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  Winter sports

Winter sports are attracting more and more holidaymakers. Several disciplines are very popular: all forms of skiing (downhill, cross-country, off-trail, telemark…), snowboarding and its associated activities (mountain surfing, free riding, rando surfing, kite surfing…), but also ice-skating, bobsledding, snow-shoeing, tobogganing, curling, dog-sledding, all terrain snow biking, and even sub-ice scuba diving.

The mountains, snow and sun make for an exhilarating vacation, but one that is not risk-free. Every year, hundreds of accidents and injuries are reported. Skiing and snowboarding are very physical sports and are particularly hard on joints; your body must be well prepared and in good shape. In addition, winter sports combine the ill effects of the cold, high altitudes and the sun: therefore it’s important to anticipate all aspects of your winter holiday in order to safely embark on your snow-filled adventure. 

Some practical advice

Follow these recommendations and fully enjoy your winter holiday in the snow: 

  • If you are not physically inclined and have practiced few sports during the year, ask your doctor’s opinion before organising your ski trip. Plan to follow a regular fitness and endurance programme (walking, roller-skating, jogging, bicycling, climbing stairs) several weeks before you leave.
  • Check the condition of your equipment before the season begins and, if necessary, have your bindings adjusted by a professional to the current standards. Make sure your ski equipment corresponds to your body type and skiing level. 
  • To avoid knee or wrist accidents, which are extremely frequent among downhill skiers and particularly specific to snowboarders, wear appropriate protection.      
  • Children must wear a helmet (obligatory) because they are more vulnerable and more often hit their heads in case of shock. When children wear helmets, the chances of suffering lesions is reduced by 50%. %. It is, however, advisable for everyone to wear a helmet. 
  • Dress warmly. Ski clothes are usually designed to ensure the body’s thermoregulation, and therefore maintain a constant temperature while skiing. Don’t forget to check the weather report for sun and snow conditions so you and your children can dress accordingly.
  • Protect your and your children’s faces with sun block (adapted to your skin type) and renew its application throughout the day, even when it’s cloudy or overcast. 
  • Never leave without your sunglasses! UV rays are extremely strong in high altitudes and can burn your eyes! High quality sunglasses (they are expensive and you should budget them into your expenses) allow you to reduce light intensity and absorb and filter the rays, as well as to protect your retina from the dangers of the sun.  
  • At the beginning of your holiday, avoid strenuous efforts for the first 48 hours. This corresponds to the time it takes a healthy body to acclimate to the high altitude. Don’t overestimate yourself and begin by first skiing the easy slopes. Take regular breaks. 
  • Do some warm up exercises (running in place, leg lifts, stretches, knee bends…) before attacking the slopes. Your muscles will thank you and this will prevent unnecessary accidents. 
  • When on the slopes, respect the signs about their conditions and level of difficulty. And think of others! This is the most important of all. Control your speed, plan where you’re going and give the skiers below you the right of way. The most serious accidents happen when two skiers collide. 
  • Never ski with a child on your back. Even if you think you’re a good skier, you are not immune to a fall or a collision.
  • If case of a serious fall, respect the basics of emergency first aid (protect, alert, assist). Cover the victim so he/she doesn’t get cold and reassure him/her that help is on the way.
  • Be sure your diet is adapted to the physical activity. A well-balanced breakfast with sufficient caloric intake, meals rich in slow-burning carbohydrates (pasta, rice…), but not too heavy at lunch, snacks on the slopes (dried fruit, low-calorie cereal bars) and a well-balanced dinner to recharge your batteries. Avoid consuming alcohol as it reduces vigilance and slows your reflexes. Plan a light mid-morning meal and afternoon snack for children. 
  • Drink lots of water and drink it often to avoid becoming dehydrated, which can be caused by physical exertion and the cold. 
  • Skiing off the slopes is very dangerous and not recommended. In any case, never leave the marked ski slopes alone; you must have a guide or a ski instructor with you if you lose your way. Every year, many people die or are hurt in avalanches. Be sure that your equipment is fitted with a rescue system (reflectors, emitters-receivers, airbags, etc.) 
  • Take rest stops throughout the day. 
  • If you have any problems whilst travelling, don’t wait until you get home to consult a doctor. Allianz Global Assistance’s emergency medical team is available to discuss any questions or doubts you may have about your health. We can provide useful advice and organize a consultation wherever you are.

Who can do winter sports?

Bigger children, adolescents and adults can take advantage of all the wonders that mountains offer in the winter. However, these high altitude “snow” sports are ill-advised for those with heart disease, respiratory deficiency, chronic bronchitis, asthma – if provoked by the cold or physical effort, early or late pregnancies and certain blood diseases or psychiatric troubles. All of these situations require a medical opinion before planning a ski holiday.

As for children, choose your ski resort carefully and consider the altitude. If your child is less than one year old, you should avoid resorts above 1,200 meters (3,600 feet). From one year on you can take your infant to a ski resort situated up to 1,500 meters (4,500 feet), but use your good judgement. Only at four years old can a child fully enjoy all the fun and activities of snow and high altitudes. Be particularly careful and cautious when using the chairlifts and gondolas, because of the dramatic change in altitude.

If you are driving to your ski resort, take rest stops on the way up the mountain so that your children can gradually adapt to the higher altitudes. If they have a cold, stop regularly. This is important. The change in altitude speeds up the heartbeat and increases blood pressure. Also, in case of an upper respiratory infection, the Eustachian tube’s permeability is compromised, which can cause terrible ear aches. As with airplane travel, have your child drink regularly throughout the journey so as to avoid these aches and pains.

Before three years old, small children ski only a little, if at all. They are consequently particularly susceptible to the cold due to their relative immobility. It’s very important to keep them well covered. Total sun block and high-level protection sunglasses are a must for all children.

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