Skiing or snowboarding in-bounds is much safer than a lot of outdoor activities. The mountain is controlled for avalanches, medically trained staff is on standby to assist skiers in need, and there’s a clear rating system to help you choose which runs fit your skill level. Still, there are plenty of things you can do to make sure you stay safe out there. One of the best things you can do before you arrive is brush up on skier etiquette, do some research as to the best runs for your ability level, and make sure you’re equipped with the right gear. Once you’re geared up and ready to head up the lift, here’s how to have a day that’s memorable for all the right reasons.
1. Wear a Helmet
Look around at almost any ski area, and you’ll notice that nearly everyone on the slopes is wearing a helmet; something like 70 percent of those who ski and ride in-bounds regularly wear a brain bucket. A Johns Hopkins study found that wearing a helmet doesn’t increase risky behavior while reducing the risk and severity of head injuries. This one’s a no-brainer (pun intended), as head injuries make up about 20 percent of injuries among skiers and snowboarders nationally.
2. Don’t Head Out Alone
The buddy system was invented for a reason. Skiing or riding with a friend or a group means someone always knows where you are. If you’re injured or unable to make it down a run, a companion can go for help, decreasing your wait time before ski patrol arrives. It also means you’ll have someone to point out obstacles, help you negotiate tricky terrain, and make sure you end up back at the right lift. Set up a meeting place somewhere really obvious, like the lodge, where you and your friends can meet up if you get separated.
3. Dress for the Weather
Getting too cold is guaranteed to impair your judgment, so it’s crucial to watch the forecast and dress accordingly. Bring plenty of extra layers, including warm gloves and something to cover your face. Those will definitely help you stay warm as you sit on the lift. Even on overcast days, be sure to wear sunscreen on any exposed skin; snow is an excellent reflector and can cause serious sunburn when you least expect it. Don’t forget eye protection, including clear lenses for cloudy days and afternoons when the light gets flatter.
4. Bring a Trail Map
Getting lost and having to work your way back to a familiar lift or run is a surefire way to wind up on terrain that’s way above your head. Study the trail map before you go out, and take note of signage that indicates what type of terrain a lift services. Bring along a copy of the paper map, which most ski areas provide for free at the lodge—don’t rely on your phone, which may not have service (batteries also don’t tend to last long in cold weather). If you’re unsure where you are, consult the map for a route down that’s within your ability level rather than winging it.
5. Stay Hydrated
It’s easy to remember to stay hydrated when it’s hot out, but that’s not always the case when your teeth are chattering. But it’s just as important to keep plenty of fluids on board when you’re exerting yourself in the winter, especially since many ski areas are at elevations thousands of feet above sea level. It may be too cold to bother skiing with a hydration pack, as the hose from the bladder to the mouthpiece often freezes, so make a point of heading into the lodge frequently to grab some water. If hot cocoa or tea sounds better in the cold weather, go with that—caffeinated drinks aren’t the fastest way to hydrate, but any liquid will help the cause.
6. Know Your Limits
No matter how many signs, warnings, and trail maps are posted all over the resort, you’re the only one who knows what your personal limits are. It’s great to get outside your comfort zone, especially when you’re trying to improve your skiing or riding skills. But, as the old saying goes, don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s one thing to push yourself on a blue-black when you’re usually more comfortable on blue runs, but heading down an experts-only rated chute during your first season on the slopes is a recipe for a ride down the hill with ski patrol.
7. Keep an Eye on Your Surroundings
As a general rule, it’s your responsibility to watch out for people on the slope in front of you. Just like when you’re driving, if you look both ways before merging, avoid following too closely, and obey speed limit signs (like the ones that advise you to slow down as you approach the lift or a point where trails merge), you’ll be in good shape. It really comes down to being courteous—if you stay in control and treat other skiers with respect, everyone on the slopes will be safer for it.