An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

Conventional wisdom.

 In winter sports, the risk of an accident is doubled in the first week. Why write an article on a subject that may not appear medical? Because it is better to prevent than to cure. Let’s get to the point. Too many children come back from their first “snow class” (skiing with the school) with something broken. I have practiced as a doctor in the skiing station of Tignes and know well all pathologies linked to winter sports. But I first learned how to ski. It was hard and painful because I was over thirty when I started.


 Two boards on your feet to help you move on the snow. In the Alps (as in all winter sports stations) they are used to rush down the slopes. It is a good exercise to face fear because you have to face the slope, when the old reflex is to face uphill that is reality while downhill is emptiness. So, before becoming a doctor in winter sports resort, I became familiar with all the bad points about that sport that allows you to dance with the mountain on the snowy slopes. There were many accidents! One day there were fourteen fractures in the station: it makes you think and you have to take precautions. There are about 900,000 accidents a year in sporting exercises. Winter sports rank third after team ball games and horse riding. As far as balls and horses go and speak to those that know about them. To repeat myself: I prefer preventing to curing.

First thing to remember, don’t be cold. As you well know, cold motors break down easily. I have seen young people skiing in their jeans with a temperature of minus 25 degrees Celsius! If you don’t have a ski suit, at least wear warm leggings under your jeans, made of wool or polyamide microfiber.

Be careful with your eyes. Ultraviolet rays are more abundant at high altitudes and specially dangerous in the spring when they are reflected on the white surface of the snow. To prevent snow blindness, wear really protective glasses. Even people with brown eyes (that are more resistant) should wear them. I once saw a group of youngsters, fully equipped except for the glasses. They all got an ulceration of the cornea. A new equipment that now practically all children get: a helmet. Helmets may be rented in the resorts but for reasons of hygiene, it is better to have one’s own. And it keeps your head warm!

Since the new high-velocity train shaped shoes that the Belgians call boots, the most frequent accidents concern knees; more frequently in ladies (two thirds). This is perhaps because they are less muscular and progesterone (the feminine hormone) make their ligaments looser and too supple. And, as far as knees go, those of smokers occur more frequently (twice more, according to a British research). This is a good reason for youngsters to stop smoking before going to their first skiing trip.

I suggest a good preparation all year round of that famous muscle that encloses the knee, the quadriceps. It is in the anterior face of the thigh, the one on which small children like to seat.


Simply climb up the stairs regularly, always thinking of breathing out actively to empty your lungs. Climb slowly to the first floor to avoid breath shortness and keep the same pace all the way up. Descending stairs is just as good, some people even say it is better because it stretches the muscle.

As for the first skiing lesson, I prefer giving it indoors, on a rug rather than on the snow. Because one is unstable, cold and afraid of the snow; one doesn’t see very well because of the fogging or even melted snow that gets into the glasses; on top of that your feet hurt in those peculiar shoes you are wearing for the first time, you fall for the first time, the again and again, maybe ten times you may get seriously hurt even the first day! And as there is no speed involved, the ski binding will not be triggered off. The result of all that: right on the start, you lose your confidence. There is so much information to keep in your head but also in your corporeal memory in that first lesson that you will all mix it up. But at home, nice and warm … and now, read on!

  1. First, stand with your feet parallel and apart to the width of your shoulders; advance your knees until they are vertical to your toes and preferably in front of a mirror (you are allowed to giggle). Advance your arms and clench your fists thumb on top, as if holding a stick. That is the basic position you must integrate calmly.

 The second thing you must learn is, while maintaining that position, to progressively shift your position 60, 70, 80, 90% from one foot to the other. To keep your balance look at a fixed point. You can alternately lift your heels while keeping the point of your foot on the ground. Skiing is like dancing: from one foot to the other.

 The third thing you have to integrate is that when your weight is on the right foot you will turn to the left and when it is on your left foot, you will turn to the right.

 Lean forward to prevent you from falling.

  1. Work on those four points a few minutes daily during the few days before leaving. When you arrive you’ll be able to stand on your feet on the snow instead of spending your time on the ground, swearing you’ll never try again skiing, trembling, wet, frozen, your whole body aching, with fogging or snow in your glasses and with your friends kidding and advising you while you have been yourself trying to escape that damned gravity.

 I have known a few persons who, after such an indoor lesson didn’t fall once and were able to ski down incredible slopes after just one or two lessons with a certified instructor (which I am not). Once you have your skis on, lean forward, toward the front of your skis; this means also toward the slope and the void. Fear makes you lean back and that’s why you fall.

 But now, let’s educate your body to that new contact with earth through snow.

 This is the end of your first snow-less skiing lesson.

Happy snow!

Merry sliding!

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