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Your Own Winter Olympics

Hit the Slopes, Safely

Gear Up

Okay, so you've been working out for a few weeks and now you're ready to go, right? Not so fast. Either before you leave home or once you get to the lodge, arm yourself with some protective gear. Most lodges will rent you helmets and wrist guards. You can also ransack your rollerblading gear for those wrist guards, which are similar.

Like many other boarders, Palmer learned the wrist-guard lesson the hard way. After a lifetime of skiing, he took his first snowboard lesson this year. "At first I had on my wrist guards and my helmet, and I was falling all over: It was great. Then I decided, 'This is a pain.' I took my wrist guards off. Within five minutes, I ate it. I didn't break my wrist, but I really sprained it. I like wrist guards."

And helmets? Really? "I've never seen a skier wearing a helmet," you're probably saying. That's true. But Chang cites Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy as just two of the most famous examples of skiers who might be alive today if they had been. "It's not yet a consensus, but it's rapidly going in that direction -- that if skiers and snowboarders would wear helmets, it would eliminate many of the deaths that occur every year," he says. "Most deaths occur from collisions either with other people on the mountain or with trees, and they're often strictly preventable. I've seen helmets split down the middle, brought to me by patients grinning and saying, 'I'm glad I was wearing this.'"

Get Some Class

Some of the world's top snowboarders and skiers learned by messing around on the mountain and falling down until they got it right. But you're not an Olympic athlete. Take lessons. "Most injuries in skiing and snowboarding occur to beginners," says William O. Roberts, MD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine in practice with MinnHealth Family Physicians of Minnesota. "If you take lessons, you'll get through that phase faster." Don't settle for just the basic half-day introduction, either. "You want a series of lessons to get the basic skills down to where you can advance to intermediate without spending a huge amount of time at the beginner level."

Finally, when you're ready to hit the mountain, follow the skiers' (and snowboarders') credo: Be aware, ski aware. And don't try to do more than you're ready for. "Where most people run into trouble is if they try to do more than they're capable of doing," Chang says.

"For skiing and snowboarding, a lot of your safety equipment's in your brain," agrees Palmer. "Stay in control."

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