Risks on and off the slopes: Why skiing is particularly dangerous right now

Whether skiing or snowboarding: For thousands of sports enthusiasts, the annual winter holiday in the mountains is an absolute must.

Risks on and off the slopes: Why skiing is particularly dangerous right now

Whether skiing or snowboarding: For thousands of sports enthusiasts, the annual winter holiday in the mountains is an absolute must. It has never been safe. But the current season is overshadowed by a particularly large number of fatal accidents. There are several reasons for this.

In many winter sports areas it is currently more green than white - but after two years of Corona, skiers and snowboarders are longing for new adventures and fun on the slopes. Recently, reports of accidents have increased. Could this have something to do with the snow conditions? How should winter sports enthusiasts behave?

In Austria, 13 people have had fatal accidents on slopes in the current ski season up to January 3, according to the Austrian Alpine Safety Board (ÖKAS). Eleven died in Tyrol alone, including two young people from Germany. In many places there are only narrow bands of artificial snow on the valley runs, says the President of the German Ski Instructors Association, Wolfgang Pohl. Off-piste falls are very dangerous.

Pohl says there is often not enough space for all skiers on the narrow artificial snow slopes. During the Christmas holidays in particular, the Bavarian and Tyrolean ski areas were really full. "Then it gets tight, then there are near collisions," he says. If you dodge and then fall at high speed and fall into the non-snowed areas next to the slopes, you risk serious injuries. In the past, the ski areas were also snowed in on the other side of the slopes. Rocks and tree stumps can now be seen there. Anyone who falls in natural snow falls relatively softly - "now you fall extremely hard, you may collide with rocks and trees, and that is of course life-threatening".

And: artificially produced snow is different from flakes that fall naturally from the sky, as the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos explains. Instead of snow crystals, they are small balls of ice. "As a result, technical snow is denser and harder than natural fresh snow."

If there is a lack of fresh snow, the surface will also become harder, as ÖKAS Managing Director Matthias Knaus says. When many skiers are on the move, the little snow slides off faster in steep places. "This creates slabs of ice. Anyone with a lot of experience can confirm: It's better to drive on natural snow, artificial snow is a bit sleeker." For experienced athletes, however, the artificial snow is not a problem per se, explains Pohl: "It has a good grip and is also easy to control - as long as you have properly prepared skis."

The weather is one thing, plus the lack of practice. Many recreational athletes took a break from skiing during the Corona years, says Knaus. "But for a long time it has been a basic tenor that you don't prepare as well for the ski season. In the past, you started ski training in September or October and developed good skills yourself, today trips are much more spontaneous. Holiday behavior has changed. " The challenge is to adapt the physical condition to the project.

Good physical condition is important when skiing at 2,000 or 3,000 meters. "The oxygen saturation there is completely different," says Knaus. 5 of the 13 dead in Austria suffered from cardiac arrest. Recreational athletes should have themselves checked before they go on vacation. "It would be best to have a performance ECG beforehand, which shows whether you are suitable for the planned sporting activity."

But fitness alone is not enough for safety on the slopes: some winter sports enthusiasts are much too fast and do not keep enough distance from the edges of the slopes and other people. "You should always be able to stop if something unforeseen happens," advises Pohl. He also recommends wearing a helmet and back protection.

In the past, people skied better, says ÖKAS President Peter Paal, who is an anesthetist by trade. "The best Formula 1 car is of no use if the driver is bad. And when it comes to skiing, you have to say: The drivers have gotten worse," says Paal.

Many fatal accidents can be attributed to your own fault, says the President of the Austrian Alpine Club, Andreas Ermacora, the broadcaster ORF Tirol. "If you go over the edge of the runway and hit a tree, it's very tragic, but you can't blame the runway operator for it." When taking risks, Knaus pointed out that in the event of an accident on the mountain, the rescue is often not as quick and efficient as in the case of a road accident. "The best way to reduce your own risk of falling is with good preparation, good equipment and sufficient distance from others." Wolfgang Pohl also advises: "Keep a safe distance and reduce speed - that's the most important thing."

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