The Ultimate Guide to Mountain Safety: On-Piste

The Ultimate Guide to Mountain Safety: On-Piste

 
On-piste skiing refers to the marked runs on the mountain that have been checked and vetted for avalanche danger and where ski patrol are on duty should you run into an accident or need any assistance. Being on-piste means you should be safe from most of the natural dangers of the mountain, but be sure to stay within bounds (usually marked with sticks or posts).
 
If you’re planning on going off-piste, i.e. outside the marked runs, you’re going to need quite specific mountain safety gear – but we’ll cover all that in a later section. For now, we’re concentrating on the essentials you need to know when it comes to basic safety gear and equipment for general on-piste skiing.
 

Mountain Safety Gear

While it’s not necessary to carry a backpack full of safety gear unless you’re heading off-piste, carrying a lightweight one with a few essentials in is certainly not a bad idea. Here are the bare minimum items to pop into your day pack if you choose to take one up the mountain with you. (Feel free to add snacks, a camera and spare gloves!)
 
    o Bottle of water
    o Piste map
    o Sun cream
    o Mobile phone
 

Protective Clothing

Skiing and snowboarding is fun. Skiing and snowboarding injuries – not so much. The usual stumbles and falls, collisions with other skiers and even random trees and hidden rocks can cause injuries that have the power to spoil your holiday – or worse. While accidents can and do happen then, some high-quality protective clothing will keep you as safe as possible when you hit the slopes.
 
Helmets and knee pads are the obvious choice for both the novice and the more experienced skiers and boarders, but there are plenty of other options for protective ski clothing and accessories.
 

Helmets

Without question, a good quality ski helmet should be the first piece of ski safety equipment you purchase or hire. Ski helmets are no longer the uncool accessory they once were. In fact, it’s been reported that more experts are wearing lids these days than beginners. Pro-Tec have a good range, as do Bern, and RED helmets are always a popular choice. Make sure it’s a good fit – even if you end up buying your helmet online, it’s well worth trying the same one on in-store first to ensure it fits properly.
 
Burton RED helmet
 
A RED Asylum Ski Helmet. Image credit: rxsport.co.uk
 
Sports scientists at the University of Innsbruck say ski helmets reduce head injuries by 35% in adults and 59% in children under 13. Our advice? Get a helmet. Then wear it. Simple.
 

Knee Pads

After a helmet, knee pads are the next bit of safety gear to consider. Knee injuries account for around 25% of all ski injuries and so a good pair of quality knee pads can make the difference between being on the mountain and having to sit the last few days of your holiday out. A good pair of knee pads will provide support and stability for all those twists and turns, as well as the stumbles and falls.
 

Ski goggles

From the glare of the sun to the thwack from a hanging tree branch, a quality pair of ski goggles will shield your precious peepers from all manner of mountainous hazards. As with your helmet, ensure your goggles are a good fit and that they also fit comfortably with your helmet. Some helmet and goggle combinations work better than others so take this into consideration when making your choice. Try POC’s range of goggles and helmets for a good combination.
 
POC ski goggles
 
A good pair of ski goggles will protect your eyes. POC has a good range. Image credit: pocsports.com
 

Ski body armour?

Let’s face it – you’re going to fall. Whether you’re just beginning and want some padded ski shorts to protect your hips or if you’re hitting up the park and want some serious body armour to protect you all over, there are some great options out there to minimise the impact falls can have on your body. Again, POC have a good range, while Forcefield are well-established in this area too.
 
 
ProShirt Forcefield body armour
 
Forcefield’s body armour offers more protection from those falls. Image credit: forcefieldbodyarmour.com
 

The 10 key rules for mountain safety

The International Ski Federation (FIS) has handily issued a set of 10 fundamental rules when it comes to keeping safe on the mountain. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with this general code of conduct before heading out on the slopes.
 
While many of the rules are common sense, as a beginner it’s important to be aware of them – and not to forget or neglect them as your confidence on the mountain grows. If you always consider and respect others – along with your own abilities and the terrain – you’ll go a long way to staying safe on the mountain.
 

The Rules:

1. Respect others: Behave in such a way that you don’t endanger others.
 
2.Control your speed: Adapt your speed to suit your particular ability as well as to suit terrain and weather conditions.
 
3. Consider your route: Always give priority to the skiers and snowboarders in front of you.
 
4. Leave room when overtaking: Leave enough space for slower skiers or boarders to be able to move freely when you overtake.
 
5. Enter runs and start off safely: Look up and down the slopes each time you enter a marked run to ensure you can do so without endangering others.
 
6. Be careful when stopping: Avoid stopping on the piste in narrow places or where visibility is restricted unless absolutely necessary. If you fall, move clear of the piste as soon as possible.
 
7. Climb and descend safely: When climbing or descending on foot, keep to one side of the piste.
 
8. Respect signs and markings: Respect and adhere to all signs and markings.
 
9. Be of assistance: In the event of an accident you are duty bound to provide assistance and to alert the rescue service where necessary.
 
10. Carry identification: All parties involved in an accident should exchange their details.
 

Why fitness matters

One of the most important factors for avoiding injury and staying safe on the mountain is also one of the most often overlooked. Being physically fit enough to undertake the demands of skiing or snowboarding is of paramount importance and most beginners don’t realise just how much of a difference this can make when they finally get out on the mountain.
 
Did you know that it’s commonly recommended to participate in at least 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week for a minimum of three months in the run up to your ski holiday? Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?
 
But that’s because skiing and snowboarding are incredibly physically demanding activities and it’s important to consider not only the  progress you’re making on a technical level but to pace yourself when it comes to your individual fitness level too. Depending on how fit you are, you may be able to push yourself physically with turn after turn along bumpy terrain, or you may be more suited to cruising the easier runs and taking regular breaks.
 
Either way, a respectable level of physical fitness before you get up the mountain is essential in order to prevent injury – and to ensure you get the most out of the time you spend on the slopes. Along with some regular cardiovascular work (running, cycling etc.), here are some of the main pre- holiday exercises to focus on to get you in tip-top condition.
 
(Note: these exercises are intended for you to start at least six weeks before you get on the mountain – not a few days beforehand!)
 

The best exercises for ski fitness

So if you don’t want to burn out or earn yourself an injury, you’ll need to do some work on your ski-specific muscles before you leave for your ski holiday. The muscle groups you need to work on are primarily in the legs – particularly the quads and calves – but you need to strengthen your core muscles and those buttock muscles too.
 

Quads

The most used muscle on the slopes, your quads hold you in position as you ski or ride and provide protection for your knees.
 
Do it at the gym: Head to the seated leg press machine.
 
At home equivalent #1 – Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and, keeping your back straight, bend your hips and knees as if taking an imaginary seat. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor and return to the starting position.
 
 
"How to Do a Squat Correctly." Video courtesy of POPSUGAR Fitness.
 
At home equivalent #2 – Lunges: Begin in a standing position with your hands on your hips. Take one ‘lunge’ forward and land on the heel of your foot. Dip down so your back knee nearly touches the floor. Push off with the front foot to return to the starting position and switch to the other leg.
 
 
"How to Do a Lunge". Video courtesy of Howcast.
 
(If you wish to punish yourself further, hold dumbbells throughout both exercises.)
 

Hamstrings and glutes

Strong hamstrings support the back of the legs and protect the knee ligaments from possible tears. Sturdy hamstrings and glutes help stabilise your entire body when skiing or riding.
 
Do it at the gym: You’ll need a leg curl machine.
 
At home equivalent #1 – Straight leg deadlifts: Holding dumbbells or a bar, stand with your feet hip-width apart and, with just a slight bend in your knees, lower the weight toward the floor until your knuckles are directly above the top of your foot and you feel tension in your hamstrings. Use your hips and waist to return to the starting position. (Deadlifts are notorious for causing back injuries if performed incorrectly, so always start with a light weight and build up gradually.)
 
 
“Straight Leg Deadlift”. Video courtesy of doosport
 
At home equivalent #2 – Squats: Refer to first “Quads” exercise.
 

Calves

Your calves help you stay upright when you’re bending your knees for long periods of time – like when you’re skiing for instance...
 
Do it at the gym: Work the calf raise machine.
 
At home equivalent – Standing calf raises: Stand on the edge of a step with your abs pulled in and the balls of your feet firmly on the step but with your heels hanging over the edge. Rest your hands against a wall for balance and then raise your heels a few inches above the edge of the step so that you’re on your tiptoes. Hold the position for a couple of seconds then lower your heels below the step – you should feel the stretch in your calves. See the video below for a quick demonstration.
 
 
“At Home Calves Exercise: Calf Raises”, Video courtesy of Mike Hartman 
 

Core

Core strength means strong stomach, back and side muscles. Strengthening these areas is particularly important for beginners (or anybody else who happens to fall a lot) because you use all of these muscles to get back up again!
 
Do it at the gym: Hop on the vertical leg raise machine for those abs and the chin up bar for upper-body and back strength.
 
At home equivalent – The good news is that strengthening your core muscles can be easily achieved without stepping anywhere near a gym. Your ordinary, everyday sit-ups and press-ups will work a treat.
 
So it really couldn’t be simpler – no matter how fit you think (or feel) you are right now, if you combine the above exercises with some running, cycling or brisk walking three times a week, you'll be powering down the piste like nobody’s business by the time your ski holiday comes around.
 

What's next?

The safety advice in this guide is the first instalment of just one of Interactive Resort’s ultimate guides for skiers and snowboarders. Click the tabs in the menu at the top of this page for the rest of the story, including off-piste mountain safety as well as safety tips for those more alternative mountain activities...
 
 
 

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