Unjustified fear of injury keeps some off slopes

Doug Gulasy
| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Dick Barron hears a lot about prospective skiers' biggest fear.

“Often, people will say, ‘I'm not going skiing because I'll break a leg.' That's the old adage,” said Barron, a member of Seven Springs' ski patrol for 43 years — the past 15 as director.

But getting hurt on skis poses “a very low risk,” he said.

Barron said modern ski equipment and practices — bindings that release upon falling, increased awareness of the need to wear helmets at all times — have meant injuries occur less frequently.

That doesn't mean skiing and snowboarding are no-risk sports.

Moira Davenport, a specialist in emergency medicine and sports medicine at Allegheny General Hospital, North Side, said ankle and foot fractures can be common in snowboarders because of the force involved in landing.

Barron said snowboarders can also develop arm and shoulder injuries because their shoulders tend to hit the ground first on a fall or roll, or they will use their arms to break a fall.

Meanwhile, skiers can be susceptible to knee injuries. Four-time world champion Lindsay Vonn crashed and tore two knee ligaments at the world championships on Tuesday, and Davenport said the stress put on knees can cause problems.

“It's the speed you get when going down a hill, plus the angle that your knee is turning,” Davenport said.

Barron said people interested in skiing or snowboarding should invest in lessons before going at it alone, while Davenport recommends talking to a doctor beforehand and always wearing a helmet.

While snow activities come with risk, they also have benefits. Barron said the constant motion involved with skiing and snowboarding allows nearly every muscle in the body to get a workout.

“Your body is at different angulations, different motions, different movements, and it is constantly compensating for balance within those motions,” Barron said.

Davenport said the activities also have a cardiovascular benefit because participants' heart rates increase. Balance also improves.

“It really is on par with doing some easy swimming, some running (and) some walking,” Davenport said.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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