I love the mountains, I love skiing, and I love health. Prior to becoming a paramedic, I got my start as an EMT on the Copper Mountain Ski Patrol in Colorado. The main part of my job was medical response, and I worked with many career medics, firefighters, and former military. Someone would injure themselves somewhere on the mountain, and a patroller would be dispatched to go help. We would assess, treat, and transport them down the mountain.
Skiing is an extremely unpredictable activity! Patrollers are expected to be good skiers, but we still fell a lot. I took some hard falls, made some embarrassing snafus underneath the chairlift, but sustained no injuries in the four years I worked there (skiing every day, in every type of condition, and carrying all types of awkward equipment). Most of the injuries we responded to were benign and with little PTSD for the patient. Sprained knees and wrists and shoulders were the most common. But some injuries were extremely serious and even fatal.
You might think that the worst accidents were on the steepest and hardest terrain. Not so. On hard terrain, the dangers are clearly visible and obvious. You might think the worst accidents were in the terrain parks with the crazy jumps and rails. Nope. In the terrain parks, all of the features were labeled, marked, and well-designed for that specific purpose. I didn’t do ski jumps, I preferred to find the steep powdery runs that you had to hike to. I enjoyed hiking long ridges to find a steep and untouched slope.
The worst accidents were on the main trails where there was lots of traffic. Ironically, these trails were marked as beginner or intermediate terrain! The trails were marked as safe and easy, but the elements of traffic and speed made them more dangerous than the ‘Expert Only’ trails!
The actual risk in skiing is the unpredictability of other people. The perceived risk in skiing is the fear of falling. Black Diamond terrain can look intimidating, but all of it is in front of you and without surprise. You can walk down, or slide on your butt if it turns out to exceed your ability. You’re controlling your own body at all times. There’s nothing in your blindspot, and there are no crazy people skiing erratically behind you about to take you out.
We all have different perceptions of what is an acceptable amount of ‘danger’. But actualrisk is mitigated by emulating the skier who moves past fear and finds more difficult, but less trafficked areas. The skier who navigates with a focus on self-control, and knows how to fall when it happens.