Ski Tip from the Pro: Check Your Bindings

photo credit: Izzard

photo credit: Izzard

Airbags, seatbelts, life jackets: I assume they’ll do what they’re supposed to do if ever put to the test. Add ski bindings to that list. Other than being part of the annual ski tune-up, I’ve never given them a second thought. At least that was the case until I spent a few days at Mt. Tremblant.

It was a last minute trip and I was planning to replace my gear at the end of the season. I thought I’d squeeze in a few more days with the old skis and take a lesson or two while I was there. Mid-chairlift ride, my Mt. Tremblant Snow School instructor told me I better get my bindings checked. Why? Because bindings have a limited life span. And once they pass their best-before date, you could run into trouble. Your bindings may not release. Take a tumble and the results could range from a torn ACL to death. If you need to see the evidence, hundreds of painful crashes on YouTube make a pretty compelling case.

Now I’m double-checking the safety equipment I so casually trust with my life.

photo credit: Apostolos

photo credit: Apostolos

Next lesson: ski technicians cannot adjust older bindings.  Technology changes, release mechanisms evolve, and technicians will only work on bindings that are indemnified. If bindings are indemnified, it means the manufacturer stands behind their ability to function as intended. I’m pretty sure we all want our bindings to function – meaning stay on or release – as intended. If the manufacturer is stepping away from any responsibility, it’s time to pay attention.The National Ski and Snowboard Retailers’ Association publishes a Binding Indemnification List that reputable ski shops know about. And the professionals won’t touch old bindings.As I travelled along this road of binding discovery, I wondered if there was anything else I should be doing to minimize risk (aside from proper ski storage and maintenance and that’s another story). I took at look at what Mike Langran, President of the International Society for Skiing Safety, had to say. His take:  Self-test your bindings every time you go out. At the very least it could significantly reduce your likelihood of knee injuries. His suggested tests are posted below and take less than a minute. Check his article on the website ski-injury.com for how-to photos.

Test the toe piece setting

With your ski angled so that the front inside edge is on the ground, try and twist your boot inwards so that the toe should twist out of the front of the binding. Apply the force gradually – you should not have to use excessive force.

Test the heel piece setting

With your ski flat on the ground, slide your foot back until your leg is out straight. Now try and lift the heel of your boot out of the binding. Don’t use do too much force – you’ll strain a muscle or possibly even rupture your Achilles tendon if you’re too vigorous!

Sounds pretty reasonable. Given all the joy skiing brings me, I’m happy to take the advice of experts and spend a few minutes making sure things are working as they should.

photo credit: Trysil

photo credit: Trysil

What do you think? How often do you change or test your gear?

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Bumps, Bowls and Boy Scouts

At first I thought of betrayal, but there was no wrongful intention.

Two of us, somehow fooled into thinking we were ready to take on this monster. Alone, but for a few other hapless souls similarly led to believe they were Olympians-in-waiting. We struggled to ignore the fear as we tried to make our way out of the bowl at Whistler. (A bowl being a large, open, bowl-shaped area of a mountain, usually with few trees and lots of snow.) What happens when you don’t make it down before dark?

Couloir Extreme entrance cornice

photo credit: kcxd

I think we have all found ourselves in this situation at some point or another, and if you haven’t, some day you likely will. A friend convinces you to take on a challenge that in your heart you think may be just a bit too much of a leap. Why not portage those 10 miles, bike down the muddy hill, swim across the lake, ski the double-black bump run? We agree, or acquiesce, because we want to be that person. We’re not, or not yet, but we say yes. And that’s how we end up in a bowl, too far down to climb back out, having ignored that nagging feeling as we started in. Down the slippery slope silently, or loudly, wondering how to make it out without breaking a leg.

This scenario requires a touch of emergency management training. It is a time for which you should always be prepared. That’s the motto of the Boy Scouts. They could help.

Apparently, the key is to stop. I mean STOP. This is the Boy Scouts of America planning tool for wilderness survival priorities. I like to over-prepare, so I read up and will share their advice.

STOP stands for Stay Put/Think/Observe/Plan. It’s a tool to help you think properly about how to deal with a survival situation and establish what you need to do and in what order. Here’s the checklist:

  • Admit there is a problem and think about it in a positive, productive, and creative fashion. This increases the chances for a good outcome.
  • Control your fears and avoid panic.
  • Decide to live.
  • Focus on what you can do — not what you cannot.
  • Analyze your situation and plan a course of action only after considering all aspects of your predicament and keeping in mind your safety at all times.
  • Don’t make unnecessarily quick judgments. How you think about your situation is the key to survival in an outdoor emergency.

I am not planning to employ these emergency survival skills every time I try something new. I only need to push – not exceed – my limits to improve. Still, I like to think through what I should do if things start going downhill fast (no pun intended).

Let’s assume you are already on a run that is well beyond your level. Pause, catch your breath and then start to traverse the hill. Do not remove your skis if you are on a steep incline as you could start sliding and lose all control. Take it slow. Don’t get ahead of yourself – and don’t spend too much time in your head or fear will take over and rob you of the ability to act. That can get chilly on a mountainside. Move deliberately, stay positive, stay focused. Eventually you will reach the bottom.

Mike Langran is a Scottish doctor who specializes in skiing safety and related issues. He is also the President of the International Society for Skiing Safety (ISSS) and a Director of the Scottish Snow Sports Safety Study.

His advice? Don’t let experienced friends convince you to take on too much too soon.