Advice for 50-Something Shredders

Not every skier is a pre-teen jibster with joints like Gumby. If you’re more towards middle age than 20-something, check out some tips to help you stay strong on the slopes from Dr. Tom Vangsness, skier and Chief of Sports Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California.
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Dr. Tom Vangsness

What can older skiers do to make sure that they don’t injure themselves skiing?
First, skiing is a sport that demands physical fitness and joint flexibility. If you’re sedentary and don’t exercise, then don’t expect to simply walk out of your office and onto the slopes, at least not without dramatically increasing your risk to injury. To ski safely—and I would add enjoyably—the body must be in shape.

Before skiing, make sure you warm your muscles with proper stretching. And finally, err on the side of caution. The middle-aged body simply doesn’t have the reflex response of a 20-something. Allow for more time to avoid collisions. Be particularly cognizant of snowboarders, who demographically tend to be young, testosterone-charged males who like to take chances. Avoid trying to be in their paths of glory.

What can these folks do to not only protect themselves, but excel in the sport as well?
In addition to good-fitting bindings and boots, it’s imperative to wear proper eyewear that minimizes glare. The middle-aged eye doesn’t adjust as rapidly to changes in light and is less capable of discerning shadows. Finally—and this is very important— wear a helmet.

What is the most common ski injury in adults around age 50?
The most common injuries to this age group are the hand, specifically the thumb, and the knee because they tend to fall more and, no matter how much you consciously try to avoid it, most people fall on their hands and knees. If you start to fall let go of your poles. It’s reflexive to hold onto them but they just complicate a fall, resulting in unnecessary twisting and turning, and increasing the risk of injury.

What are the best ways to deal with these injuries?
If you’re at a ski resort and have injured your hand or knee in a fall, seek immediate attention from the ski medical staff. If professional medical assistance isn’t readily available, then immediately ice and elevate the injury. If you think it’s broken, you can create a splint out of a ball for the hand and any kind of makeshift immobilizer for the knee, and then bind with tape. (Yeah, duct tape will do in a pinch.)

Do you take your own advice?
Absolutely. I used to love the thrill of a double black diamond slope; now I’m much more aware of my surroundings, particularly other skiers. I take extra special care to ensure that my bindings are properly adjusted and that my boots fit and are comfortable. Thankfully, we’re on the cusp of a whole new era of understanding how the human body moves in orthopedic surgery and how to treat it when it’s been compromised.


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