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. 

Learning How to Fall: Skis

Falls and accidents are unavoidable. If you’ve ever tried to ski or snowboard, you’ve likely taken a hit or two on your way down the mountain. However, new skiers may be surprised to learn that the wal you fall can increase or decrease the significance of your injury. Learning to fall is one of the first skills (yes, falling is a skill) a new skier should learn. If you don’t want to take a lesson, this tutorial is your next-best option. There are several falling techniques you should know; see below for a step-by-step guide for learning to fall on skis.  

Side crashing—When you fall on your side, do your best to avoid putting all the weight into your hips. Instead, use your arm to slap the ground as you hit, making sure to disperse the pressure throughout the limb. Spread your body as much as possible to increase the surface area, which will spread the impact evenly over your body. Don’t try to catch yourself with your elbow or wrist—you’ll likely break or dislocate something. 

Back crashing—This is one of the harder falls to anticipate, but it rarely happens on skis. Do your best to roll yourself to the ground and smash both arms into the ground to disperse the impact. Again, don’t try to break your fall with your elbow, shoulder, or wrist; keep your arms in front of you as much as possible while still allowing them to hit the ground before your tailbone. 

Front crashing—Another unusual fall for skiers, front crashes are easier to anticipate. When you fall, keep your hands in front of your face to avoid injury, but do not attempt to break your fall with the wrists, elbows, or shoulders. Instead, try to put the weight of the fall into your forearms, falling in a plank-like position. This will absorb the impact. 

Of course, the best way to prevent ski injuries is to avoid falling altogether. Always ski within your comfort zone and in control, and always wear the appropriate gear. However, when all else fails, practicing these techniques can save you weeks or months of recovery in the event of a bad accident. 

Three Colorado Ski Accidents That Made National Headlines

Colorado has some of the best skiing in the United States—perhaps the world. The Centennial State draws thousands of skiers and riders from all over the world each year, all in search of some gnarly powder to shred. With more skiers, however, comes a higher risk of injury. Hundreds, likely thousands of accidents occur on Colorado’s slopes. Some are more serious than others—some, in fact, make national headlines. Here are three unforgettable Colorado ski accidents that gained nation-wide attention.  

 Michael Kennedy Dies in Aspen
On New Year’s Eve Day in 1997, Robert F. Kennedy’s 39-year-old son died while skiing Aspen Mountain’s Copper Bowl. He had been playing football while skiing, a game he had developed and enjoyed for several decades. On this day, Kennedy lost his balance and caught an edge too close to the treeline. He careened head-first into a tree; Kennedy had not been wearing a helmet and died as a result of his injuries.  

Judge Rules Chairlift Pusher Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity
In mid-January of 2016, snowboarder Seth Beckton shared a chairlift with skier Thomas Proesel at the Aspen Highlands ski area. After a short and allegedly innocuous conversation, Proesel pushed Beckton off the lift. The victim fell over twenty-five feet, but landed without injury in the fresh powder below. Beckton continued to ski the rest of the day, reporting the event later that evening at the behest of his friends. Several weeks later, Proeser was found not guilty by reason of insanity.  

Teller Lift in Keystone Collapses
In December of 1985, a lift at Keystone Moutain Resort failed completely when faulty weld breaks on a main pulley dropped the bullwheel, snapping the lift’s haul rope and sending passengers flying—some over forty feet. No passengers were killed, but two people later died from injuries sustained. This accident changed the way the lift industry maintained, inspected, and designed its equipment. Subsequently Lift Engineering, the designer behind the Teller Lift, went out of business.  

5 Celebrity Ski Accidents

Ski accidents are the great equalizer—no matter how wealthy, famous, or skilled a person is at the sport, mishaps are bound to occur. While personal accidents can be funny in retrospect, celebrity ski accidents seem to take on lives of their own. Perhaps it is because many of the best-known were fatal; perhaps because it’s entertaining to see the rich and famous fall flat on their butts. Regardless, these memorable mishaps have stood the test of time. Here are five unforgettable ski accidents to entertain, teach, and remind us that skiing is a dangerous sport, regardless of your net worth. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger—Who could forget Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accident in 2006? The Governator tripped over one of his ski poles while skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho. The accident resulted in a broken femur, which was quickly operated on upon his return to Los Angeles. For a short time after the accident, Sun Valley renamed the trail “Arnold’s Run” to commemorate the event.  

Dieter Zetsche—While not a true “celebrity,” this German businessman deserves a spot on this list. While on vacation in Austria, he was whacked by a woman on a snowboard. The impact broke Zetsche’s shoulder, but he did not take any time off from work to tend to his injury; he returned to work following his vacation with his left arm in a sling.  

Heather Mills—Former model and ex-wife of Paul McCartney has quite an embarrassing ski story. While skiing on Moelltaler Glacier in Australia, she crashed into a plastic pole that had frozen solid. She shattered her shoulder blade, but reportedly told the media at the time: “That’s skiing, you know.” 

Angela Merkel—In 2014, German chancellor Angela Merkel joined the list of celebrities who have suffered moderate ski injuries. During a holiday in Switzerland, Merkel fractured her pelvis, forcing the world leader to cancel several meetings and trips in the weeks thereafter. Apparently, she didn’t even realize the pelvis was broken. 

Natasha Richardson—Who could forget the insane story of Natasha Richardson’s unlikely death? The British actress fell while taking a beginning ski lesson at the Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec. She hit her head, but seemed fine. After refusing medical treatment, she returned to her hotel room. Around three hours later, she began to complain of a headache. She was taken to the hospital and died two days after the accident. Cause of death? Epidural hematoma due to blunt impact to the head. Wear your helmets, kids.