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Avoiding the Ouch

Avoiding the Ouch

Avoiding the Ouch
By Molly Retig
posted: 03/03/2008

Two telemark skiers etch sweeping lines into seven inches of fresh snow in Arapahoe Basin's deserted Montezuma Bowl. Peter Baer and Peter Mack, New Yorkers with soft spots for soft pow, landed in Denver at 1:00 a.m. Thursday. After a few hours of sleep, Baer, marketing director for a luxury concierge group by weekday, navigated his truck over a frosted Loveland Pass early Friday. Mack sat shotgun and talked brand-marketing on a conference call. The topic quickly changed to snowpack.

The 26-year-old Cornell alums escape their apartment in Manhattan's meat-packing district about eight times each ski season to pack in 20 days of tele-turns, along with plenty of Colorado microbrews. "One might think the last thing you'd want to do after killing yourself physically and aerobically on the hill is go do it again," Baer says, pulling into a liquor mart on the way to Vail. "Maybe they actually play off each other."

Like the Petes, many skiers hit resorts ravenous for powder and partying. Plane and lift tickets are steep and skiers want to pack fun into a few fleeting days. The trick is having a stellar break without breaking a leg. According to the Wilderness Medical Society's report compiling skiing injury data from 2000, about 3 in 1,000 skiers injure themselves alpine skiing. Your chance of injury (based on skiing 14 days per year) is 14 percent. Does drinking up that chance? A study at a Vermont resort published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol in 1998 found that yes, drinking between 12 and 24 hours of skiing increases risk of injury likely due to fatigue. "It's like driving," says Bill Byrnes, professor of integrative physiology, at University of Colorado's medical center. "Skiing is a motor activity."

If you crave 24-hour fun plus a clean injury record like the Petes, you can devise your own system with some tips from the experts.

Give Yourself an Edge
Good news: you can "minimize the damage" even while running between moguls and bars. Alcohol accelerates fatigue, making bodies susceptible to torn ligaments, shoulder injuries and more. Jason Amrich, physical therapist at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, helps rehab plenty of ski injury victims and says alcohol conspires with other risk factors in causing injury. "It's the staying out late, the dehydration that affects muscle
control, causes fatigue, leads to decreased reaction time and potentially injury," Amrich says on a phone interview. So be prepared. "That's No. 1. coming in with a strong cardio base." So start working your ski-muscles early with lunges, squats, cardio and anything to keep you in tip-top shape for when you reach the slopes.

Measure and Time Your Drinks
An extra beer with lunch can impair judgment and reaction times that you can't afford to lose. Buzzkill but true. Dr. Peter Millett, lead shoulder surgeon at Steadman Hawkins clinic in Vail's hospital, says one Floridian in his mid-fifties suffered the aftertaste of too many margaritas. "He went out on a binge, was still intoxicated the next day and had a terrible femur fracture. He broke his hip, needed major surgery and was in the hospital for two weeks," Millet says.

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Sitting out the first night can also help your body acclimate, which happens primarily within 48 hours. Altitude affects people differently but may cause headaches, shallow breathing, restless sleep, possible confusion or loss of coordination. Eat in moderation, drink extra water and log eight hours of sleep.

And speed-check while après-skiing. "Don't put your party pants on too early," Mack advises. "I'm a fan of a couple hours in the hot tub with a beer or two followed by a relaxing dinner then back to the racetrack."

Self-nurse 
The morning after, know what your hangover antidote is. Amrich, an avid backcountryy tele-skier and instructor, shares his. "Hydration, hydration, hydration." He advises riding the hotel's bike for 30 to 45 minutes to sweat out chemicals and raise physical awareness. Keep carbohydrates handy to eat on the slopes, sparing you $20 chili and mitigating the effects of alcohol. Pamper your body by doing post-stretching or soaking in the hot tub.

"The best way to get over a hangover is a quick breakfast burrito, coffee, Gatorade and hop on the [lift.] You don't even feel it," Mack says.

Be Aware of the Other Idiots
What if you remove alcohol from the equation? Even sans-booze, skiers often get hurt from accidents and bravado. "A lot of injuries we see are from collisions," Millett says. More injuries happen at the end of the day on tired legs and congested slopes, making it the wrong time to perfect riding switch or launching a helicopter jump off a cat track lip. "There's lots of peer pressure to potentially do things you see in the X-Games when you're a casual skier," Millett says. If you're no big mountain hero, chasing adrenaline off cornices, steeps or out-of-bounds are good ways to end up on his table.

The first Sunday of February at Vail, the forces of speed, aggressiveness, hangovers and fatigue collided in the forms of Mack and his buddy on Ouzu run. "Luckily when we crashed, we had enough wherewithal to prevent a disaster," Mack says. Must have been the breakfast burrito.

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