Safety a concern among skiers |

Safety a concern among skiers

Linda Hiller

In the shadow of the Sierra Nevada, with a high concentration of ski resorts, winter sport safety is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

This year for the first time, all members of the Douglas High School ski team will be required to wear protective helmets. The Tigers are the first in the league to step forward and commit to mandating helmets.

Hal Starratt, who coaches the team with Leigh Luce, said the decision to begin wearing helmets this year was an easy one.

“It seems so logical,” he said. “I don’t know why it hasn’t been done before.”

Starratt said the use of helmets for high school skiing competitors had been discussed at a league meeting, but the other coaches had decided to hold off.

“We made the decision to go ahead and require it, thinking that maybe others would follow suit,” Starratt said, adding that many of the 40 members of the DHS team had already indicated they would be wearing their own helmets.

“The kids were very enthusiastic,” he said. “We got a great deal from Bike and Ski, so this will be our first year for all the kids to wear the helmets.”

Starratt said the league DHS belongs to consists of five teams, including schools at Lake Tahoe as well as both Douglas County high schools. One of the most important tenets he tells team members is something all skiers should be mindful of.

“I tell them, ‘Stay out of the trees,'” he said.

Scott Southard, orthopedic surgeon at the Tahoe Fracture Clinic, said that during ski season, approximately 25 percent of the injuries that he and his colleagues see at the clinic locations are ski or snowboard-related.

“Of the on-call orthopedic emergency consult patients we see in the emergency room at the hospital (at Barton Memorial in South Lake Tahoe), I’d say approximately 75 percent of the injuries are ski and winter sports-related,” he said.

The most common injury is to the knees, Southard said, followed by lower extremity fractures.

Southard, 41, an avid and experienced skier, said a few precautions could make every skier’s trip to the slopes a safe one.

“First of all, stay out of the trees,” he said. “This is very important because that is where a lot of the injuries occur. I ski a lot and I ski well, but I don’t ski in the trees.

“If somebody is determined to ski in the trees, they should at least wear a helmet.”

Second, Southard said skiing within your limits is something each skier should do.

“Third, watch that last run of the day,” he said. “Often, people want to get the most out of that last run, and they ski the hardest when they are really the most tired.”

Being aware of everything around you by looking around is the fourth tip Southard stressed.

Fifth, staying in condition is also important.

“When you get tired, that’s when you get hurt,” he said. “If you push your physical boundaries, you’re more likely to get out of control.

Southard also said it is important to ski with someone, particularly if you are planning to challenge yourself and push your limits.

“Some people may choose to ski alone, but they should stay within their limits and boundaries if they do,” he said.

As a skiing enthusiast, Southard said he wants to make sure people don’t get the idea that skiing or snowboarding are dangerous sports to be avoided.

In fact, according to the National Ski Areas Association, during the past 13 years, an average of 32 people per year have died while skiing. This compared to recreational boating, with 716 reported deaths in 1995 and bicycling, with 800 reported deaths the same year, leaving skiing quite low on that scale.

The NSAA also announced that during the 1996-1997 ski season, the skier/snowboarder visits were 52.5 million nationwide, with 36 reported deaths. The previous year, there were 35 reported deaths.

In addition to Southard’s safe skiing tips, the NSAA advises drinking plenty of water during your ski day, and absolutely no alcohol, wearing sun and eye protection, having proper equipment and taking lessons.

Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nevada, 60, said Tuesday that Sonny Bono’s death is an unfortunate tragedy.

“My sympathy goes to his family and friends,” Bryan said. “My hope is that this tragedy and the recent death of Michael Kennedy also in a skiing accident, will lead those who participate in skiing to exercise greater safety precautions so no more needless tragedies occur.”