Skills: Perfecting the Safer Ski Spill


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Outside magazine, January 1996

Skills: Perfecting the Safer Ski Spill
By Scott Sutherland

If you subscribe to the same code of inflated alpine honor as I do, to fall is to fail–something to be avoided at all costs, even if it means flailing wildly on one ski while trying to regain some semblance of balance. Heroic efforts to remain upright, however, could be doing us more harm than good.

“The majority of ski injuries happen when people struggle to recover their balance instead of just going with the fall,” says Craig Pearson, director of the ski school at Park City, Utah. “They stick out an elbow, an arm, a knee, maybe a shoulder, and end up spraining or breaking the intended crutch.”

Self-preservation in the form of a controlled fall may require a shift in your instinctual response, but in the long run it’s far less painful (and less humbling) than being carted home. Pearson recommends practicing stationary falls: With your skis perpendicular to the fall line, simply crumple slowly, hips first, into the hill. Keep your feet close together and your arms
slightly raised and away from your body. “Imagine you’re holding a serving tray and you don’t want to spill any drinks,” says Pearson. “Take the fall with the softest part of your body, your bottom, instead of with an unforgiving bone or joint.”

Pearson urges skiers to stay loose and relaxed even in the midst of calamity. “When you go down, don’t make any sudden movements,” he advises. “If you’re sliding on your back, try to keep your skis up off the snow. If you’re on your side, try to keep your skis together.” In other words, attempting to get up by setting an edge can get you into serious trouble.

What if you’re about to lose it in the most ungraceful of ways–face first? Pearson suggests dipping a shoulder to turn the fall into a somersault and then sliding on your back. If you hear snickering from the chairlift, take comfort in Pearson’s dictum: “Falling is part of the deal.”