I wish I had a picture or a video. I really wish I did. Last year I was skiing in the Seventh Heaven zone at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia. It was my first day at a new ski resort and I was having a blast. I came in from above the tree line too fast, and since I was in unfamiliar territory, I unknowingly came out of the trees above a cat-track. Eight-feet-to-flat later I had given myself a concussion, destroyed a helmet and goggle lens, and had to hike down to get my skis from beyond the boundary rope. This was not how I intended to start my ski vacation at Whistler Blackcomb.
Let’s be real—crashing while skiing or snowboarding isn’t something you can control. There is not much you can do when you lose control when you’re ripping down a hill and catch an edge or get out of balance while sailing over that 50-foot kicker. I would like to give you a formula to get yourself out of a crash, but if you’re crashing, then that’s it, you’re crashing. The best way to fall while skiing and snowboarding is to not fall at all. However, falling is part of the learning process and, as a result, is inevitable. However, you can practice a few preventative measures to not only crash less often, but also potentially save yourself from a major injury. Let’s start by outlining three common ski crashes.
Common Ski Crashes
1. Backward Twisting Fall
This type of crash is extremely common and can easily result in an ACL injury. The backward twisting fall occurs when the back of the ski is loaded with weight and applies a combination of twisting and bending forces at your knee joint. Proper ski form comes into play to avoid this type of a crash.
2. Forward Twisting Fall
Also called a “Valgus-External Rotation”, a forward-twisting fall can occur when you shift your weight farther forward relative to the ski. This usually happens when you’re initiating an aggressive carve. The forces applied cause your leg to twist and rotate outward and can tear or sprain your ACL.
3. Boot Anterior Draw
If you’ve ever landed in the backseat on a big jump you may have felt or experienced this type of energy. When your weight is over the back of the skis, the cuff of your ski boot puts excess pressure on your calf. This in turn pushes the tibia forward, relative to the femur, which may cause the ACL to tear or sprain. Crashes like these are the most common in skiing and they often result in an ACL injury. Skiers who experience an ACL tear will hear a loud pop or snap and their knee will become extremely unsteady. If this happens, don’t ski down. Have a friend or another skier alert ski patrol and see a doctor as soon as possible. Not every skier who crashes like this injures ligaments in their knees. Proper conditioning and having awareness of your skill level as well as the terrain will help protect you from a major injury.
How to Crash Less While Skiing
Watching Ted Ligety and Bode Miller race with fluid-like motion makes skiing look easy. Their speed and technique is a result of years of hard work in the gym and on the hill. When carving a turn, these professional racers are putting hundreds of pounds of pressure into their hips, knees, and ankles. While it is inspiring to see these guys rip up the hill, going out and trying to ski like them is only going to get you hurt.
Start slow and work up to skiing fast. Your brain and limbs need training to properly react to unfamiliar terrain or unforeseen obstacles. Work up to laying over those beautiful carves or blasting moguls. Take a lesson and practice proper technique; an extra set of eyes on your form is key to understanding what skills you need to work on to become a better skier.
Awhile back, jans.com did an online broadcast with Tom Wallisch to promote new Scott winter products. During the broadcast viewers could ask questions and Tom would answer them live. The best question, “How do I get better at skiing in the terrain park,” also got the best answer out of Tom. He suggested starting slow and working up to doing bigger and more exciting tricks.
Just going for a big trick without learning the necessary form and technique is a sure way to crash and possibly hurt yourself. Park skiers will benefit from training on a trampoline or jumping into a foam pit. By learning to move your body in space, you will have better leverage on your limbs and be able to compensate for mistakes made in the air.
Hit the gym. Not everyone is going to like this recommendation, but if you want to be a better skier and crash less then being in shape is key. It doesn’t matter if you’re a park skier or a racer. All professional athletes put time in at the gym to condition their bodies for the type of skiing they compete in. Isometric exercises, in particular, target stabilizer muscles and greatly reduce the chances of tearing a ligament in your knee. By strengthening your muscles you will be able to ski harder, reduce fatigue, and reduce your risk of injury.
What to Do When You’re Crashing
So after all your conditioning and training you still crashed. Now what? Depending on the terrain, you’re going to want to do different things.
If you have fallen on a steep face and are sliding with no hope of stopping, try to turn your body and dig your elbows and forearms into the snow to slow yourself down. Basically you want to stop as soon as possible if you’re in steep, dangerous terrain to avoid injuring yourself further.
Crashing on a groomer is a little different. If you’re ripping it up and find yourself headed bucket-side down, you’re going to want to behave a little differently. First of all, don’t try to catch yourself with your arms. Broken wrists, torn ligaments in your hands, and broken arms are all likely possibilities if you try to catch yourself. Instead, try to relax. Stiffening up will only make the impact worse. And don’t try to use your edges to slow you down, the sudden catch could torque your knee and cause an injury. If you can, try to point your feet downhill. This will protect your head and give you a chance to control the direction you’re going.
In The End
It’s still a crash and it is most likely going to hurt, at least a little bit. But hey, falling is how you learn and progress. It is a natural part of any extreme sport. I like to think I’m a pretty good skier, and I couldn’t have gotten to the level of skiing that I am at today without falling. Hopefully my notes above will help you be prepared for a crash and get out of it injury-free.
One last note: Please wear a helmet. We’re big fans of brain-buckets at Jans, and we have plenty of ski helmets to choose from for men, women, and kids.
By Paul Boyle, Marketing Specialist
Post updated on December 1, 2020
Sources: Outside Online, California Pacific Orthopedics and Sports Medicine