Top 4: Ways to get Seriously hurt in a Ski Resort
Skiing is a relatively safe sport compared with many other activities. The fact that so many people take part brings up the gross number of incidents, and can make it seem unreasonably risky. Hopefully this list will raise some awareness and inspire a few people to take more care.
For every 1000 skier days, there are on average 2 injuries requiring the call out of ski patrol/pisteurs, or that require attention in a medical centre (Langran, M., 2011. Book of Abstracts - 19th International Congress on Ski Trauma and Skiing Safety). I can't find any data for the inclusion of apres ski, chalet mentalness, and nights out. Though I'm sure it would up these stats to give us a higher 'ski holiday danger average'.
Here are my Top 4 ways of becoming a statistic:
4 - Falling asleep on the way home
Ski resorts are notoriously cold places, nightclubs in ski resorts are not cold. If going out for the night wearing little but a beer jacket over your t-shirt, just remember that alcohol decreases your core body temperature, not only by way of increased skin vasodilation and sweating but also behaviourally! Patients in alcohol drinking studies (not me) have registered a 'hot feeling' while their core temperature drops, making them seek cooler atmosphere. I.e. the white snowy bed outside a hot pub/nightclub. (Effects of alcohol on thermoregulation during mild heat exposure in humans, Alcohol. 2005 Jul;36(3):195-200.)
3 - Skiing a Black run, at the end of your first day
There are many resorts in the Alps, where the only option to ski back down at the end of the day is a particularly gnarly piste or even off -piste. Here in Val d'Isere, people often get confused about the where the blue run (Santons) is, or opt not to ski down to La Daille to get the bus, and feel the cablecar/bubble is a soft option. Well it isn't a soft option, take it, like most of the instructors here take their novice clients down on it. Heading down La Face at the end of the day is a suboptimal idea for the following reasons: Traffic, because everyone is heading down at the same time, the narrowing before the steep section is utter carnage. The steep section is like a 50 degree ice rink with random bumps here and there to rotate you generally the wrong way. The bottom pitch is bumpy if you're lucky, but normally and especially for 4/5 weeks after the world cup, it's blue shiny sheet solid ice. I constantly see people still fighting the epic at 5 pm, and you know they've been on there an hour! Take the lift, there's always the morning, where La Face is my favourite slope in Espace Killy.
2 - Mobile Phone Apps that measure your speed
Dr Alan Griffiths from the Val d'Isere medical centre has started asking clients whether they were using a mobile phone ski app whilst their injury happened as a way to gather further information about the way people are being hurt and the speeds at which the incidents take place. Some of my clients this year have been very into measuring their daily coverage, mileage and speeds reached. I have to say they don't appear to have been using the technology irresponsibly. Generally in a 3 hour session we cover between 10-20 kilometres and have reached speeds over 50 kph. This is all interesting data for myself to use also, measuring the fatigue levels vs learning ability. I do happen to think this is one of those technologies that can be great but also, drastically misused to try and reach high speeds on potentially unsafe slopes. There was an unfortunate death in 2012 that was publicised in the newspapers as resulting from trying to go extremely fast and measure it with an app (I don't have a valid source to confirm this reason). If you're going to use one of these apps to go fast fast, don't put yourself or other people in danger as a result of your actions.
1 - Skiing Off-Piste without kit, and massively loading a slope
The above two photos were taken on 21st March 2014 between 10AM and 11AM. A warm day, temperatures above freezing. I can't find the exact avalanche bulletin, (but remember it being 2 going on 4 at 10:00AM, about that date, hence why I took this photo). There was a host of other avalanche activity that week in the area and on slopes of the same aspect (East facing at 2700m). The massive avalanche to the left of these people had slid about a week earlier as a result of the cornice directly above collapsing. In a separate incident one person died 2 weeks earlier in an avalanche near La Face, and two people were buried on the Cugnai the week before on a SW facing slope at 11:30AM, also at 2700m (with an instructor and possibly without any equipment, but finding a source for that is proving impossible).
The photo shows two or more groups loading an area of a slope, from what I could see without packs, I spotted two instructors with them. My point is not to name and shame the instructors or ski schools, but to raise peoples awareness that just because you are with someone who looks and sounds professional, doesn't mean they are. At TDC (in all but side of piste, low angle, type offpiste) we kit our clients out with all the necessary equipment (Pack, Shovel, Probe, Transceiver). I go through the process of a search in all lessons with new clients, sometimes I spend up to an hour of the session running this, and every client I've trained has appreciated the time spent.
Should you find yourself with a mountain professional and you don't have avalanche kit on, do not have blind faith in that person and that they are making the right decisions. Question them and make them justify their decisions. I'm confident that should anyone ask justification from one of our coaches, they would be happy to explain all the safety decisions they are making, what they are thinking and why.
P.s. An instructor of the same uniform as the guys in the photo, saw me taking this photo and explaining the situation to educate my clients, and having heard my discussion tried to stop me from taking the picture.