There’s nothing like the buildup of the coming ski season. The hope for a deep snowpack, lots of powder, and distant peaks to climb and ski, readily pulse through our brain’s synapses. In some ways the anticipation of turns is reward in itself. The prep of getting back into shape, reorganizing gear, waxing skis, obtaining new equipment, all these aspects of preparing for the ski season are the irreducible part of being a skier. So, it’s a total bummer when we get injured in early season because we are too amped about getting onto the snow that we forget how early season hazards can wreak havoc on our equipment and our bodies.
Summit fever isn’t limited to just mountaineers. Skiers (arguably young and male) charge right out the gates at the beginning of each season. Their enthusiasm takes center stage while judgment remains at home. They wind up blowing out a knee (or worse), ending their season long before the real snow falls. “Whether or not you ski the resort or the backcountry, you need to take it slow,” says Jackson Hole Ski Patroller Mike Werner. “There’s no need to destroy your equipment, no reason to destroy your body.”
Early season conditions are often times shallow, unconsolidated, and weak. Many people see untracked snowfields and forget what’s underneath that new blanket of snow. Rocks, sticks, logs, and holes have one thing in common. They have the power to snap your edges, your knees, back and head. All these hazards can more readily trip you up in early season, causing a greater chance for more serious injury that lurks below the surface. If ever there was a time to go slow to go fast, early season skiing would be that time.
Poor working equipment can also lead to injury. Make sure you keep tabs on your gear before driving to the trailhead. “You can’t leave all your gear in the garage for the summer months and expect it to be in perfect working order when you head out that first few times,” says Teton Country, Wyoming, Search and Rescue worker Scott Stolte. “You’re just asking for trouble.”
The feeling of the turn is oftentimes indescribable. It’s a drug, and many of us have built our lives around it. But to do so also requires respect—for Mother Nature, for the mountains, our bodies, and the sport itself. Bum rushing rarely works out, and the sublime moments are often never fully realized because we haven’t taken the time to ease into the season. As skiers, we should aspire to be better than that. The season’s not going anywhere, at least not yet. As someone who has tobogganed countless people off the hill all too early because they couldn’t hold back, Mike Werner warns against the unnecessary injuries sustained in those opening weeks. “It’s a long season,” he says. “It just pays to relax.”