Commentary: Tips to ski safely this winter season

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Joe Klimaski
  • 445th Airlift Wing Occupational Safety & Health

Ah yes, we’re finally in the midst of winter. Oktoberfest has come and gone. The holidays have passed but snowboarding and skiing season is finally here!

Yep, I get it, the Midwest isn’t exactly the mecca of snow sports, but it’s easy to hop on a quick flight to enjoy the slopes out West or head up to Michigan.

If you’re anything like my family, we make it a point to take a snowboarding trip out to Montana every year. There’s nothing like spending a full week in the Montana mountains with fresh powder and massive terrain that’s virtually impossible to ride in just one week.

However, with all the thrills comes a laundry list of inherent risks and potential dangers that require controls to avoid injury and stay safe on the slopes.

Starting with the obvious, personal protective equipment and appropriate safety equipment is a must. Head injuries are an unfortunate yet common occurrence on the mountain, and snow blindness is the real deal.

While you may not look hip in a helmet, had Sonny Bono been wearing a helmet in 1998 at Lake Tahoe, he’d most likely still be here today. Helmets and goggles (to avert snow blindness) unquestionably preserve visibility and are vital on the mountain, as snowboarders and skiers can be largely erratic and unpredictable.

If you’re a back country snowboarder or skier, ensure you carry a day pack with necessary supplies like extra layers/clothing, food, water, flashlight, taglines, fire source, e-tool, probes and a transceiver/avalanche beacon, as you never know what could or will happen in the backcountry.

The mountains and Mother Nature are completely unpredictable and can be deathly unforgiving. I’ve personally had friends fall into tree wells in the Montana backcountry, and if we did not have the necessary recovery equipment, disaster would have occurred.

Also, remember the “3 Rules of the Snow” when riding or skiing:

     1) Always look before you turn
     2) Turn in the opposite direction to avoid collisions
     3) The lower rider/skier has the right of way.

Finally, and probably the most important tip to remember, never ride or ski outside your level of experience, and always ride or ski with a buddy.

For questions or more information, contact the 445th Airlift Wing Safety Office at (937) 257-5767.