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Safety is chief concern on area slopes

December 17, 2010
By ANDY NELSON-ZALESKI Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - The recent snow fall received in the area and throughout the state has given many outdoor enthusiasts the winter itch.

With all the snow, employees at Marquette Mountain have been working hard to get many of the ski runs open.

For many skiers and snowboarders, the mountain opening brings new thrills of laying down their first tracks of the season and carving through the fresh powder.

Article Photos

A local snowboarder gets in some work at Marquette Mountain in this file photo. Experts remind ski and snowboard enthusiasts that safety should always be first on the slopes. (Journal file photo)

But before you strap your bindings onto your feet, you should consider following some tips that will help keep you on the slopes and out of the emergency room.

Be sure to check over your equipment before hitting the slopes. Take a look at your bindings to ensure they are in good condition. Check over your skis and snowboard and if needed, apply a fresh coat of wax.

Most importantly, closely inspect your helmet. Check for any visible damage such as cracks or dents that might compromise the integrity of the helmet.

If you don't currently own a helmet, now is the perfect time to purchase one.

Vern Barber, Marquette Mountain general manager, said that helmets have gotten very popular recently.

More than 70 percent of the people who ski or snowboard are wearing helmets now, he said. They have come a long way over the years.

Helmets nowadays are extremely warm and they have built in vents that can be opened to cool the head. Some are even capable of flip-flopping into multi-sport and multi-season.

"It is kind of a 'no brainer' to use a helmet versus a hat," Barber said jokingly.

Researchers have found the best way to avoid injury on the slopes is to wear a helmet.

According to a National Ski Areas Association report published in a recent Associated Press story, 25 skiers and 13 snowboarders died during the 2009-10 season out of millions of skier and snowboarders.

Shorter skis and helmets have helped decrease the rate of ski injuries over the last 10 years, but the average number of people who die on America's slopes every year has remained flat at about 40, the AP reported.

Another way to avoid injuries on the slope is by following what's known as the responsibility code, said Barber.

This code includes stopping in safe places, looking uphill and yielding before going downhill or merging onto a trail, staying off closed trails and knowing how to use lifts.

In addition to checking your equipment, participants are urged to get in shape. Try to follow a fitness program before heading to the mountain. Many online resources recommend basic conditioning and stretching to strengthen muscles and build endurance.

This can, in turn, help prevent injuries.

Know your limits and ski or snowboard at your own level of comfort.

If you are new to the sport it would be wise to take a few lessons to build your comfort.

Barber said lessons are a great means of being safe.

"The thing about lessons is that they are something that you will never forget," he said.

Finally remember to stay well hydrated. When you are focused on getting in as many runs as possible, it is easy to forget to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids as the day goes on. You many get fatigued if you become dehydrated.

Remember to follow these simple tips and you should have a safe and enjoyable ski and snowboarding season.

Andy Nelson-Zaleski can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 256. His e-mail address is



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