Whether you ski or snowboard, safety should be a key consideration when you hit the slopes. To avoid injuries, follow these suggestions from the National Safety Council (NSC) and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:
Shape up. Start strengthening the muscles you'll use on the slopes well before ski or snowboard season begins. Being in better shape will increase your fun and reduce your risk of fatigue and injury.
Take a class. All beginners should undergo proper instruction, according to the NSC. Experienced skiers and snowboarders should also take refresher courses. Among the most important skills are falling and getting back up safely.
Check conditions. Ice, wet snow and thick powder call for extra caution. Also look at a map of the ski area before you head out.
Don't go alone. Ski or snowboard with a partner and stay in sight of each other. If you get too far ahead of your partner, stop and wait.
Follow slope rules. When you're heading downhill, always give right of way to the people below you. You can see them, but they may not see you. If you stop before you get to the bottom, move to a place well out of the way, on the side of the run, where others can see you clearly. Look both ways and uphill before crossing a trail or starting downhill.
Get the right gear. Seek expert advice when buying or renting gear. Boots should be snug and comfortable, and the bindings should be adjusted by a professional when they're purchased and checked periodically throughout the season. Skis and snowboards should be the right size, length and style for height, weight and skill level.
Stay on trails. Avoid closed trails and out-of-bound areas.
Don't overdo it. Take a couple of relaxed warm-up runs at the beginning of your day, and rest when you feel tired.
Dress warm and bright. Dress in layers, with an outer layer that resists water and wind. Bright colors are best, as they can be seen from a distance. Look for snug cuffs at the wrists and ankles, collars that will stay up around the chin, and drawstrings that can be adjusted for comfort. Bring a headband or hat and gloves or mittens.
Protect your head. Research shows that head and brain injuries are the most frequent cause of death from ski and snowboard accidents. A helmet helps protect your brain and skull.
Screen your skin and eyes. Wear sunscreen and sunglasses or goggles. Sunlight reflects off the snow and is stronger than you may think, even on cloudy days.
Small doses of caution and preparation can help ensure fun and safe days on the slopes all winter long.