Skiing has changed tremendously over the last 20 years. Equipment technology improvements allow skiers and snowboarders to go faster, turn easier and execute runs and other maneuvers with very little skill over the same terrain that used to cause frequent wipeouts.
Because of those improvements, many people are bypassing mountain etiquette and common courtesy in favor of reckless behavior. That's a bad sign for everyone.
The National Ski Patrol, those men and women certified in emergency care and rescue who cart injured people off the mountain, has developed a philosophy of "Be Snowsmart! Play It Safe."
The NSP philosophy features three key points: prepare for conditions; reduce risk of injury; prevent emergency situations.
Being prepared for conditions is kind of like walking out onto your driveway to retrieve the morning paper this past Wednesday. Heavy fog and cold temperatures forces a very fine layer of ice to coat untreated surfaces. The ice made the terrain super slick, so if you walked out onto it without any tread on your shoes, you were in for a slippery time and maybe even a fall.
The same holds true for slope conditions. While groomers work hard overnight to keep the snow churned up and soft enough on top for carving, sunny days melt the surface, and colder temperatures after sundown make for slick conditions that can catch anyone off guard.
The key piece of advice for terrain is to know your ability level for the conditions and stick to those slopes and trails.
That knowledge certainly helps with the NSP's second point, which is to reduce risk of injury. Helmets, once the bane of skiers and boarders, have become as integral to snow sports as proper binding settings. Despite infringing on someone's right to feel the wind in his or hair on a run, research by the NSP shows that helmets reduce the risk of head injury in a crash by 35-50 percent.
Keeping your equipment properly tuned, and making sure the binding settings are correct are also critical components of reducing injury risk. You don't want your skis to stay on through so much stress that you tear a ligament in your knee, and you don't want them to pop off so easily so that you're losing them every few turns. Neither situation makes for an enjoyable time on the mountain, and actually puts other skiers and boarders at risk due to you becoming a last-second obstacle.
You also have to be aware of trail closures and terrain markings. The last thing you want to do as a beginner is to go down a mogul field or ski on the downside of jumps in a terrain park.
Preventing emergency situations requires all of the above, plus your willingness to know your surroundings and the weather. Is the mountain supposed to get snow, rain or freezing rain while you are there? Is it warming up to the 50s, causing spring-like slush conditions? Are you carrying a charged cell phone or two-way radio to communicate with your group should you become separated or injured? These are factors that need to addressed in order to maximize fun time.
Girls Night Out at Bear Creek: Girls Night Out at Bear Creek Mountain Resort began this past Wednesday and will run Wednesday nights through Feb. 19. The program will feature clinics by Professional Ski Instructors of America-certified women instructors to give quality coaching and attention.
Coaching sessions take place 6:30-8:30 p.m. Each individual two-hour session is $40 and includes the lift ticket.
Bear Creek stresses that this program is not for first-time skiers. For more information, call toll free at 1-866-754-2822.
Get outdoors at Hawk Mountain on Saturday: If you are looking for an alternative to the slopes, hit a mountain of a different kind, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton as it celebrates "Wild About Winter" 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
North America's oldest raptor sanctuary will feature a live raptor program at 11 a.m and 2 p.m.; learning how to identify common winter birds 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and kids crafts from noon until 2 p.m. There will also be a guided 45-minute winter walk on an easy one-mile trail.
Complimentary hot chocolate and bird-friendly coffee will be available throughout the program. Hazardous weather will cancel the event. For more information, call Hawk Mountain Sanctuary at 610-756-6961.
If you're looking to take a ski or snowboarding lesson, here is regional contact information: The Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors strongly urge skiers and boarders to take a lesson to not only maximize safety on the slope, but etiquette as well.
Bear Creek Mountain Resort
101 Doe Mountain Lane