ACC advice to avoid winter sport injuries

ACC are advising snowsport enthusiasts to be safe this ski season. Supplied photo.

ACC is challenging all skiers and snowboarders across Aotearoa to “Have a Hmmm” before hitting the slopes this winter.

In the past five years ACC has spent almost $140m helping people recover from snow sport injuries.

With Covid-19 travel restrictions, New Zealanders hit the ski slopes in record numbers in a restricted 2020 season.

The Queenstown Lakes district ski areas in particular reported a large increase in New Zealanders visiting their resorts, especially over the school holidays when they saw visitor numbers on some days which topped 2019.

The cost of snow sport injuries in 2020 was the highest in the past five years.

Across New Zealand there were 12,539 snow sport related claims accepted in 2020 – skiing accounting for 7,871 of those and snowboarding 4668 – which was slightly down on the 13,780 snow sport injury claims accepted in 2019.

ACC Injury Prevention leader Kirsten Malpas encourages all Kiwis to share the slopes safely.

“There’s nothing better than a weekend away with your mates or family enjoying perfect conditions on the mountain,” she says.

“We want everyone to embrace that and enjoy this winter season on the slopes.

“But our claims data shows us that the skiing slopes are a high-risk place for injury. We are encouraging anyone who is heading to the mountain to take a moment.

“‘Have a Hmmm’ to assess if your ability matches the trail grade, and end your day when you start to feel fatigue creeping in.”

Kirsten encourages any casual skiers and snowboarders to hit the gym and strengthen the legs to make sure they are ready for the rigours of a day on the slopes. 

“A lot of people turn up to the mountain – often after a long break – and jump straight onto their board or skis without doing any conditioning to be ready for that challenge,” she says.

“It is always good to prepare your body for an activity you haven’t done in a while.

“And we recommend that all people hitting the slopes complete a warm-up and stretch. For the casual skier and snowboarder, it is a good idea to park in the lower carparks and walk up to the chairlift.

“That will get your legs warmed up and ready for your first run of the day.”

Skiing destinations in Otago, 30,074, Manawatu-Whanganui, 11,572, and Canterbury, 10,785 made them the leading regions for snow sports injury claims in 2020.  

In Otago last year, the cost of helping people recover from skiing injuries, $7.6m, and snowboarding injuries, $4.2m, were the highest from the past five years.

The 45-54 age group has the greatest number of skiing injuries with 1,686, while the 20-29 age group is the most prominent for snowboarding injuries with 1,765 in 2020.

In April, ACC launched an injury prevention campaign called Preventable. It is based on research which shows that 90 per cent of injuries are predictable and therefore preventable.

ACC spends around $80m every year on injury prevention.

“We want to prevent harm occurring in the first place,” says Kirsten.

“We've developed this campaign to challenge everyone to take action to avoid injury and keep themselves, their whānau and community safe and well.”

Tom Willmott, Head Park and Pipe coach for the Snow Sports NZ High Performance Programme, says it is important to prepare for a safe, fun day on the slopes.

“It’s a busy time of year on ski slopes all around New Zealand so it’s important to do your preparation before you get on the slopes, to prevent injury and have a great day with your friends and whānau,” he says.

“It’s important to know your limits and enjoy the mountain in a safe and respectful way so that everyone goes home happy and injury free.”

Tom is speaking from experience.

He is a former snowboard competitor and national champion, has a Professional Doctorate in Elite Performance, a Master’s degree in Physical Education and a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Coaching. 

He is also a heli-ski and split-board guide and is a fully qualified NZMGA Ski Guide.

Tom recommends skiers and snowboarders follow five important steps to staying safe on the slopes:

Snow Sports Safety Advice on the Slopes – Tom Willmott head coach for the Snow Sports NZ Park and Pipe Programme

  1. Warm up
  • For casual skiers and snowboarders, warm-up and stretch before you hit the slopes. It is a good idea to park in the lower carparks and walk up the mountain, so your legs are warmed up and ready for your first run.
  • For more advanced skiers and snowboarders, use the RAMP warm-up:
  • Raise your heart rate and body temperature with some shuttle runs, skipping, butt kicks, high knees
  • Activate your muscle groups and
  • Mobilise your joints with some squats, lunges, plank, push-ups and head-to-toe dynamic stretching
  • Potentiate for your activity with some movements similar to those you will be using through the day – jumps, 180s, 360s on the spot, then get on snow and build into things on your first few runs.
  1. Have the right equipment
  • Always wear a helmet and protective gear like wrist guards are recommended. 
  • The appropriate size and flexibility of your skis/boards are important
  • Are your ski DIN settings appropriate to your skill level?  Are your snowboard bindings setup correctly?
  • Ensure your equipment is well tuned – sharp edges with a de-tune at the tip and tail help in icy conditions, a fresh wax helps reduce friction and improves control.
  1. Be aware of the conditions
  • Check the mountain report
  • Pre-ride, re-ride, then freeride!  (Take a slow inspection run to feel things out, take a second run to test things before getting stuck in)
  1. Safety awareness
  1. Terrain park etiquette
  • It is important that you know the etiquette for skiing/snowboarding in the terrain park. Make sure you are up to speed before going up the mountain, have a read here:

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