Peter Greenberg | Downhill from Here: Practice safety on the slopes


Moving downhill on a pair of skis or snowboard on a snowy slope, with the wind hitting you in the face while taking in all the landscape has to offer — no wonder so many people love the sport of skiing.

It is a sport that can be learned at almost any age. It can also be a lifelong sport, bringing one to some awesome places to explore.

However, there can be some pitfalls to skiing, which can present some real safety issues, dangers and concerns. These can range from some type of bodily injury, such as blown-out knees, sunburn or frostbite.

Accidents can happen at any time. Ski safety is important and you must always pay attention and be aware of your surroundings when on the slopes, regardless of how good a skier or snowboarder you are. Remember, collisions are a fairly common occurrence. Skiing involves moving at very high speeds down steep hills, past other skiers, and natural and man-made obstacles. Falls, some spectacular, are going to happen.

A rule I have always followed is: "Do not look back while you are moving forward." Simple, right? Recently, I was skiing with my class on an easier trail and most of my kids had skied ahead of me, as I usually go last in the pack to keep track of all students. As I was sliding forward, I noticed a snowboarder had fallen and was on the side of the trail a ways up ahead. I took a quick look backward (breaking my own rule) to make sure I had not left anyone behind. When I looked forward again, the snowboarder, who had been on the side of the trail, was right in front of me. There was no way I was going to avoid the crash. A crash happened, and I blew out my knee. Luckily, it was near the end of the season, so I did not miss much.

A few years back, I took a trip with some friends to Vermont for a ski day. It was a banner bluebird day — full sun and blue skies. A foot of fresh light powder had fallen the night before. After skiing the marked trails, we decided to go off-piste (skiing out of bounds in the woods or on unmarked trails not on the ski area's trail map).

Two of us ventured into the woods, skiing around trees. All of a sudden, we noticed we were lost, with woods all around and no sign of the ski area. We trucked on and on, with no sight of any real trails. We started to get nervous as it was late in the day. Neither of us had a compass or cell phone, or were prepared to spend a night in the woods. We decided to keep moving forward.

After about three hours, it began to get dark and the ski area had closed for the night. No ski patrol would find us, as we were out of bounds.

We finally came across a trail that lead us back to the ski area. What a relief! Remember, the woods can be a cold, lonely, unforgiving place at night in midwinter.

The skier safety code, which is printed on virtually every lift ticket and posted in numerous places around every ski area, lists some of the "inherent dangers and risks of skiing, including: changing weather conditions; existing and changing snow conditions; bare spots, rocks, stumps, and trees; collisions with natural objects, man-made objects, or other skiers; variations in terrain; and the failure of skiers to ski within their own abilities." That's a pretty fair assessment of some of the dangers you'll encounter while skiing.

Keep in mind, spring skiing is right around the corner and that means warmer temperatures, which can increase the chance for injury as the snow softens up and becomes like mashed potatoes.

Peter Greenberg leaned to ski at age 3, and is an avid skier who has taught skiing in the Berkshires for more than 30 years. Email him at


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