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Hit the Slopes: Mountain Safety Tips for Skiers and Snowboarders

I remember going with my niece for her first day on skis. After several runs on the bunny hill, she declared with a smile, "Now I just need to learn how to turn and stop." I was proud of her for recognizing that those are two pretty important skills for staying safe on the mountain!

Few experiences match speeding down a freshly groomed slope with the sun shining and your body pumping just enough adrenaline to let you know you're really alive. But don't throw caution to the wind! No matter your skill level, it's worth checking these mountain safety tips to ensure that your ski or snowboard outings are as enjoyable as possible this winter.

Focus on Fitness

Snowboarding and skiing are physical workouts, so you'll want to avoid going directly from mulling over paperwork at your desk for five days straight to jumping onto the chairlift. Make sure you're in decent physical condition well before your trip to the mountain. Focus on good exercises for strengthening your legs, knees, and back, which will help prevent injury if you take a spill.

Dress Comfortably

Think about layers of clothing that are wind- and water-resistant. You'll start out feeling cold, but after a couple of runs down the hill, you'll work up a sweat. Also, as the afternoon sun sinks behind the mountain, you'll notice a chill coming on and will want to put some of those layers back on.

Make sunscreen and lip balm part of your outfit. It may be freezing on the mountain, but the sun is shining and you're at higher altitudes, which makes skin protection as important as ever.

Wear Safety Gear

As concern grows over concussions and brain injuries, a ski or snowboard helmet is your most essential piece of mountain safety gear. Be sure to wear a helmet specifically for your activity; bicycle helmets are not designed for the slopes, nor do they offer insulation against cold temperatures. Skiers and snowboarders should consider adding knee, wrist, and elbow pads to their outfits, as well.

Goggles are another important piece of safety gear for protecting your eyes from snow glare -- or during an unexpected face-plant onto icy snow. Make sure your goggles fit your face, giving you a wide field of vision while sealing out cold air. Some goggles are even designed to fit over regular eyeglasses.

Take a Lesson

If you're one of those people (like me) who only heads to the slopes once or twice a year, take a refresher lesson on the first day. It's worth the investment to make your first run of the year more fun. Obviously, if you've never skied or snowboarded before, take a few lessons to learn the basics, as well as the rules and etiquette of mountain safety.

Avoid "FOOSH"

Orthopedic surgeons and emergency-room physicians use the acronym "FOOSH" (falling on an outstretched hand) to describe many slope-related wrist injuries. Snowboarders are most at risk because they can't step out of their bindings the way skiers can. Snowboarders tend to fall forward, using their hands to stop the fall. Instructors will instead suggest that you learn to fall backward, using your elbows to stop the fall. This is because elbows can handle more impact than wrists.

Buddy Up

Never take to the slopes without a parent, friend, or partner. It's more fun to share the experience with another person -- and it also ups your mountain safety. Watch out for each other, and don't get too far ahead of your buddy. If you make a wrong turn or get hurt, this person is critical to keeping you on track or seeking help. Also, be a defensive skier or snowboarder for your buddy by watching out for others who may inadvertently end up in your path.

So find a buddy, do your warm-up, take a lesson, jump on the lift, and head down the mountain. Oh, and keep an eye out for my niece: She's learned how to turn and stop, but she still likes to go really fast.

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