Tips Up

I know that most of the submissions on this site are for accidents that happen on the mountain, but mine takes place slightly before.  Chairlifts are one of the fastest, most efficient means of getting up the mountain. More versatile than J-lifts and able to travel farther distances, they’ve become the gold standard for traversing steeps and reaching the peak. Unfortunately, chairlifts can be dangerous. Limited security and the lack of restraints can cause inexperienced skiers to fall, sometimes sustaining serious injuries in the process. Luckily, this is not the foundation for my chairlift “Blue Room” story. Mine is a lot dumber. 

I used to ski with a pretty big group of friends. The eight of us would take up two full quad chairs, and we’d often board one after the other. Order was always random, but I tended to like getting in the first chair; getting to the peak before the second half of the group, even if just by thirty seconds, always provided a few moments of peace before the eight of us started heading down. I’d push myself to the front of the group and try to snag one of the side seats—I hated sitting in the middle. 

Unfortunately, a large group of college-aged men is kind of a recipe for disaster. We were reckless on the mountain, shooting over trail lips without surveying the terrain, bombing past beginners, and racing each other through trees and glades. This roughhousing also applied to our lifts up. While we never endangered each other on the chairlifts, there was always some light pushing and shoving when it was time to board.  

So, here’s what happened. Four of us were about to sit in the first lift, and the other four were skating up behind to catch the second. Those of us in front had our torsos turned around to talk/lightly jab at the four behind. I had my side seat and was trying to elbow the friend directly behind me—in jest, of course. This stupidity ended up putting me in a pretty tough situation.  

I hadn’t been paying close attention to the chair swinging around to pick us up. Still preoccupied with teasing my friend, I was caught by surprise—the chairlift hit while I was still standing. Rather than knocking me onto the seat, I fell forward, faceplanting onto the packed powder. Before the operator could stop the chairlift, It was directly over my body. It had clicked off my skis, so my legs were safe, but it plowed right over me. Once the operator stopped the lift, I was able to stand up (unscathed) and survey the damage. My skis and body were fine, but the lift had caught my planted pole, bending it at a 90-degree angle. I stupidly held the bent piece of metal up to my friends, who promptly burst into laughter. I’m lucky the damage wasn’t more severe (quad chairs are heavy and strong), but damn, they will never let me live that down. 

The Most Common Skiing and Snowboarding Injuries

While wintoer snowsports are both fulfilling and exhilerating, high speeds and unpredictable terrain will result in some pretty gnarly injuries. Some, however, are more common than others, and not all popular injuries are consitent across sports. Skiers are susceptible to some accidents, whereas snowboarders are more prone to others. Below is a list of some of the most common injuries, as well as some tips for preventing them. As you read along, you’ll notice a theme in the prevention tips.  

Shoulder—Falling incorrectly in both skiing and snowboarding can result in shoulder injuries. This occurs when the person falls on an outstretched arm, applying direct force to the upper arm. This will likely result in a dislocation, which is extremely painful. Other common injurie include rotator cuff and/or labrum tears. To prevent, learn how to fall correctly. 

Head—Head injuries can have serious consequences—everything from a minor concussion to long-term brain injury, even death. This is a common injury for both skiers and snowboarders, and it can be difficult to predict and prevent. The best way to guard yourself against head trauma is to always wear a helmet and to ski/snowboard within your comfort zone. 

Thumb—This is a popular ski injury, as the thumb will absorb a lot of the impact when a skier falls with their pole still in hand. This can cause a fracture of the bones or a sprain/tear of the UCL. To prevent, learn how to fall correctly. 

Knee—Another popular ski injury, knee damage occurs when a skier falls and the binding fails to release. The ski can cause an outward rotation, twisting the lower leg while the upper leg stays in place. This can create enough pressure to tear the ACL or MCL. To prevent, ensure your equipment is properly maintained, and as always, learn how to fall correctly.  

Wrist—Wrist injuries are most common among snowboarders, who are more likely to sustain an upper extremity fracture than skiers. Wrist injuries are extremely common in beginner snowboarders trying to learn stable stances. Skiers can catch a fall by adjusting their legs, but snowboarders have to break their falls with an arm. Much of the pressure is put on the wrist, which can cause fractures and other long-term damage. To prevent, learn how to fall correcty.  

Ankle—Ankle injuries are also common among snowboarders, especially those with softshell boots. This type of boot can allow for more ankle movement to maneuver the board, but it also provides less support. To prevent, do ankle exercises and do your best to graduate to a more supportive boot option.