While COVID-19 has thrown considerable uncertainty into 2020, one thing remains certain. Snow will soon cover the Colorado mountains, beckoning outdoor enthusiasts to click into skis or strap on a snowboard.
Laura Sehnert is an avid skier and plans to ski this winter with her family.
“I grew up skiing in Colorado and love that we have the opportunity to do so with our children,” said Sehnert, chief medical officer and an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, located less than a mile from the base of Steamboat Resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
But wait – is it safe to ski during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Skiing is an outdoor activity, many people already wear a mask, there’s space between people, and there’s no prolonged contact with others on the slopes. All of these are good things and fall in line with current public health precautions,” said Lauren Bryan, a registered nurse and infection preventionist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “For me, because I have family in my household who are at higher risk, I’m choosing to cross-country ski to really limit my contact with others.”
By taking the proper precautions before traveling and while on the mountain, you can enjoy the sport, reconnect with the great outdoors and keep yourself and those around you safe and healthy, too.
Before you go
If you haven’t already gotten a flu shot, put that at the top of your pre-vacation to-do list.
“It takes two weeks for the vaccine to kick in and for your body to start to build immunity,” said Bryan. “A flu shot is so important this year, as it’s a simple step to take to keep yourself and those around you safe.”
Conditioning is a good idea, too.
Preparation is key in many aspects of life, especially physical activity.
“You wouldn’t jump right into a marathon, and you shouldn’t jump right into skiing the minute you arrive in the mountains if you haven’t properly prepared,” said Sehnert, “A full day on the slopes is a lot of activity. Being physically prepared can prevent numerous injuries.”
Focus on your core, quads and hamstrings for better stability.
“Altitude can turn any physical activity into a more difficult one when people travel to the mountains from lower altitudes,” said Sehnert. “If you have heart or lung health concerns, allowing time for acclimatization can be a good idea.”
Moderately increasing your water intake before your trip and during your time in the mountains is also helpful and can help prevent headaches and muscle cramps.
When determining which mode of transportation to take to your favorite slope, consider possible risks.
“The safest way to travel is in small, personal vehicles with those in your immediate household,” said Bryan. “Any other way of travel can increase risk of exposure. Flying or piling unrelated people into a larger vehicle automatically increases risk due to the number of people you come into contact with, so be sure to wear a mask and practice frequent hand hygiene.”
While at your destination
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment has established guidance for Colorado ski areas and resorts to “create common expectations for mountain-specific activities.”
So what can you do?
“Make smart choices,” said Bryan. “When you get to your lodging location, wipe down high-touch areas like the television remote and light switches. Avoid congregating in hallways or areas where many people may have their masks off and are milling around.”
Pack individual hand sanitizer in your coat, and consider packing a lunch and eating outside, or choose grab-and-go options from food services on the mountain. At night, opt for carry-out or cooking in to limit contact with others.
While on the mountain, wear your facemask over your nose and mouth.
“A facemask should be multiple layers of fabric,” said Bryan. “High-density fabric weave is also one that breathes well to lessen condensation on goggles, and keeps you warm, too.
Keep a helmet securely strapped to your head.
“Snow is soft, but it can also be as hard as concrete,” said Sehnert. “A helmet can save you.”
Sehnert’s emergency medicine colleague, Dr. Nathan Anderson, once demonstrated how important helmets are via cantaloupes dropped from 8 feet onto a hard floor. The plain melon smashed on the floor, while the melon strapped in a helmet stayed intact while the helmet sustained a crack upon impact.
“Better the helmet than your head,” said Anderson.
Other things you can do to promote safety on the slopes (and not just during a pandemic):
- Ski within your ability, and don’t be afraid to take a lesson. “Sure, lessons are beneficial for never-ever skiers, but even seasoned skiers can benefit from a refresher on proper stance and other technical aspects of the sport,” said Sehnert.
- Ensure your gear is in proper working order. A quick tune, including fresh wax and sharp edges, can make a difference when snow conditions change.
- Don’t ski under the influence of alcohol or drugs. “We’ve seen too many patients who stopped for lunch, had a beer or two, went back out and wham – there’s the fall,” said Sehnert. “Never ski under the influence of any substance.”
- Obey on-mountain signage, and watch for changing conditions, as conditions can play into injuries. “It’s tough to control Mother Nature and changing visibility and snow conditions,” said Sehnert. “While skiing in the trees is fun, tree wells are incredibly dangerous.”
- Stop when you’re tired. “Our department gets busier at the end of the day, and we hear lots of, ‘It was the last run of the day,’ comments when we ask what happened,” said Sehnert. “People get tired and they push their bodies. Recognize when you’re tired and when to stop for the day.”
Check with your chosen destination for mountain- or resort-specific guidelines, and review any public health guidelines that the town or county you’re traveling to may have in place. By taking a few extra precautions, you can stay safe on the mountain this winter.