Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part Three

In the two previous blogs, we’ve learned from Doctor Peter Taillac and Ski Patrol’s Hylton Early about the amazing “Doctor Patrol” roaming the slopes at Deer Valley Resort, and we received some great tips for planning a perfect ski vacation. Today, they’ll share more tips aimed at enhancing your safety on the slopes.

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JF: Let’s talk about gear for a moment; what precautions should people take with their own equipment?

Hylton Early: Obviously, you want to make sure that your equipment is in good shape. You want to check that the ski brakes work properly, or if you happen to Telemark, for instance, you must make sure you have safety leashes, a requirement that is part of the skier’s responsibility code. It’s also a good idea to have your bindings checked once a season to make sure they are still properly adjusted to your boots and set to your weight, age and ability. Also if you haven’t skied on them for a season or two, it might be a good idea to have them tuned up so bases are flat and your edges are sharp enough so they respond as expected when you need them.

JF: What trends are you seeing these days in terms of skier’s injuries?

Hylton Early: In leg injuries, most are in the ligaments that surround the knee like the ACL and MCL as well as strains and cartilage tears. Lower in the list might be tibia injuries or even farther down the list, a few traumas involving the femur.

Doctor Peter Taillac: I agree, these are the most common ones. One of my pet peeves is that people have their bindings set too tight. When you fall and the skis start to twist, they twist the knee with it and, as I always like to say, either the binding is going to open or the ligaments in the knee are going to be hurt. I prefer to see the binding go! So, again, it is super important that your bindings are properly adjusted to your weight and your ability and I personally prefer to have my binding set on the low side than ending up with a twisted knee!

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JF: Like for “defensive driving”, are there similar tips that would apply to a ski day.

Hylton Early: It all starts with knowing the conditions on the mountain, reviewing the weather report and the groomed run report Deer Valley puts out everyday, so that you know what the conditions are going to be, and also are prepared for a changing weather. A run may different at 10 a.m. than it will be at 2 p.m. Don’t assume necessarily that it’s going to be the same thing. The analogy you made to driving and skiing can be very similar. It all starts with knowing the Skier Responsibility Code, making sure your equipment is in good shape, that you stop in areas that are safe and that you never forget that the skier ahead of you has always right of way.

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JF: Are these precautions enough?

Hylton Early: Probably not if you truly want to ski “defensively.” You may want to go a little bit farther, like always looking around you to see what other skiers are doing, looking all the way down the run so you can anticipate both the snow and terrain conditions as well as the skiers’ traffic ahead of you. In addition, even though skiers behind you should be mindful of what you might do, like turning to the right or to the left, it’s always a good idea to look over your shoulder to verify that you can change direction safely, and this alone goes a long way to avoiding a possible collision.

JF: What about the use of electronic devices while skiing?

Hylton Early: You want to make sure that if you need to text or call someone, you come to a full stop into a safe spot where you’re visible from above. Of course, don’t text or phone while you’re moving. If you want to listen to music – not something we would recommend as we think its best for you to hear what’s around you – keep it in an appropriate volume, or better yet, just place one ear-bud into one ear instead of both so you’re still can hear the sounds around you.

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In the conclusion of our “Doctor Patrol” series, we’ll cover more talks about safety in powder snow, powder conditions and the like. Don’t miss it!

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part Two

In our previous blog, we were introduced to the amazing “Doctor Patrol” at Deer Valley. Today, both Doctor Peter Taillac and Ski Patrol’s Hylton Early will dispense some great advice about making your ski stay with us as fun and safe as possible.

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JF: What about some physical conditioning prior to going skiing?

Hylton Early: There are many things you can do to prepare yourself for your ski trip. Doing exercises, like some body weight squats, single leg squats, strengthen your leg muscles, and so on. There are many sources: On line tips and videos, books or magazine that list good physical conditioning exercise for skies. If you have a personal trainer, ask for a specific program prior to your ski vacation.

JF: What advice would you give to guests coming to Deer Valley Resort to ski?

Hylton Early: There are a lot of things you can do to prepare for a great day on the slopes. First, make sure to hydrate and make time for a good breakfast that will give you enough fuel for a fun day out. Also, give yourself the time to acclimate to our higher elevation. You don’t want to forget your sun protection that you will re-apply as the day progresses and don’t forget good eye protection. You also want to make sure you have warm clothing and well thought accessories like good gloves and neck gators or face-masks. People more sensitive to cold may also consider getting some hand and foot warming products or devices.

JF: What about helmets?

Doctor Peter Taillac: This by far is my favorite subject and perhaps the most important piece of equipment. For me, it’s a big issue, because in my emergency department, I take care of skiers who crash with helmets and skiers who crash without them. I can tell you that my patients with helmets are always far better off. Even if they hit their head hard and get knocked out, they aren’t as likely to be permanently brain-injured. Those who don’t have helmets, even if they just suffer a small hit to the head can sustain a severe concussion or some internal bleeding that can cause permanent damage. The helmet is the equivalent to wearing a seat-belt in a car; it makes all the difference in the world in your outcome should you be unlucky enough to be in a ski accident.
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JF: Sounds like we should never hit the slopes without wearing a helmet!

Doctor Peter Taillac: Absolutely! The only permanent injury that you can sustain while skiing is a head-injury. If you break your tibia, fracture your arm, dislocate your shoulder or get a severe chest or abdominal injury, even with some internal bleeding, these traumas, for the most part, can all be repaired. A head injury however is a totally different story; too often, we don’t have the technology available to make a severe brain injury get better.

JF: What about inserting some periods of rest into a ski vacation?

Hylton Early: It’s always a good idea to take a break and it’s even better to always listen to your body; if you do, it will tell you if your knees are aching or your back is sore. One good thing you can do is go out on the first chair, right around 9 a.m. and ski till 11 a.m. when the conditions are going to be best. That way, instead of putting in a full day, you can take the afternoon to relax. Listening to your body is paramount, especially if you are of a more advanced age or know you have difficulties acclimatizing to higher altitudes.

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JF: Doctor, is there anything you’d like to add on getting used to higher elevations?

Doctor Peter Taillac: Well, it’s important to realize that it always takes a couple of days to adapt from sea level to an altitude of 7,000 – 8,000 feet. I would recommend that if visitors want to ski on their first day, they take it very easy, stay on the lower, less challenging slopes, and just ease into skiing that very first day out. As they start feeling more comfortable, they can go a little bit higher on the mountain and try more difficult runs the next days. I personally found that, as Hylton mentioned, getting an early start and taking a nice, long lunch break, perhaps even a little snooze, and then come back out, is a really good way to make for long but not exactly exhausting day.

JF: Do you have any special recommendations for small kids?

Doctor Peter Taillac: Kids often won’t tell you when they’re cold until it hurts, but their small bodies can loose temperature much faster than adults, because they have disproportionately bigger heads and most of the heat is lost through the head. So for kids, having warm clothing, good cover over their head and ears, in addition to their helmet, is always important. Lastly, for everyone and for all kids in particular, it’s always a good idea to dress as if it’s very cold, make sure to layer your clothing so if there’s a need to shed a layer latter on, as the weather warms up, that’s fast and convenient. It’s a lot easier to take a layer off than putting one back on.

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In our next blog, we’ll talk about ski equipment and safety on the mountain. So please stay tuned for next installment of “Deer Valley’s invisible safety net!”

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part One

Skiing is fun, exhilarating and Deer Valley Resort has its own ways to minimize the risk inherent with the joy of skiing, thanks to an original program that involves local doctors, nurses and its professional ski patrol staff. In this four-part interview, I sat down with Doctor Peter Taillac and Hylton Early, a Deer Valley Ski Patroller.

JF: Let’s start by doing a quick introduction, gentlemen…

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Doctor Peter Taillac: I’m a clinical professor of emergency medicine at the University of Utah, and member of the Doctor Patrol here at Deer Valley Resort. I’m a full time emergency physician and take care of hurt and ill people for a living.

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Hylton Early: I’ve been a ski patroller at Deer Valley Resort for four winter seasons. I’m an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and outdoor emergency care technician.

JF: I wasn’t aware that, every day, there’s a doctor available to work with the Deer Valley ski patrol?

Hylton Early: That’s right; every day, we have at least one doctor on the mountain. Each doctor serves under the medical control of Doctor Robert Wynn, our medical director. The doctors are available on a daily basis should we need to consult on an incident. It might involve skiers that aren’t feeling well or aren’t quite sure what’s going on with them. Of course, it could also be a more serious traumatic injury for which we want to get our doctors’ expertise to see what we can be done for that patient.

JF: Are your doctors all skiers?

Hylton Early: Absolutely, our doctors are on skis and are available to come right to the scene of an incident. Often, this is the most critical moment when we’re about to make the initial transport and triage decisions for an injured skier.

JF: Is there any other role for these doctors?

Hylton Early: In fact there is; in addition to their on-hill duties, our doctors are also involved with our continuing education. As patrollers, we all have to meet certain requirement to be re-certified every four years, so these same doctors regularly lecture us, talking about specific topics, like lower leg trauma, head injuries, or dislocated shoulders, so we are totally dialed-on the subject when we’re confronted with it on the hill.

JF: I’ve also seen nurses around; are they part of the same program?

Hylton Early: Correct; we also have one nurse present with us every day. She is usually based at this First Aid location, but we can also bring her along to an incident if we want to get a higher level of care on the spot, as we are triaging the patient.

JF: Are both the nurse and the doctor based at this First Aid location?

Hylton Early: The nurse is based at the Silver Lake First Aid, so if you were to walk into this room, she’d likely be available to evaluate you. She’s also able to come up on the hill with some special drugs and a wider scope of practices that can help us in a traumatic situation. The doctor is more itinerant and tends to roam the mountain. We have instant access to his cell phone and can get him right away if his presence is needed anywhere on the hill.

JF: What an impressive cadre of highly qualified individuals! Now tell me, what are the typical qualifications of your Ski Patrol colleagues?

Hylton Early: Most of them are either “Outdoor Emergency Care” technician, which is a National Ski Patrol certification, similar to an EMT Basic. Many others are EMT Basic, that is, the first level of EMT. Then, we also have a few paramedics working with us, those are professional patrollers who work part-time. They generally are employed full-time with the Park City or the Salt Lake City Fire Departments and assist us one or two days a week.

JF: So tell me, how many ski patrollers are on any given day on the mountain at Deer Valley?

Hylton Early: We have between 28 and 32 of them on the slopes, every day. If we include the doctor and the nurse, this adds up to 34 medical professionals available to take care of our ski visitors on a daily basis!

In our next blog, we’ll get some important advice about making your ski vacation with us as safe as enjoyable as possible…