Snow Safety

Snow safety is often under rated by snow sport participants but the many accidents and deaths each year imply that this is a serious issue.

DOWN-UNDER
Medical problems
Equipment problems
Injuries

Icy conditions
Injury happened: What Now?
If someone is injured, what does one do?
Insurance

Proper Ski Etiquette
Responsibility Code
I am lost. What do I do now?

DOWN-UNDER

Because Australian Alpine weather is very variable and can be cold, wet, windy, sleety and sometimes a bit miserable, it is almost unique in the world and must be respected. One of the coldest spots in the world I think is the South Side Chair lift at Mt. Buller when a Southerly Buster is coming through. Good quality waterproof warm clothing is really appreciated by the skier at this point in time.

Starting from the inside out, most people would opt for a cotton T shirt. Cotton is ok on sunny and fine days only. The problem with Cotton is, when it gets wet is stays wet for a long time. This means it’s cold and is very uncomfortable to wear and takes a lot of body heat away.

The Solution:

Thermolactyl Chlorofibre or similar synthetic garments as produced by Damart, Patagonia and other manufacturers is far superior. These materials wick the moisture away from the skin to the outside of the garment where it can evaporate without taking away heat from the body. This is good if you sweat while skiing a hard run and then cool down on the lift. Wool is used by some manufacturers for undergarments and is in some respect similar to these fibres and is suitable as well. On windy days the wind chill factor can be enormous and is often worth -5 to -10 degrees or worse. If kids only have a cotton T shirt underneath it may be useful to ensure that they can change this on a wet day. A light not too thick woollen or synthetic, not cotton, jumper should be worn over the top. Additional clothing recommended is a neck warmer or some kind of scarf which can be pulled over the face when going up a lift. Blue denim Jeans should never be worn while skiing. They get wet, never dry and make the wearer cold, miserable and uncomfortable.

Beanies. It’s surprising how many people one sees on the mountain without a beanie of some kind on even the coldest day. We all know that a large amount of heat is lost through the top of the head, unless one has dreadlocks. So, all Jamaicans are exempted from this rule but they love their beanies anyway. A beanie can be effectively water proofed by mixing some Snow Sealer wax in hot water and then soaking the beanie in it for a few minutes. Gently wring out and allow to dry. SNOW SEAL is available from Aussie Disposals, most ski gear retailers and The Scout shop or most camping shops as well in Rundle street.

Helmets are strongly recommended, particularly for children. They can be hired at most snow sport retailers and at all resorts. Get one that’s light and sits snugly on your head. The last thing you want to happen is the helmet to slip forward and block your view on the first bump you come negotiate. They are now worn by about 50% of North American skiers and snowboarders. Some of them look really cool!

Goggles are a must if it is snowing. Its impossible to ski while it is snowing with sunglasses. Double lenses are recommended because they keep clear on these humid days when it is snowing. Some kind of yellow or similar lens must be worn on dull, overcast or foggy days as the overall white light and lack of shadows and definitions can lead very quickly to disorientation and snow blindness.

Gloves off course are mandatory but kids often lose these, forget to pack etc. A good replacement pair can be expensive but one can make do with a pair of woollen gloves bought for $10 and a pair of $5 kitchen dishwashing gloves over the top. This works really well for snow boarding as the gloves are waterproof.

Sunburn. On sunny days and on overcast days, sun burn is a real problem as the UV is reflected from the snow upwards. As our ski fields are at latitude 35 to 37 degrees South the sun is still very powerful even in the winter. Its even worse in spring time. Sunscreens are necessary, especially underneath the chin. A simple head band is very good at protecting the brow from sunburn and is not too hot.

Carrying accessories on the mountain. Bum bags and backpacks are convenient. It is handy for student to be able to carry spare goggles, sunnies, undergarments such as T shirts and gloves. I would make each student carry a whistle in case they get lost.

Weather conditions: Australian Alps experience some of the worst weather in the world. The southerly weather change is always accompanied by strong and gale force winds producing some of the most uncomfortable conditions possible. Although our temperatures rarely get below -3 during the day the wind-chill factor must be considered and is a problem with small children. Ensure that they are dressed appropriately with water proof clothing. A garbage bag is quite useful when it is raining with a few holes cut into it for arms and head.

Medical Problems

Existing Medical conditions. Carers should be aware of these, heart conditions, diabetes and Asthma. Although most Asthma sufferers experience a relief of symptoms in the mountains. Kids with nose bleed can find that this gets worse. The cold air can exacerbate this as the mucosa of the nose is chilled and severely affected and can cause severe nose bleeds, often up to 7 days later.

Equipment Problems

Boots. I can anticipate teachers being approached frequently by students with lines such as “MY BOOTS HURT, or MY TOE IS SORE. The problem is quite common with equipment that is hired. Check buckle tightness or looseness. Many problems can be easily corrected by a simple adjustment of the buckle, pulling the tongue up on ski boots or changing socks. Some ill fitting boots can cause a great deal of discomfort so don’t dismiss these complaints as frivolous. Cold feet can be helped by shaking pepper into the boot. I don’t know if anyway ever tried this on hands.

Bindings on skis. These are always adjusted and set by the hire shops, but these are often set too loose and if students complain that skis are always coming off take them back to the shop for adjustment. Adjustment of bindings is easily done, but care is required.

Injuries

The most common types seen in the medical centre are the result of excessive speed resulting in tumbling falls, and collisions. Recently several people have died due to collisions between snow boarders and skiers. They result in…

  • knee injuries, usually ligament damage – either sprains or complete tearing of the ligaments,
  • Wrist injuries – especially for snow boarders, knee caps damage,
  • Collar bone fractures.
  • Head injuries in young children.
  • Fractures of other parts of the body are possible but fortunately are not as common, but do happen.
  • Concussion is very common and young children are seen to be wearing crash helmets.

Overseas recently, I saw quite a few adults wearing crash helmets. Skiers tend to run into each other quite a lot, especially on the easier learner slopes. These slopes are the most dangerous of all on the mountains as skiers are inexperienced, can’t stop too well and just fall frequently. A run in question is Burnt Hut Spur, Bourke Street at Mt. Buller or Panorama at Falls.

After a day or two in the snow some kids like to explore the more difficult runs thinking that they can handle these. Hence one finds bodies everywhere on some of the black runs of people that should not be there. Discuss this with the kids and discourage this unless they are taken there with a ski instructor.

Icy Conditions

Early mornings after a warm day will see icy or frozen hard snow conditions. This is quite common and can catch even the most experienced skier out. Hard and icy snow is bad enough on skis but, is positively dangerous on snow boards. These conditions are often seen following a sunny day where the snow softens during the day. In the evening the snow is groomed and freezes overnight when the night is cloud free and cold. The worst time is when it sleeted or rained a lot on the previous day. This is followed by a cold night and the runs freeze up. I have hurt myself by slipping on a patch of ice which I did not see and these spots are often very difficult to see or avoid so it pays to be careful at these times. Runs are often marked by the Ski Patrol as “ICY” for a good reason. “Danger Will Robinson, Danger,” the Robot would warn.

Injury happened: What Now?

Take 2 skies, usually from the victim, and stick them into the snow and make a cross. This is the universal sign that assistance is required and is used to indicate that skiers should stay away from there.

If someone is injured, what does one do?

Start by talking to the person and ask where it hurts. Allow a few seconds after a bad fall for the person to just get their senses back. If at all possible try and get the person out of the snow by getting them to at least sit up. Take off your gloves and use them for the person to sit on. This will reduce a lot of heat loss. This will generally attract attention, or call for help. Ask another skier to go down to the nearest lift and notify the tow lift operator that help is required. In the meantime stay with the victim and re-assure them that help is on the way and keep their spirits up. If the person is unconscious then watch breathing and if really necessary give mouth to mouth. But this is very rarely required. Keeping the victim warm is usually a primary concern. If it is possible take off your jacket and or get a jacket from someone else. Bum bags or back packs can be used as head support if the person is prostrate. Zip the victim up. Often zips are down while skiing so close all zips if possible.

If the victim seems ok but dazed after a collision you must anticipate a shock reaction between 10-15 minutes later. So be ready and make sure that the person is warm. If you have a small flask of liquor such as Southern Comfort or Scotch, take a swig yourself. Giving alcohol to an injured person is usually not recommended as it causes peripheral vasodilatation which can result in more body heat loss. As we are talking about school children it is definitely not recommended.

Eventually the ski Patroller will arrive and take over. Inform them of what you have done, what you think the injury is, where the person hurts. If necessary, a banana boat will take the victim to the Medical Centre.

Insurance

This is definitely recommend. Cost of medical attention is very high in the snow so everyone should have some kind of accident insurance, especially if an ambulance trip is required. A broken something can involve a trip in the ambulance from Falls Creek to Albury and cost more than $1000. So be prepared and allow for the worst possible case.

Proper Ski Etiquette

It is best to prevent accidents and many accidents can be avoided by PROPER SKI ETIQUETTE.

  • Ski safely
  • Stay always in control
  • Watch your speed, excessive speed is the single most common cause of accidents
  • Be aware of other skiers on the mountain
  • Give way to skiers above you especially when joining a trail

Overseas SLOPE WATCH is strictly enforced on the slower runs and skiers will lose their ski privileges if skiing in an unsafe manner. The drunken yahoo element which we unfortunately see far too often in Australia is completely absent overseas. I believe this is entirely due to education from an early age

Responsibility Code

  1. Ski & remain under control at all times
  2. Don’t stop where you may cause an obstruction or can’t be seen readily
  3. Avoid the person below and besides you when skiing downhill
  4. When entering a trail or starting downhill look up and give way to snow riders
  5. If you are involved in a collision remain at the scene and assist
  6. Always ensure that your equipment is properly restrained and can’t run away
  7. Do not ski if under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  8. DO NOT SKI ON CLOSED TRAILS OR OUT OF BOUNDS
  9. Obey all warning signs
  10. Take note of run markings and ski within your limits

I am lost. What do I do now?

In foggy conditions people do get lost regularly. But with a little common sense you can usually find your way home again. Think where you have come from! If you have skied down from a lift usually you will come to the bottom of the run and then follow the path to the lift queue. Listen for lift noises, look around and wait if other people are in the vicinity. Yell loudly, someone is likely to hear you and guide you home. This rule of thumb applies to most ski areas.

Falls Creek – If you are lost and your feet are getting wet then you are standing in the dam. Turn around and climb uphill to the village.

Mt. Hotham – The village is located at the top of the mountain. So if you are lost turn around and climb uphill. Eventually you will find the road. Do not proceed further downhill!!