Skiing and snowboarding are energetic excuses to get out into the great outdoors, breath some sweet mountain air and test your physical abilities against some of nature's most challenging terrain. Unfortunately, many things can go wrong on the slopes. Skiers can lose control and slam into fellow enthusiasts, snowboarders can attempt tricks beyond their abilities and suffer fatal spills, and wrong turns can leave adventurers stranded in deep snow, too far from others to be seen or heard until the cold dark night swallows them up.
Avalanches, heart attacks, regrettably situated trees -- all potentially spell disaster up on the slopes. The kicker is that there's not an awful lot that ski resorts can do to mitigate these dangers beyond posting warnings and trying to keep visitors informed. The fact remains, if you take a plunge down a steep snowy hill or off the edge of a half-pipe, you're taking a certain amount of risk along with it.
According to the National Ski Areas Association, between the 1998/1999 and 2008/2009 ski seasons, an average of about 40 people died each year in the United States while skiing or snowboarding, through a variety of circumstances. However, considering that during the 2008/2009 ski season skiers and snowboarders spent approximately 57.4 million collective days hitting the slopes, that's a relatively low number, especially compared to other sports' fatality rates such as swimming [source: National Ski Areas Association].
So what are some of the tips ski resorts offer for staying safe? Probably the most practical are to always stay in control and always be aware of your surroundings. Out-of-control skiers are not only dangers to themselves, but to everyone else on the run with them. If skiers wipe out, it's paramount that others be able to stop or go around them rather than cause a potentially fatal -- or at least very painful -- pile-up. When it comes to keeping an eye on what's going on around you, keep a few things in mind:
- Skiers ahead of you always have the right of way -- they don't know what you're doing back there, after all.
- If you're about to start cruising down a slope or the trail you're on is merging with another one, be sure to yield and give a glance uphill to make sure you're not launching yourself right into someone else's path.
- Before making any twists or turns onto different trails, take a good look at the new run to make sure there aren't any signs posted that indicate it's above your abilities, closed or both.
- Avoid stopping in anyone's way. Sure, smack in the middle of a trail might seem like the place to discuss a break for lunch, but it definitely is not.
- Finally, be certain you know how to ride the ski lifts. Better to sound a little silly for asking than to find yourself stuck on the ride of shame back to the bottom because at crunch time you didn't know how to diembark.
For more links on everything from snow mobiles to sled dogs, skip over to the next page.