Competition Skiing

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Injury prevention in skiing competitions

In sports, the injury prevention has to be a priority for everyone involved: the sportsmen, their coaches, their family circle, the managers of the club, the federation...

A lot of important elements are the same for alpine skiing and other kinds of sports, but it also has some specific characteristics of its own.

A lot of progress in terms of prevention has been made due to the observations and studies carried out by the doctors who work on the slopes and traumatologists with a professional connection to winter sports. There are medical articles written since the beginning of the XXth century which describe the specific aspects of skiing injuries, and not only talk about the types of injuries that commonly occur among skiers and their statistical frequency, but also propose measures that would ensure higher safety of winter sports. These measures are promoted by scientific societies that unite the different professionals involved in safety and medical attention to those who practice winter sports.

Here are some conclusions that can be drawn from the latest epidemiological investigations dedicated to those who play winter sports in general (not at the competition level):

  • for instance, the incidence of the anterior cruciate ligament injury, which is currently the most characteristic injury because of both its frequency and for the socio-economical consequences that it implies, could be reduced with the help of a modification of the ski binding regulation charts and strict following of these indications on part of the users.
  • on the other hand, wearing a helmet permits reducing not only the incidence and seriousness of cranial cephalic traumas, but also the rate of other injuries among children.

We must remember that winter sports are not only a free-time activity. Their very name indicates that they are sports, and as such, they represent an implicit injury risk, even though it can be greatly reduced if we respect the following requirements:

  • an adequate prior physical preparation
  • adequate equipment
  • warming up and stretching
  • good nutrition and hydration
  • getting enough rest

Transmitting this message and teaching how to put this aspect of skiing into practice should be a part of a ski instructor’s job. At the same time, the ski instructors could also teach the rules for conduct on the ski slopes.

On the other hand, measures could be taken in the field of rules and requirements related to the environment of the winter sports (mechanical installations, characteristics of the slopes, information for the users...), the characteristics of the equipment used (requirements as to the safety bindings, making wearing officially approved helmets when skiing obligatory...), and we must remember to be vigilant so that everyone follows the basic rules of behaviour on the ski slopes and sanction uncivil behaviour if necessary.

These regulation measures have to be nourished by the suggestions of the workers and management of the ski resorts, and the experience of the professionals responsible for the winter sports safety (ski patrol, doctors...), not to forget the consumers’ associations which represent the users.

Lastly, all the above described measures have to be transmitted to those who practice winter sports; this task has to be carried out by means of direct public campaigns in the media, through travel agencies and at their destinations.

If we pay attention to the professional competition level, the data and the prevention measures shouldn’t change very much, though we must take into account the peculiarities of the skiing competitions.

We have to take into account that the current rules and regulations related to equipment, installations, racing conditions… to a very large extent have been conditioned by the goal to improve safety of different winter sports disciplines.

For instance, the technical improvements of the safety bindings, the helmets… are closely related to the observation of the accidents and injuries produced as a result of practicing these sports. Due to the improvements in equipment, the types of most common injuries have changed over time:

  • years ago, the tibia fracture was a typical and relatively frequent skiing injury. The changes in the type of skiing boots and the apparition of safety bindings caused it to be displaced by the knee ligament injuries...
  • the typical woolly hat, still in use a few years ago, was substituted by a helmet...

The competition stadiums, which some decades ago didn’t even exist, nowadays form part of a ski resort as specialized installations with exceptional safety measures, specifically determined by the regulations...

Nowadays, the peculiarities of winter sports at competition level are being studied in more detail and FIS is carrying out a provisional study to analyse the accidents and injuries produced in the competitors. At the moment this investigation is counting on the participation of a limited number of federations. Its goal is to gather the information about accidents and injuries that occurred not only during the competitions, but also in course of training, and analyse the characteristics of the incident, its causes, and its consequences... the final objective will evidently amount to suggesting measures that could make our sports safer.

At any rate, while we expect that the investigations in course may give us new clues as to the injury prevention, it is necessary to insist on well-known and basic requirements:

  • a good physical condition is essential, it is of utmost importance to have followed a general physical preparation programme, and a specific programme which enables you to face competition with the guarantee of maximum safety
  • a thorough warming prevents injuries and greatly improves the performance, the increase in muscular temperature improves coordination while we psychologically prepare ourselves for the competition or a specific training session
  • correct hydration and nutrition are indispensable so as to avoid deficiencies or excesses, and allow us to face the challenges of training or competition and ensure excellent performance and a lesser risk of injury
  • it is necessary to take care of the equipment, know its characteristics and maintain it in perfect conditions; our comfort and our safety largely depend on it. At the same time, it contributes to improving our results
  • lastly, it is necessary to respect the rules of conduct*, be it at a stadium or in any other part of the resort, we must remember that the human factor is determining in the majority of accidents

These rules have been approved by the International Ski Federation and are recognized all over the world as authentic “traffic rules” for the slopes:

This article was written in collaboration with Gerard Escoda Alegret