How to stay safe on your winter sports holiday
23 November 2017
From hiking to fat biking, skiing to sledding and snowshoeing to snowboarding, winter sports activities have never been so thrilling or so varied.
If you’re setting off on your own winter sports holiday abroad, read this advice from Dr. Lynn Gordon, CEGA’s chief medical officer. It may help you remember your holiday for all the right reasons.
Take out the right travel insurance
Make sure you have the right winter sports travel insurance to cover all the activities you want to do, before you set off abroad. And bear in mind that extreme sports, such as heli-skiing or paragliding may not be included in a standard winter sports policy. If you have a current family policy, or a bank account that includes travel insurance as a benefit, check they include the cover you need for everyone in the family. An emergency repatriation could set you back tens of thousands of pounds without insurance, depending on where you are in the world.
Don’t rely on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
The EHIC won’t cover your costs if you need an emergency repatriation back to the UK from another European country. And it will only pay for basic state healthcare in Europe – which means you will have to cover your own costs if you don't have travel insurance and you’re taken to a private hospital after an accident on the slopes. But having an EHIC may save you the excess on a travel insurance claim, so it’s important to have the card alongside your insurance if you're holidaying in Europe.
Reduce the risks
Winter sports injuries are common and can include broken limbs, sprains and ligament tears. Knees, legs, ankles, wrists, shoulders and more can all suffer. Slipping on snow and ice are also common causes of accidents in winter sports resorts. Reduce the risks by getting fit before you set off abroad, warming up before exercising, and sticking to activities within your comfort zone. You should also wear a helmet for all sports and invest in suitable footwear to walk around the resort. If you find yourself out of your comfort zone on the slopes, take off your skis or snowboard, or get off your sledge, and sidestep down the edge of the slope.
Get used to the altitude
Nausea, confusion, headaches and shortness of breath are all signs of altitude sickness. The condition can be common in high-altitude resorts, where it may take 48 hours or so to acclimatize to reduced oxygen levels. Children and anyone with a respiratory illness or impaired lung function are especially susceptible. But drinking plenty of water, resting on day one when you arrive at a high-altitude resort, and staying at a slightly lower altitude for a day or two on the way up can all help.
Be prepared for all weathers
Mountain weather can change with little warning. A “white-out” can make it hard to see more than a few feet in front, while winds can be ferocious. Try not to set out alone on the slopes, and, if the weather turns hostile, keep companions in sight until you reach the bottom. Always carry extra layers in a backpack, so you can keep warm when you need to. Avoid frostbite by keeping extremities covered and exposed skin away from frozen metal. If your fingers, toes or ears start to feel numb, come off the slopes. And keep an eye on local weather reports.
Know the signs of hypothermia
Excessive shivering, weakness and exhaustion can all be signs of hypothermia. So too can slurred speech and mental confusion. If you have these symptoms, seek help, shelter from the wind and replace any wet clothing with dry. You can also warm up by wearing more layers while you’re waiting for help to arrive.
Protect your skin and eyes
Wear plenty of sun cream and invest in a good pair of UV resistant goggles or sun glasses. Bear in mind that the sun is stronger at altitude.
Stay on piste
Whatever sport you’re doing, it’s always safest to stick to the piste. If you do want to go off-piste, check that your travel insurance covers you and always take a guide – even if you’re just walking. Bear in mind that off-piste trails may be hard to follow and you could get lost.
Save the alcohol for the après-ski
Remember that alcohol will affect you more quickly at altitude. If you set off on the slopes after over-indulging on the midday mulled wine, you could find your core body temperature reduced, your decision-making adversely affected and your travel insurance invalidated if you have an accident. Alcohol can also make you dehydrated. It’s safest to stick to the soft drinks until you’re off the slopes for the day. And if you’ve been drinking heavily at night, don’t set off back to your accommodation on your own - you need to have your wits about you when temperatures are sub-zero.