Many of the region’s mountain resorts are scheduled to stay in operation until at least mid-April—weather permitting, of course—so with any luck your skis or your board should have a few more sick runs left in them before summer.
Skiing and snowboarding are, for good reason, among the most popular outdoor activities in this part of the country. They’re also a fantastic form of interval training exercise with obvious benefits for your heart health, circulation, metabolism, blood pressure—and, oh yeah, the strength of your legs, ankles, and feet.
That said, as with any other sport, skiing and snowboarding come with injury risks, too.
“As much fun as skiing can be, it’s also a sport that really beats up your feet, ankles, and knees,” says Dr. Kevin Lind of Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates.
If you want to make sure your gnarly runs don’t result in even gnarlier feet and ankles, you should take a few smart precautions before you head out.
Some of the more common injuries we treat for our patients who like to hit the slopes include:
- Ankle sprains. Awkward falls are the most common reason for sprains on the slopes. If you lose your footing and land on the outside of your ankle, it may twist or stretch past the breaking point.
- Blisters. Painful friction and pressure can easily lead to blisters, even after just an hour or two in some cases.
- Bruises. These are also frequently associated with accidental falls.
- Fractures. An especially nasty fall or collision may actually break your ankle or other bones in your feet or legs.
- Frostbite. Extended exposure to cold weather can lead to frostbite, especially if you aren’t prepared for it.
- Morton’s neuroma. Some experts argue that feet pinched inside ski boots may lead to this painful condition, caused by thickened tissue surrounding the plantar nerve in the ball of the foot.
How Can I Keep My Feet Safe While Skiing or Snowboarding?
The most important component of safe skiing, by far, is making sure you wear well-fitted ski or snowboard boots with properly adjusted bindings.
Fortunately, that’s easier to do now than it has been in the past.
“The frequency of ankle-related injuries has been greatly reduced in recent years due to advancements in boot designs,” says Dr. Lind. “However, there is still a risk of twisting or spraining an ankle despite these advancements.”
So how do you select the right pair?
Find the Right Fit
“Your ski boots should fit comfortably, without feeling too loose or too tight,” says Dr. Lind.
There’s an important balance to achieve. Boots that are too lose won’t support your ankles properly and can quickly become cold and wet—increasing the risk of frostbite.
On the other hand, though, boots that are too tight can cut off proper circulation.
“When blood is flowing, your feet stay warm,” says Dr. Lind. “Boots that are too loose can become cold quickly.”
Don’t think that you can compensate for a loose boot fit by overtightening the bindings. Again, boots that are too tight on your feet can reduce your circulation, which actually makes your feet colder and increases the risk of injury.
While it’s true that your boots do need to be sturdy enough to withstand the forward press of your shins as you go through turns, “that support needs to come primarily from the boot fit--not from the buckles,” says Dr. Lind.
Replace Your Old Boot Liners
All boot liners will eventually wear out. And when they do, your feet will be far less protected against the elements.
If you’re a regular on the slopes, this can actually happen quite quickly—sometimes in just a year or two.
“Factory-installed boot liners represent the manufacturer’s ‘best effort’ to create a boot that will fit as many feet as possible, as comfortably as possible,” says Dr. Lind. “Unfortunately, this construction has a definite skiing lifespan.”
In short, no matter how well your boots were constructed and how high quality the materials are, the liners are not going to last forever.
So how do you solve the problem?
Dr. Lind recommends replacing your trashed old liners with new, foam-injected liners. Unlike the ones that come in default with your boots, foam-injected liners conform to the exact shape of your feet. They’re not only more comfortable, but they also provide much better insulation to keep your feet warm.
Other Quick Tips
Getting the right boots and liners for your feet is a huge part of the battle, but there are other steps you can take to reduce your risk for specific injuries.
Here are some of Dr. Lind’s top recommendations:
- Wear skiing-specific socks. Look for socks that are knee-high, breathable, moisture-wicking and thin or medium weight. And only wear one pair—double socks reduce breathability and tend to scrunch and bunch within the boot, leading to irritation and blisters.
- Keep your socks dry. Wet socks are an invitation for blisters and frostbite. Change into dry socks as often as you need to. To be safe, bring a couple extra pairs with you.
- Be proactive about blisters. It’s almost impossible to avoid blisters altogether, but you can try rubbing a small amount of Vaseline on your feet, or use bandages, tape, or moleskin on areas you know are likely to develop blisters. (Properly fitting boots and dry socks are critical here, too.)
- Wear proper gear from head to toe. A good helmet, padded clothing, warm socks, and good gloves or mittens are all necessary to keep you warm and keep you safe from bruises, fractures, and other injuries.
- Avoid extended exposure to severe weather and cold. When the weather outside is really frightful, even good socks and gloves may not be enough to prevent frostbite. Make sure your gear is properly rated for temperatures on the mountain, and try not to remain outdoors for extended periods of time.
- Don’t clench your toes on the lift. Toe clenching is a natural reaction on a chilly lift, but unfortunately it can just make them colder due to cutting off your circulation. Instead, swing your feet back and forth. This keeps the blood circulating from your warm upper body to your legs and feet.
- Consider custom orthotics. Yes, we can help you with custom orthotics for your ski or snowboard boots! This can be especially helpful if you have a painful existing condition, such as a Morton’s neuroma.
With just a little bit of preparation and planning—and a keen understanding of your environment—you can greatly reduce your risk of accidental injuries and enjoy a great day on the slopes!
If you’re currently dealing with a foot injury that you suffered while skiing or snowboarding—or perhaps an injury that is keeping you from enjoying said activities—make sure you see the team at Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates for a prompt evaluation and treatment.
To schedule an appointment with one of our providers at any of our six conveniently located clinics, please call us today at (360) 754-3338.