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5 Important Lessons From A Skiing Accident

Aug 17, 2007
Having arrived back from my December ski trip somewhat battered and bruised, I found myself giving a great deal of thought to the factors leading up to my unwelcome encounter on what one would ordinarily see as a safe and predictable slope. I decided that there are five distinct lessons to be learned from my misfortune.

Lesson 1: Seemingly Safe Situations Can Hide Nasty Surprises

It would seem, as our week skiing in Andorra reached the last day, that I was (unknown to me) lining up to follow in the tracks of a fellow skier who is far better known than I. It so happens that on my birthday, one full week before my own accident, the governor of the US state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, suffered a rather more serious injury. Yahoo News reported that "Schwarzenegger broke his right femur on December 23 when he tripped over his ski pole while standing on a slope in Sun Valley, Idaho."

There are a number of similarities between our two accidents. We were both performing activities which we would not have immediately thought would be particularly hazardous. Inevitably this is a state of affairs that tends to lead to a relaxed state of mind which ironically left us both more vulnerable to our respective hazards. However, despite the considerably more spectacular nature of my incident, I walked away which is where we differ.

Governor Schwarzenegger must have been unbelievably unlucky. Tripping over while stationary is something that most skiers will have experienced at some time or another, usually brought about by being distracted or simply experiencing a "balance anomaly". I have never in my life heard of a significant injury being caused in such a manner. Governor Schwarzenegger managed to break the largest bone in the body necessitating surgery for a realistically rapid repair.

Lesson 2: Beware The Funnel

The slope that I was on was not at all difficult - although the section where I collided had been substantially narrowed on account of lack of snow. Think of it as a funnel. Pour too many skiers into that funnel and - well - a collision will be waiting to happen. Even with a modest number of people in the funnel, if one or more people are travelling at speed then the opportunities for avoiding obstacles are reduced. In my case, there were no more opportunities.

Lesson 3: Your Own Memory Of Events May Differ Substantially From Others

I remember the instant before the impact - the realisation that I was indeed going to have a collision. The impact knocked the wind out of me and the pain was almost instant. I was not aware of the fact at the time but my ski bindings earned their keep and did what they were designed to do - they released my boots from the skis and they did so quick enough to avoid injury to my legs. As a result of pitching forward from the boot release, the snowboarder's body acting as a pivot point and the momentum I had, I became airborne. I was not particularly aware of this at the time, but my son had turned round and saw the events unfold.

Lesson 4: Injuries Can Really Hurt So Take Some Pain Killers With You As Insurance

I remember shouting with the pain. I remember another pain of impact. This would have been the point at which gravity took charge of my flight path which had by then been in excess of 10 metres and I was re-united with the snow. As I rolled to a halt I was clutching my chest. I have to admit that the pain was scary. It's amazing how many thoughts go through your mind at such a time. I know I was visualizing all manner of injuries. Somehow I rolled to my knees and it began to dawn on me that my legs were fine. I was extremely grateful for that. Slowly I staggered to my feet. My chest hurt with a passion. Yet I was so pleased that my legs were ok. Some 23 years ago I had a skiing accident and did not get up. My left leg suffered a fractured tibia. Not as bad an injury as Governor Schwarzenegger, I grant you, but it did take 3 months to mend. In any event, I was very pleased to have brought a precautionary helping of pain killers with me. Going shopping for medication after the event would not have been enjoyable.

Lesson 5: Recovery Can Take Time And Doctors Can Only Do So Much

So what did happen to me? I am still not quite sure. I might have sustained rib damage. I very probably pulled chest and back muscles in all sorts of directions. My son re-united me with my skis. Unknown to me at the time, he caught my right ski just before it went over the edge and down the mountain. That would have really spoilt my day. Some concerned skiers surrounded me, clearly worried about my injuries. It took a while but I decided that I was capable of skiing down. I even ended the run on a black (difficult) slope which was slightly icy. I was pleased about that. End of skiing for this trip. Good job it was the last day. I did not seek medical attention after the accident. I was later told that attending hospital would be futile as one is not even x-rayed for rib injuries unless puncture wounds are suspected. In my case, repairs were down to the body.

Here Ends The Lesson

In truth I am not altogether sure what did happen in terms of injuries. I was munching pain killers with a passion for the best part of a week, less so for the second week. Now, one full month later, I don't need them at all. The body can be remarkably good at doing its own repairs but when injured it definitely hurts.

I had my first life experience as a human glider. My skis left my boots at the same time and that saved me some serious damage. I know that there were two impacts. The first was with the shoulder of the snowboarder, the second was with the snow when my gliding experience ran out of lift and I made my rather untidy landing. I find it amazing that after a lot of yelling, I staggered up and skid down the rest of the run finishing on a black. Compared to Governor Schwarzenegger, I was very lucky indeed.

How could I have avoided the accident? Only by skiing slower through the funnel. It would have been really helpful if the person who I collided with had looked before crossing the slope. For motor vehicle drivers, the person I collided with performed the skiing equivalent of pulling out onto a busy road without looking. Same as with driving really. Expect the unexpected.

The only question that remain are, should I now wear a helmet and should I be looking at body armour? Maybe, just maybe.
About the Author
Richard Barker co-publishes the Hammock Survival Guide Sports Section. For many more articles on sports visit http://sports.hammocksurvivalguide.com.
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