If you’re planning a trip to the mountains this year, it’s important to have a basic grasp of what you should do if you – or someone nearby – gets hurt.
Even the best prepared and most experienced skiers or snowboarders can get injured on the slopes. So take a moment to brush up on the basics so you can get on with the fun bit and enjoy your time on the mountain.
1. Secure the accident area
All skiers and snowboarders are duty bound to assist in any accident, according to the International Ski Federation's Rules of Conduct.
If you do find yourself helping someone who’s been injured though, be sure to keep yourself out of harm’s way at all times.
To warn others someone is injured, plant crossed skis or a snowboard in the snow above the injured person. If necessary, someone else could go higher up the slope to tell people what’s happened.
If you’re the one who’s been injured, advise those helping you to secure the area to protect you and themselves.
2. Give first aid, if necessary
If there are several people helping an injured skier, one of you can call or go for help while the others look after the person who’s hurt.
You may need to administer first aid. As the Ski Club of Great Britain says, check the airway is clear, check for breathing, cover any wound and apply firm pressure, and provide warmth - this is particularly difficult at high altitudes. Give nothing to eat or drink, especially alcohol.
Don’t remove the injured person’s ski equipment as you could worsen their injury or leave them too cold.
3. Alert the rescue services
Your course of action will depend on the severity of the injury. Knee injuries are particularly common for skiers, while snowboarders often suffer wrist fractures. But of course the risks also include broken bones, concussions and worse.
With a minor injury, the skier might be able to make their own way down off the slope. If not, contact the resort's emergency service. You’ll normally find the telephone number on the piste map and you can tell them your location based on the piste name and nearest piste marker.
When you first arrive at your resort, it’s worth taking a moment to put the local emergency numbers into your phone, just in case you need them.
Ski resorts often have medical centres close by. If the injury is particularly serious, the unfortunate skier may then have to be taken by ambulance to hospital.
If skiing off-piste or in particularly bad conditions, then you may have to call the country’s emergency services directly.
4. Contact your insurance company
Contact your insurance company as soon as possible - you’ll find the emergency contact number on the documents provided by your insurer. They can help you through what can be a stressful experience, speaking to medical staff for you, helping to pay for the cost of your treatment and arranging alternative transport home, if necessary.
You may need additional space on the plane home - say because you have a knee strapped up - and your insurance company can help arrange this.
If you’re in Europe, be sure to carry your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you, which covers medical treatment in all European Economic Area countries and Switzerland until your planned return home. You’ll also need travel insurance though [link to ‘Why do I need travel insurance’ article].
Hopefully you will never have to use this advice. To that end, here’s some practical advice from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) about minimising the risks of skiing and snowboarding injuries.
Polish your skills: If you’re a beginner, lessons are essential. If you’ve skied before but it’s been a while, a short refresher course could be beneficial. Also, improve your fitness, know how to use the safety equipment, and brush up your understanding of the risks involved.
Warm up, stretch and cool down: Do this before you head out on the slopes and it will help reduce the risk and possibly severity of injury.
Stay on track: Keep on piste, so if something does go wrong, help will quickly be on hand.
Keep a weather eye: Conditions can change very quickly in the mountains.
Don't ski alone: Being part of group is far better if things go wrong.
Quit while you're ahead: Injures are more likely to happen if you are tired or if you try and push beyond your limits and experience.
Follow the FIS rules of conduct: the first of these is to behave a way which does not endanger others.