowboarding are rigorous, full-body workouts, so it’s important to stay fueled and hydrated, or you’ll risk exhaustion. Have a hearty breakfast. Carry a granola or candy bar for a midday snack. Likewise, drink plenty of water or your favorite sports drink.

Proper clothing: Thin technical gear will benefit you more than bulky layers of cotton sweatshirts. Good gloves are also very important. On really cold days, it’s important to keep all skin covered, and monitor yourself — and your skiing partners — for frostbite.  

Proper equipment: Skiing/snowboarding equipment continually progresses with technology and advances in safety. The 210 cm straight skis of yesteryear and rear entry boots should be shelved. Equipment should match ability and preference, so discuss both with your local ski shop. Also, make sure to have your bindings checked before every season — the proper DIN setting is crucial to ensure they will release, when needed, to avoid injury.

Wear a helmet: The NSAA reported that 61 percent of skiers and boarders wore a helmet in the 2010-2011 season. This number continues to increase annually as helmet technology improves. They have become lighter, more comfortable and provide additional warmth.

While helmets save lives, it’s not an invisibility cloak. At speeds more than 15 mph a helmet offers considerably less protection.

Wear sun protection: The sun reflects off the snow and is stronger than you think, even on cloudy days.

Take a lesson: Most injuries happen when skiers travel onto trails that are above their ability level. Learn to ski and snowboard smoothly, in control — and within your skill level. Like anything, you'll improve the most when you receive some guidance from a qualified instructor.

It’s also important to keep mindful of signs on the mountain and to obtain a trail map. If you are visiting a mountain for the first time and are unsure of a trail’s difficulty, speak with ski patrol to get a first-hand description of which trails may be suitable for you. 

Know the code: Skiing and snowboarding are very different than driving a car, yet just as dangerous. There are no lanes, traffic signals or traffic law. However, there is a responsibility code every skier and rider should be familiar with, and it’s usually printed on each lift ticket sold.

For example, people ahead of you have the right-of-way. It is your responsibility to avoid them. If you are a new skier or rider, please take the time to review these tips.


Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at or on Twitter: @briandessart.



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