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Stay safe with these tips

The Winter Olympics are underway, and you’re likely all geared up to watch your favorite athletes shred, carve and flip their way to victory. No matter the sport—skiing, skating, luging or snowboarding—these athletes have trained their entire lives for this moment. All those years of training have brought them to the world stage. 

With all the excitement, the Winter Olympics might make you want to hit the slopes, rink or halfpipe yourself.

But if you’re less than sure about your skill level, or if it’s been a while since your last practice, you may want to think twice before bombing down that double black diamond run or speeding through a sharp turn. 

“Winter sports are a lot of fun, but they can be dangerous, too, especially if you overestimate your skill level,” explained Dr. Jason Scotti, a primary care sports medicine physician at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. “Before you go out on an Olympics-inspired run, take time to train and make sure you’re in top shape.”

Here are some things to keep in mind so you can train like an Olympian.

Always warm up
Just because winter sports happen in the cold doesn’t mean you should start off “cold.” 

Every pro from Shaun White to Lindsay Vonn has a warm-up routine. Warm-ups are important for them to perform at their best.  

“Make sure to warm up your muscles and joints before you go out,” said Dr. Scotti. “By stretching and doing small exercises, you can reduce the risk of injury and also ward off fatigue.”

After stretching and warming up, take it slow. This may mean going down smaller hills and moving slowly. This can help you get your bearings and remember techniques you may have forgotten. 

Know your limits
When you participate in winter sports, you have to know your limits. 

“Mountains are full of advanced options such as steep slopes and terrain parks that appeal to advanced athletes,” said Dr. Scotti. “The problem is that people who aren’t advanced may try to go down these runs as well. In some cases, the less-experienced riders lose control and crash.”

One of the most important ways to avoid getting hurt is to maintain an appropriate speed.

While it may seem exciting to go fast like the pros, they’ve trained for years to be able to handle themselves at high speeds. Even for pros, it takes everything they have to stay under control. For most people, high speeds can be extremely dangerous.

The faster you go, the harder it is to maintain control—if you lose control, you can get seriously hurt. For ice skating, this means keeping a slow, steady pace. For skiing and snowboarding, this means choosing a hill that isn’t too steep and using techniques to slow down and stop. 

If you’re a beginner, consider taking lessons from a professional. The knowledge you gain can help you avoid serious injuries.

Quit while you’re ahead

Winter sports are exhausting, which is why professionals train in intervals over the course of several years to build up their stamina and endurance.

By the end of the day, your muscles may be sore, and you may be less precise with your technique. 

Consequently, most serious injuries happen at the end of the day. 

“It’s best to call it a day before you feel totally exhausted,” noted Dr. Scotti. “Don’t push yourself through one last run or one more race. If you feel tired, stop.”

Dress the part
Dressing for winter sports can be tricky. On one hand, it is cold on the mountain or the rink. On the other hand, winter sports are a full-body workout and you’ll likely work up a sweat as you go through the day. 

The best approach is to wear layers. By wearing multiple layers, you can dress for any weather. Bring more layers than you think you’ll need in case it’s cold. If you find that you get hot during the day, take off some of your layers and leave them in the lodge. 

Depending on the sport, it’s also important to wear a helmet. While some people think helmets aren’t “cool,” they are a necessity, no matter your skill level—even Olympians wear helmets. Wearing a helmet can be the difference between life and death during a bad fall. 

If you hit your head or have a bad accident while skiing, snowboarding or skating, see a doctor. Don’t shrug off a head injury—especially if you’re dizzy, seeing stars or feel disoriented. 

Primary care sports medicine physician Jason Scotti, MD, sees patients at Geisinger Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Wilkes-Barre. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Scotti, call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.
Man skiing downhill