“Stop! Don’t do that. Don’t move him”, I screamed.

My husband had misjudged the slope, crashed, and landed in a heap in the middle of the trail. He was also out cold.

We were skiing with his good buddy Lars when it happened. Lars skied to him and dragged him by his right arm until his body flattened out. Meanwhile, I was screaming at Lars to stop. But he didn’t stop.

By the time I side-stepped up the hill to the scene, Lars said, “I had to straighten him out. He looked so uncomfortable.”

Unconscious skiers are not uncomfortable – they are unconscious, and anybody who moves them before Ski Patrol arrives can make an injury worse.  That’s likely what happened to my husband.

X-rays showed his shoulder was broken. Surgery and hardware repaired the bone, but fragile nerves might have snapped when he was dragged by his arm. We’ll never know.

The bone healed, but the nerve damage was complete. My husband has never again had use of his right arm. It was dead.

If Lars had some basic knowledge about what to do, it might have turned out better.

I talked with Mark Pollish, a career patroller and 40 year veteran of the Alta Ski Patrol, for some guidelines that we recreational skiers should heed in case of an accident.

Do No Harm

First of all, when you come upon an accident, “Do no harm.”

When somebody crashes, “Don’t rush into the situation and become part of the problem. Whether it’s a ski crash or an accident on the highway, think extreme safety. People are quick to want to help, but don’t do anything that might jeopardize their safety or yours.”

The next guideline logically follows “Do no harm.”

Do Not Move the Person

“Do not move the person. That includes do not remove their skis. You don’t know what the injuries might be. There could be spinal injuries and moving the person could make it worse,” he said.

It doesn’t matter whether the skier or snowboarder is awake or unconscious. Don’t move them.

Just last year, I listened to two skiers awarding themselves kudos because they thought they were heroes. They saw someone fall and not budge, so they rolled him around and propped him up because he looked “so uncomfortable” He was unconscious through it all, and he was still unconscious when Ski Patrol arrived. Moving him could have caused serious damage. We’ll never know.

The first two guidelines focus on what you should not do.  These next three are what you should do, Pollish said.

Make an X with your skis.

Take off your own skis and drive the tails into the snow forming an X well above the accident.  Or, if you ride, plant your board upright in the snow. It warns others to stay clear of the area and also marks the location of the incident.

Call the patrol and stay on the phone with downed skier/rider.

Whether you are at your home mountain or visiting a resort across the country, it’s a good idea to have the patrol’s emergency number in your phone so you can reach them quickly, Pollish said.

At some ski areas, the main number is the best way to get connected to the patrol. At others, the patrol might be reached through 911. It varies from resort to resort, so it’s best to find out before you need to call for help.

Then be sure to “stay on the phone with the patrol” Pollish said, and give them “as much information as possible: location, description of the person, and what you know about the.situation.”

Finally, stay with the downed skier until the patrol arrives. You might be able to provide additional information that they need, he said.

Think safety. Ski safely.

Now, are your ready for a pop quiz? What are the 5 things you should know and do when a skier crashes?

11 Comments

  1. Nancy Merson says:

    I have a change of address but, with no coples of an old issue, I do not know where to send the address change. I have your name and email address so thought I would try it.
    New address;
    12508 Greenwood Ave N, Apt A218
    Seattle, WA 98113

  2. Nancy Merson says:

    Thank you for any help with this address change for the senior ski magazine.

  3. Alice Walter says:

    Hoorah! for Harriet’s article. I have one addition: Just like in First Aid Training, check the scene as above, then quickly check to see if the skier/rider can breathe, and if they have a pulse. Rather than move them, Dig out the snow in around their face so they don’t smother.

    I fell off a feature in the terrain park. Everyone rushed in and were concerned about my twisted ski leg and was asking if I was OK, etc. I could not respond cuz my face was buried in the snow. I prayed someone would open up a breathing space. (They didn’t, but untwisted me until I was turned over—not the best approach, as Harriet says).
    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to support Harriet’s article.

  4. karl hafner says:

    as a physician I have been involved in many first aid/emergency situations. It is very difficult to get people to leave the person alone. Everyone tries to move them. It at times is a full time job just to keep people from moving the injured person. Kuddos for giving this info to the general public.

  5. Harriet, great piece.

    Only comment is for anyone in similar situation to heed Harriet’s emphasis on calling Ski Patrol, and also conferring with others around you, if you’re not 100% certain, to make sure you know exactly where you are, trail name, how far down, landmarks, etc

    As an instructor it’s drilled into us to report location with high accuracy – important everywhere, but enormously more so in vast expanses of rocky mountain ski resort terrain.

  6. Red Sheridan says:

    Harriet, excellent article. I believe this to be something every one
    should know, Now, how do we get every skier/rider to read this
    important information. ? ? Keep up the good work.

  7. Great article. The person that stated to be sure the airway is clear is right on. Same person suggested to check their pulse brings in a very serious subject. No pulse may be the right reason to start CPR if you have the skill to do so. Tough call!

  8. Richard Kavey says:

    Excellent article w essential info for all to follow. As a physician and ski racing coach I’ve seen a lot. As they saying goes, when you find yourself at the bottom of a hole, stop digging. People trying to help can do a great deal of harm.

  9. Sorry, I do not agree.

    Two many assumptions by Harriet and the patroller. There is no evidence offered that the nerve injury was exacerbated by moving your husband, but either way, I would not have pulled on any body part. We don’t tear nerves by doing chin-ups. The patroller does not consider that the fallen skier may have had a heart attack. On the best mountains, it still takes Patrol 5-10 minutes once they figure out where the injured person is on the mountain. (You would be surprised how many skiers cannot identify where exactly they are.) If no pulse is felt (wrist or neck, CPR must start, carefully feeling the chest compressions in case there are broken ribs.

  10. Brad Huggins says:

    Mr. Steinberg-you are correct about not knowing
    whether the movement exacerbated a nerve injury. And, you don’t injure your nerves foing a pull up because your bones are intact and taking the stress of the “pull”, not your soft tissues (nerves, muscles, etc.).
    Also, it is very important to check the ABC’s (airway, breathing, circulation) in any accident victim, especially those who are unconscious.
    If the airway has to be stabilized or CPR done, you have to SAFELY do what you have to do to make that possible.
    The vast majority of ski injuries involve musculoskeletal or solid organ injuries so hopefully you don’t encounter the unconscious or arrested victim.
    Otherwise, EVERYTHING that Harriett says is correct. For physicians, we must recognize that we DO NOT have experience in on mountain medical care. So, when the patrollers arrive, ee should carefully provide a history and any care provided, offer our help, and get out of the way, taking a back seat to the on mountain experts!
    They have carried my 12 yo son with a ruptured spleen and my 30 yo nephew post concussion with fractured left iliac wing and couple rib fractures safely, and incredibly calmly and professionally with excellent outcomes in both.
    Just my additional 2 cents,
    Brad
    Gen/vasc surgeon, 18 yr high school team physician

  11. Every trail map should display the NSP telephone number, since 99% of skiers uses cell phones. I personally believe this telephone number should be on the front page of the folded-up map, so it would be found/seen quickly. Most people who are visiting a ski resort do not know trail names and since recently, ski resorts maximize their trail count, trail names change 1 or maybe 3 times over the length of the trail. Too bad the person calling the accident in couldn’t give the resort their RFID card number by pre entering it in their cell phone and ski patrol could locate them via drone GPS locator, similar to a RECCO. Patrol would have to have a fleet of drones. Maybe it’s something for the future.

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