Winter is Coming: 5 Things You Should Do Heading into this Ski Season

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Winter scene

The mountains are dusted with snow, and area ski resorts are beginning to open. It's official: winter is coming! To ensure a fun and safe season on the slopes without injury, Mark L. Stovak, M.D., UNR Med professor and sports medicine fellowship assistant director, suggests you to do these five things:

1. Pre-habilitate.

Skiers and snowboarders are at a high risk for lower limb injuries, and the number one way to avoid these is pre-season strength training. While you can't strengthen joints—like knees, which are prone to ACL and MCL tears—you can strengthen the muscles around them. Focus on strengthening your legs and your core, and don't neglect your upper body. The stronger your muscles, the less prone they are to fatigue, and the less likely you are to get injured.

Bonus: For strengthening help, try proprioceptive training, also known as balance exercises. This can be done by standing on one leg with your eyes closed and slowly progressing from a hard surface to carpet or a throw pillow. You can advance this exercise by standing on one leg and adding regular or multidirectional squats, keeping your eyes closed.

2. Get the right gear from a professional.

At every skill level, and especially if you are just starting out, the proper gear for your size, weight and skill level is crucial. If your boots are too big, you could slip out. If your skis or board are too long or too short, you won't be able to maintain the best control.

If you are a skier, make sure a professional sets your bindings. Ski bindings are designed to pop off on impact to help you avoid injury. The strength of your bindings is dictated by your DIN setting. If it's too high, your skis won't come off when you might want them too. If it's too low, they could come off as you're speeding down the hill or landing a jump. Both situations increase your risk for injury.

The right jacket, pants and gloves aren't just about style! Make sure you're purchasing clothing with ample wind and water protection to keep you warm. This is safer for your muscles and will also make for a more enjoyable day on the slopes.

3. Wear a helmet.

Whether you are a racer hitting top speeds or a beginner learning how to move your skis into the shape of a "pizza" or "French fry," wearing a helmet is the smart thing to do. Helmets may not prevent concussions, but they do help mitigate the risk and they prevent skull fractures, which could save your life.

When purchasing a helmet, look for a snug fit-not too tight and not too loose. Make sure the chin strap is in working order and that your vision isn't obstructed. Being aware of your surroundings on the slopes is imperative to preventing a collision.

4. Wear eye and skin protection.

The sun is a serious risk factor for skiers and boarders. On a beautiful blue bird day, it reflects off the snow, ostensibly hitting you twice with UV rays. Strong sunscreen and goggles or sun glasses with proper UV protection are essentials. Remember, you can't feel retinal damage when it's happening, and it's permanent.

5. Find a mountain buddy.

In case something does go wrong, you don't want to be alone waiting for someone to find you. A minor injury can quickly become a more critical issue if you're sitting in the snow for too long.

Plus, it's way more fun to hit the slopes with a friend!

Now that you're fully outfitted and prepared for the snow, stay safe on the hill.

Ski runs are designated with the following symbols: green circle, blue square, black diamond and double black diamond. Know your skill level. Push yourself, but stay within your limits. If you are a green circle level, tackling a black diamond is obviously not your best choice.

Additionally, stay within the ski area boundaries. Ski area boundaries are set for your protection and represent the areas monitored by ski patrol.

Now that you've taken the proper precautions, enjoy the slopes and endorphins! Happy winter!

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The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.