Does your ideal holiday feature snow and lots of it? If you’re planning your next winter adventure, beware of skiing or snowboarding without the right travel insurance.
Misadventures at the snow make up some of the most expensive travel insurance claims going. That’s because the risks associated with skiing and snowboarding are so high, coupled with the major costs of reaching injured travellers in remote mountain top locations during emergency medical evacuations.
The type of injuries sustained at the snow tend to be extensive, such as dislocations, ligament damage, and bone breaks. But for holiday makers who get caught without the right travel insurance, emergency medical bills can be the most painful aspect of an injury.
Aside from your own medical coverage, the right type or travel insurance can also protect against personal liability, cancellations and closures due to weather, and lost or damaged equipment.
Snowboarding versus skiing injuries
Snowboarding and skiing are the most popular activities on the slopes, and the two that most winter sports loving Australians tend to travel for. Skiing often result in more knee injuries. The typical skiing injury involves torque-type injuries to the knees and lower extremities. This twisting of the upper leg one way, while the lower leg rotates the opposite way, often results in tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
In snowboarding the knees are less vulnerable as both feet are strapped onto the same board and always point in the same direction. This protects the knees from any twisting. However, the upper extremity is in the position to take the force of a fall. When snowboarders fall, they land on their hands, shoulders, rear-ends, or heads. The most typical snowboarding injury is a wrist fracture. There are also wrist sprains and elbow contusions and dislocations. The shoulder takes a beating with contusions and rotator cuff injuries. Broken collarbones, concussions, and other head and neck injuries are common as well.
Medical emergencies at the snow
While skiing and snowboarding are two of the world’s most popular winter sports, they are also two of the most hazardous. Since skiers can clock speeds anywhere from 40 to 70 kilometres per hour, injuries are almost an inevitable part of winter sports. But which injuries are most common, and most perilous?
The knees absorb most of the shock to the body during everyday activities like walking, so imagine how much shock they have to absorb during an intense winter activity like skiing or skating. Knee injuries are some of the most common winter sports injuries, not just because they can occur in any sport but because there are so many different ways to get hurt. Some of the most common winter sports injuries to the knee include:
- A torn ligament on the back, inside, outside or front of the knee
- A torn meniscus, the cartilage between the bones of the knee joint
- Fractured kneecap, either on the lower end of the femur (thigh bone) or the upper end of the tibia (calf bone)
- Knee dislocation, when the bones of the knee joint separate.
Skiing is the only winter sport in which you’re regularly using your hands and wrists. That’s why the most common hand injury – a torn ligament in the thumb – is known as skier’s thumb.
Approximately 10 percent of ski injuries come from skier’s thumb, making it the second-most common injury among skiers, second only to knee sprains. It usually occurs when a skier falls and bends his or her hand back to keep a grip on the ski pole. This causes the ligament in the thumb joint to tear and, in some cases, the phalanx (thumb bone) to fracture. Some falls are so bad that the wrist bends backward as well, causing a fracture or sprain that makes hand movement harder.
When you plummet into a hard surface like ice, you’re could well be up for a dislocated shoulder. Because this joint is more mobile than others, it’s less stable. As a result, it’s easier to slip it out of place, so a hard hit that wouldn’t affect another joint could affect the shoulder. Skiers are at greater risk of dislocating a shoulder, but other winter activities can be just as risky. Not only is a dislocated shoulder intensely painful, but putting off medical care for too long could also lead to a frozen, or totally immobile, shoulder.
When you fall, your natural reaction will be to extend your arms and try to lessen the impact. Depending on the speed you’re going at, and the density of the snow you’re falling on, you are putting yourself at risk for a wrist fracture, or at the very least a wrist sprain.
Ankle sprains and fractures
Ankles bare the brunt of every little movement on the snow. Which means they’re constantly twisting, straining and rolling over uneven surfaces. These kinds of ankle movements are so common while snowboarding that a fracture of the Talus bone – just above the heel bone on the outside of the ankle – is commonly known as snowboarder’s ankle.
Mild sprains need little more than an ice pack and elevation, while fractures usually need a cast and six weeks of healing. In either case, though, it’s important to get treatment right away and stay off your feet. Otherwise, you might develop more serious problems later that make it hard to walk at all.
Although they’re rarely fatal, a spinal injury can be just as disruptive to your life as a concussion or other head injuries. A sprain or strain in the back ligaments or muscles is painful and can keep you off your feet for weeks. A fracture or dislocation, on the other hand, could damage the spinal cord and lead to either partial or full paralysis.
Skiers are especially prone to spinal injuries, especially those on high slopes. However, snowboarding and other high-intensity sports could cause you to hurt your back, so it’s important to treat all those skiing injury prevention tips as if they were written for any winter sport.
While not as common as other winter sports injuries, concussions are the leading cause of death and disability among skiers and snowboarders. That’s why it’s so important to check for signs of brain injury when someone takes a fall, including blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, swelling at the site of the injury and vomiting
Specific cover for medical emergencies at the snow
The chances of hurting yourself at the snow is so great that ordinary travel insurance can’t cover it. Fortunately, many offer additional cover for winter sports. At Travel with Kit, our optional extra for winter sports is our Snow Pack.
The Travel with Kit Snow Pack provides cover for overseas emergency medical and hospital expenses due to an accident at the snow. If you are seriously injured or suffer a sudden illness at the snow, Travel with Kit covers:
- Unlimited Snow sports overseas emergency medical assistance
- Unlimited Snow sports overseas emergency medical & hospital expenses
- Own snow sports equipment up to $1,500
- Snow sports equipment hire up to $1,000
- Unused snow sports costs up to $1,000
- Piste closure up to $1,000
- Bad weather & avalanche closure up to $750
To insure yourself for medical emergencies possible on a ski or snowboarding trip, add a Snow Pack to your policy at the time of buying your cover.
Tips for preventing injuries at the snow
No matter your skill level, it’s crucial to learn how to stay safe on the slopes so you can avoid injuries while skiing or snowboarding.
Take Regular Breaks
Even if you don’t feel tired, muscle exhaustion can put you at risk and increase the chance of injury. While you’re out hitting the slopes, take frequent breaks to rest, hydrate, refuel and recover. This will give overworked muscles a break and allow you to keep going.
Do Warm up Exercises
Your muscles and cardiovascular system need to be in good shape before any type of physical activity, let alone an intense session on the mountain.. Muscles get tighter when the temperature drops, and your blood vessels contract. As a result, you’re more likely to get tired or develop muscle cramps, and that raises the risk of a more serious injury. That’s why warm ups should play a big role in your skiing and snowboarding injury prevention plan.
Use Protective Equipment
Many common winter sports injuries can be minimised – or prevented altogether – by wearing quality, protective gear. The most essential piece is a helmet which can reduce the severity of head injuries, which are more likely to be fatal than other types of injuries. Wrist and elbow guards can ease the force of falls on the joints of the upper body. Knee pads help prevent contusions, a pad for the tailbone is also a good idea. For guidelines on helmet see Snow Australia. For more on protective clothing, see Snow Safe Australia.
Use the ski lift properly
Injuries on the ski lift are common. The happen when skiers and snowboarders don’t understand the proper way to enter or exit the ski lift,. Or they may forget to lower the safety bar, or collide with other people when exiting the lift.
Don’t Push Beyond Your Experience Level
When you’re on the slopes it’s important to recognise your own limitations. Make sure you stay on runs that are appropriate for your level. Don’t attempt to try jumps or tricks that are beyond your expertise. Many injuries occur because people were unable to control their speed or when something was just beyond their abilities.
Follow the rules
It’s essential to follow safety tips on the slopes whether you’re at the beginner, intermediate, or expert skill level. It’s not just your own personal boundaries you should be aware of. Boundary ropes are used by ski patrollers to mark unsafe terrain. If you find yourself in backcountry or off-piste and in a medical emergency, you’re going against one of the conditions of Snow Pack cover.