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Sign up for the Newsletter to receive the latest News & Events from Aspen Valley Hospital.

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Aspen Valley Hospital is available 24/7 to provide you with the expert care that you need!

Phone:

970-925-1120

Get In Touch:

Send us a message

Address:

Aspen Valley Hospital
0401 Castle Creek Road
Aspen, CO 81611

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Injury Prevention

Eliminating Risk & Injuries When Skiing in the Backcountry

Safety Recommendations for Winter Backcountry Travel

The increased demand to get outside and avoid crowds this winter has larger numbers of people heading into the backcountry. While backcountry exploration comes with many rewards, it also requires a higher level of personal and group responsibility, and, potentially, additional hazards.

Before you venture into the backcountry make sure you and your group are prepared, have the proper equipment, and work to avoid snow sports-related injuries, which can become much more serious the farther you are from medical help.

Preparing for Ski Season

If you plan to explore the backcountry, it’s best to start your ski preparation long before the snow flies. Successful winter seasons begin with ski-specific strength training and exercise. According to Aspen Valley Hospital Physical Therapist Lucy Morgan, it takes about six weeks to get into proper shape for skiing and snowboarding, so start early!

Preventing ski injuries is particularly critical if you plan to tour in the backcountry. Injuries that can be quickly addressed by Ski Patrol on the resort take on a new level of urgency the farther from medical attention you are.

AVH recommends doing the following to help keep injuries at bay:

  • Don’t push it. Skiing in accordance with your physical condition helps keep you in control.
  • Make sure your equipment is tuned and ready to go.
  • Take time to adjust to altitude. The higher you go, the more fatigued your muscles can become as your body takes in less oxygen.
  • Learn your way around the mountain to avoid getting onto terrain that is advanced beyond your experience level.
  • Understand the ski slope rating system — green circle, blue square, black diamond and double black diamond as well as any boundary and slope markers — it can carry different degrees of difficulty at different resorts and the backcountry has no official ratings.
  • Stretch before your first run. Warming up your muscles can reduce the risk of injury.
  • Be aware of that day’s weather and snow conditions.
  • Always wear a helmet.
  • Save the drinking for aprés. Drinking alcohol during a mid-day lunch stop can contribute to less strength and control.

Plan Ahead and Have What You Need

Backcountry travel requires an additional level of preparation and understanding of the environment in which you’ll be exploring. Avalanche conditions vary by region and range as do weather and storm cycles.

In order to ensure you and your group are as prepared as possible, consider these tips:

Don’t go alone.

And once you’re out there, never leave the group. Backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling are best enjoyed with a team of friends. Make sure everyone has an understanding of each person’s ability level and any physical limitations.

Communicate.

Group communication is key to successful backcountry experiences. Specifically, choose one person to be the Trip Leader, someone who understands backcountry terrain and conditions and who is comfortable taking charge in the event of an emergency.

Put a safety plan together.

This way, everyone in your group knows where you’re going and what the protocol is should something happen. Important elements include:

  • Area map
  • GPS or other satellite communicator
  • First aid kit
  • Local emergency rescue options, including emergency dispatch, nearest hospitals, ALERT landing pads and Search and Rescue
Look at the weather forecaset.
Take plenty of layers, food and water.

High energy output means base layers can quickly dampen with sweat and stopping to assess routes or eat can drop body temperature quickly. Make sure to pack extra wicking layers, down jackets, gloves and hats.

Understand Avalanche Conditions and Snow Safety

Avalanches are a very real risk factor for winter travelers. It is important to understand avalanche conditions, rescue and safety guidelines before venturing into the backcountry.

1. Take an avalanche safety course. This is an important first step before venturing into the backcountry.

2. Consider hiring a guide or talking with a local retailer about current conditions and backcountry zones.

3. Have the proper equipment. Safe backcountry travel does require specific equipment, including:

  • Avalanche transceiver
  • Snow shovel
  • Snow saw
  • Probe
  • Radio or satellite phone

What to Know and Where to Go

Backcountry Injuries

Most of the time, backcountry travel is both peaceful and exhilarating. But injuries do happen, and when they do, it’s best to get expert medical help as quickly as possible. As a Level III Trauma Center, Aspen Valley Hospital has extensive emergency and trauma services available, including a hospital-based ambulance service and an FAA-approved helipad on the hospital campus in Aspen. The emergency response team includes fellowship trained emergency physicians and trauma specialists in a state-of-the-art facility.

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What to Know and Where to Go

Orthopaedic Care

Head, knee, neck and shoulder injuries are the most common for backcountry winter travelers. The Steadman Clinic at Aspen Valley Hospital brings world-class orthopedic care to the heart of the Roaring Fork Valley. The Steadman Clinic specializes in sports medicine including knee, hip, shoulder, hand, wrist and elbow, neck and spine, foot and ankle, and total joint replacement. Whether recreational enthusiasts or professional athletes, patients receive the clinic’s renowned orthopaedic expertise and friendly approach.

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What to Know and Where to Go

Rehabilitation Services

In order to get back out there as soon and as safely as possible, Aspen Valley Hospital’s rehabilitation services help patients return to an active lifestyle. Cutting-edge physical therapy services include treatment of orthopaedic and musculoskeletal conditions such as traumatic injuries, overuse injuries, sports injuries, and pre- and post-operative rehabilitation.

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