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Entering the world of winter sports and all of its bountiful trimmings (the equipment, the traditions, the techniques and the thrills) can be thoroughly overwhelming and exciting for someone who hasn’t done it before. If you’re about to enter that world and you’re completely new to the concept of controlling things attached to your feet in order to move sturdily down a mountain face at some speed, read our handy guide below:
Skiers strap skis (which are long and have curved tips) to each booted foot and use them, along with ski poles, to navigate themselves down the snow-covered slopes.
Learning to ski is a gradual process – many beginners find that learning the basics makes them resemble a new-born deer, stumbling round, unsure how to walk – however, the process is pretty easy to pick up, and with enough practice the sport becomes extremely enjoyable.
To start: Picking one foot up at a time, with your skis on, and turning them to the right, and then to the left, to get familiar with the feeling and which muscles to use. This principle doesn’t change once you’re on the slopes – you point your skis where you want to go primarily by turning your feet. Keep your feet shoulder width apart, with your toes pointing inwards and your heels apart, so your skis make a triangle/V-shape (like a slice of pizza). This position (the snow plough) gives you a solid base even on the move. Bend your ankles, knees and waist slightly, keep your arms out wide and feel your weight move evenly on the balls of your feet and heels. Begin!
To stop: Typically, novice skiers use a technique called ‘the snowplough’ to turn and stop by pointing one end of the both skis inward. More experienced skiers use advanced methods such as ‘carving’ where the skier turns their knees and feet, keeping their body and hips facing forward, in order to stop.
Learning how to snowboard is similar to surfing, just in a generally safer and colder environment. However, it isn’t particularly frustrating, once you get the hang on how to control yourself once you’re on the board, snowboarding becomes more fun really quickly as you can start to conquer the many slopes your resort has to offer.
To start: So you’ve got your gear, a good night’s sleep and the anticipation of being able to slide at a fast pace down the mountain face with beautiful surrounding is building.
Next step is strapping your lead foot (whichever you feel is more dominant and would serve better steering at the front of the board) in place. Leave your back foot free for now, and put on your snowboard leash to keep your snowboard from escaping down a hill when you step out of it. Sit down with your board perpendicular to the slope. This makes your board act as an extra brake to keep you from sliding.
Put your rear foot into it’s binding and make sure both foot bindings are snug and secure (if you can move your foot whilst it’s in the binding, or pull your heel up from the base, it’s too loose)
Once you’re strapped in, you’re ready to board! Stand up and turn your snowboard so that the lead end of the board is pointing down the hill and apply some weight to your lead foot to encourage the board to move forward- gravity should take care of the rest.
The right kind of weight you apply to your lead foot should feel like you’re pretending to squash a bug under the ball of your foot. Keep your knees slightly bent and your back straight in order to maintain balance as you gain speed.
To stop: Turn your snowboard so that you’re perpendicular to the slope of the mountain/ Be sure nobody is bearing down on your position from further up the slope or that you’re in the way – you could cause a collision. Lean back into the slope of the hill as far as you can without falling over. This will put almost your entire weight onto one edge of the board, forcing the friction to stop you gradually but effectively. As you lean into the hill, lean back on your rear foot, releasing all pressure or weight from your lead one. This further reduces the surface area of the board. The more you lean back, the faster you’ll stop (but you do run the risk of falling over entirely)
By all means get out and enjoy the slopes whilst you’re away on holiday, but it’s also equally important to make sure you’re safe and avoid any injuries as medical expenses build up, especially in countries across Europe where the cost of medical attention is only partially subsidised by your EHIC card. Without decent travel insurance, you can end up paying thousands for something you thought was worth a lot less stress and money.
With over 270million people taking part in winter sports holidays every year, it’s likely that injuries are going to happen. Taking part in a colder climate that we’re not used to and putting our body through extra physical strain can also lead to unexpected twists, sprains and breaks, and often most injuries occur after lunch and towards the end of the day as people try to get in one more run despite their fatigue or discomfort.
Most winter sport injuries can be prevented if participants stay in good physical condition, gradually increase their level of difficulty, stay alert and stop when they are tired or feel in pain.
Below is our guide to avoiding winter sports injuries, from the head injuries which can cause harm to the little things:
Mike Langran, a Scottish doctor who specialises in piste safety and related issues gives this advice:
“Take your time to gain experience on the slopes. Get professional instruction but don’t be tempted to try too much too soon, especially if encouraged by more experienced friends.
“Read and follow the FIS rules. Use the best equipment you can, wear a helmet whenever possible and, if you’re a snowboarder, get yourself a pair of good quality wrist guards.”
Winter sports are great fun and relatively safe, with less injuries being caused each year than more ordinary sports such as tennis or running. As long as you’re sensible, you shouldn’t find yourself at risk of an accident or injury.
However, every year hundreds of people who participate in winter sports such as skiing, skating or snowboarding find themselves in hospital with injuries. Some are minor and some are serious and require urgent medical attention leading to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even repatriation, so travel insurance is a must.
Below are some tips we’ve gathered to help you stay safe whether you’re on, or off-piste.
#1: Make sure you take out the right winter sports travel insurance.
#2: Make sure either your equipment, or the gear you hire – is in good condition
#3: Wear protective headgear
#4: Prepare for the cold climate with layered clothes underneath waterproof and windproof jackets, trousers or similar.
#5: Don’t just assume that you can pick up the sport having never tried it before.
#6: Wear goggles or polarised sunglasses
#7: Take regular breaks
#8: Ski/board with a friend
#9: Know your limits
#10: Carry important documentation and a fully-charged mobile phone with you
#11: Don’t drink and ski or board
#12: Obey the International Ski Federation Rules: