ArticleWinter Sports Expert, Raul Guisado presented at the 2017 International Society for Skiing Safety in Innsbruck, Austria. His presentation specifically looked at competitor injury and finishing rates at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, a venue that was subject to above average temperatures, and compared those rates to comparable data from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The Effect of Warm Temperatures on Skiing & Snowboarding Safety
The conditions at Sochi were similar to those experienced at the end of season at many mountain resorts. Based on the findings of his research and more than 40 seasons of skiing experience, Raul was able to formulate and present best practices and advice that will help participants and resorts safely navigate unplanned patterns of warm temperature and anticipated seasonal changes:
- Get an early start – before the sun has had a chance to soften up the snow too much. If overnight temperatures are cold, be prepared for hard snow in the early morning.
- Stay at the top of the mountain – where snow will likely be colder, drier, and more consistent. Southern exposed runs will soften first. Northern exposed runs will have the best snow later in the day.
- Be selective when venturing off of groomed runs – early morning “off-piste” skiing can be treacherous as soft snow and tracks from the day before can freeze overnight.
- Stay on the lookout for obstacles – rocks, dirt patches, logs, etc. can become exposed as snow melts.
- Reduce speed and stay light in the slush – avoid big movements in slush at high speed and be prepared for sudden changes in speed (e.g. between shaded and sunny sections of snow).
The abstract from Raul’s presentation at the ISSS Conference is below. Please contact Raul directly for more information on his presentation and to discuss how his findings apply to the fact pattern in your case.
What can recreational skiers & snowboarders learn from the snow conditions at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games?
U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association Alpine-Level 500 Coach, Ski & Snowboard Expert - Robson Forensic, Inc., USA
INTRODUCTION. There was a great deal of media attention during the 2014 Winter Games focused on snow conditions for the Alpine Skiing, Freestyle Skiing, and Snowboard events. High temperatures at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi ranged between 50-60 °F (10-15 °C) at the ski and snowboard venues. Snow was hard and fast at higher altitudes in the morning due to colder overnight temperatures. Snow was slow, wet, and heavy on the lower mountain by midday. Organizers used salt and water in an effort to improve conditions. Despite the effort, snow conditions played a role in several falls and injuries. Cold temperatures at night caused wet snow to refreeze, and was difficult to hold an edge on the next morning. Melting and refreezing resulted in the loss of snow flake structure - making the snow less “aggressive”. As the sun and daytime temperatures began to soften the top layer of snow, it became “peely” – giving away as skiers and snowboarders applied pressure to their edges. As snow became deeper slush, the high moisture content made the snow very heavy and difficult to maneuver in. The high moisture content of the snow created a vacuum between the ski/board and the snow - sucking skis and boards to the snow so that they could not slide as easily. The aim of this study was to better understand the effect snow conditions had on 2014 Olympic competitors, and propose practical safety tips for recreational skiers and snowboarders who encounter similar weather and snow conditions – generally most common late in the season.
METHODS. To determine if snow conditions presented a challenge to ski and snowboard athletes competing in Sochi: 1) The percentage of Alpine Skiing, Freestyle Skiing, and Snowboard injuries from the 2014 and 2010 Winter Games were compared. 2) An analysis of Alpine Skiing competitor finish rate percentages from the 2014 Olympics compared to finish rates at the 2010 Olympics, in which there was a great deal of similarity in terms of events, athletes, and equipment, was conducted. 3) Comments made by 2014 Olympic athletes in media interviews regarding snow conditions were analyzed.
RESULTS. There was a 9% increase in Alpine Skiing, Freestyle Skiing, and Snowboard competitor injuries in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games (196 of 813 athletes) compared to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games (102 of 665 athletes). In addition, the average finish rate for all Alpine Skiing events combined in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games was 65% (452 of 698 starts) compared to 70% (485 of 691 starts) in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games – a 5% decrease. Lastly, several Olympic athletes expressed safety concerns about the snow conditions at Sochi during the 2014 Winter Games. Examples: Bode Miller (Alpine Skiing) and numerous other athletes abandoned Olympic downhill training runs in order to avoid injury and Miller was quoted by media outlets as saying, “The conditions are tough. It’s marginal. If you are not totally focused and paying attention, this course can kill you.” When asked to comment on the snow conditions in an interview with USA Today, Hannah Teter (Snowboard Halfpipe) said, “It is a little dangerous. I saw more people fall today than I have all season.”
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS. The snow conditions at the 2014 Winter Games, present a unique set of challenges - even for the best skiers and snowboarders in the world. The author is proposing the following five tips for safer and more enjoyable recreational skiing and snowboarding in similar weather and snow conditions (commonly encountered late in the season): 1) Get an early start – before the sun has had a chance to soften up the snow too much. If overnight temperatures are cold, be prepared for hard snow in the early morning. 2) Stay at the top of the mountain – where snow will likely be colder, drier, and more consistent. Southern exposed runs will soften first. Northern exposed runs will have the best snow later in the day. 3) Be selective when venturing off of groomed runs – early morning “off-piste” skiing can be treacherous as soft snow and tracks from the day before can freeze overnight. 4) Stay on the lookout for obstacles – rocks, dirt patches, logs, etc. can become exposed as snow melts. 5) Reduce speed and stay light in the slush – avoid big movements in slush at high speed and be prepared for sudden changes in speed (e.g. between shaded and sunny sections of snow).
WINTER SPORTS INVESTIGATIONS
Our experts are often retained to investigate severe injuries and/or assess risks at winter sports recreation areas. The scope of our investigations will typically include an analysis of how the injury happened and the condition of the equipment and environment in which it occurred.
For more information submit an inquiry or contact Raul Guisado.
Winter Sports Expert & USSA Alpine-Level 500 Coach
Raul is a winter sports expert – specializing in skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow tubing. He is a former U.S. Ski Team World Cup and Olympic coach and has extensive experience analyzing safety protocol, snow conditions, terrain, participant behavior, fall lines, trail design, human performance, speed control, direction changes, equipment, operational best practices, risk analysis/management, and the standard of care related to alpine snow sports (skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow tubing). Raul has coached and prepared athletes who competed in the 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and has earned the highest possible ski coaching certification level from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (Alpine-Level 500). He is also a member of the International Society for Skiing Safety, National Ski Patrol, the Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard, and has official voting status in the ASTM International Committee on Snow Skiing.
Soligard T, et al. Sports injuries and illnesses in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games Br J Sports Med 2015; 0:1–9.
Engebretsen L, et al. Sports injuries and illnesses during the Winter Olympic Games 2010 Br J Sports Med 2010; 44:772-780.
FIS-Ski.com Event Results for 2014 and 2010 Olympic Winter Games