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The City Journals

Ski & Snowboard News / 5 things you should know when a skier crashes

Dec 22, 2022 01:37AM ● By Harriet Wallis

Iconic logo on a Patroller's jacket / photo Harriet Wallis

When a skier crashes, it's human nature to jump in to help. But you could make things worse. Here are 5 things you should know.

"Stop! Don't do that," I screamed. "Stop! Stop! Don't move him."

My husband had misjudged the slope, he crashed, and he landed in a heap in the middle of the trail. He was also out cold. We were skiing with his good buddy Lars when it happened. Lars skied to him and dragged him by his right arm until his body flattened out. Meanwhile, I was screaming at Lars to stop. But he didn't stop.

By the time I got to the scene, Lars declared: "I had to straighten him out. He looked so uncomfortable."

Unconscious skiers are not uncomfortable. They're unconscious.

X-rays showed my husband's shoulder was broken. Surgery repaired the bone, but the fragile nerves might have snapped when he was dragged by his arm. The bone healed, but the nerve damage was complete. He never again had use of his right arm. It was dead.

If Lars had some basic knowledge about what to do, it might have turned out better.

I talked with Curt Griffin, a 31 year veteran Ski Patroller at a local resort, for guidelines that recreational skiers should know in case of an accident.

Step 1.

Secure the area, he said. Their safety and yours come first. "We don't want more patients."

Take off your own skis and drive the tails into the snow forming an X well above the accident. Or, if you ride, plant your board upright in the snow. It warns others to stay clear of the area and also marks the location of the incident. In addition, you can stand above the accident and wave others to stay clear of the area.

Step 2.

Do not move the person in any way. That includes do not remove their skis, Griffin said. It doesn't matter whether the skier is awake or unconscious. You don't know what the injuries might be. For example: There could be spinal injuries and moving the person could make it worse. "Do not move the person," he emphasized.

Step 3.

Is the skier conscious or unconscious? Even if he isn't moving, find out if the downed skier is responsive, Griffin said "Tap him on the shoulder and loudly say: "Are you alright? Are you alright?"

If you get a response, it means he's conscious and breathing. His response might be groans of pain, or he might be cussing what happened, but you're assured he's breathing and conscious.

Then call and wait for the Patrol who have the experience and equipment to deal with injuries in an outdoor environment," he said.

Step 4.

What if the skier is unconscious?

"Time can be crucial when someone is unconscious," Griffin said. "If you have First Aid training then you should follow the protocols you were taught for an unconscious person who is not breathing." Then call Patrol's direct number or 911.

Just last year, I listened to two skiers praising themselves as heroes -- but they'd done totally the wrong things. They saw someone fall and not budge, so they rolled him around and propped him up because he looked "so uncomfortable." He was unconscious the whole time, and he was still unconscious when patrol arrived. Moving him could have caused serious damage.

Step 5.

Get Patrol. How you reach Patrol varies from resort to resort.

If Patrol has a direct emergency number, put that number into your phone so you can reach Patrol quickty.

However, the main number is the way to connect to the Patrol at some ski areas. At others, the Patrol is reached through 911. Or, if you're in a zone with no cell service, send someone to the closest lift and tell the liftie to call Patrol.

When you connect to Patrol, give them as much information as possible: location, description of the person, and what you know about the situation. Then stay with the downed skier until Patrol arrives.

Think safety. Ski safely.

Now, are you ready for a pop quiz? What are the 5 things you should know and do when a skier crashes?