It's thought that approximately 10,000 skiers and snowboarders from the UK are admitted to hospital every year with injuries following their winter sports holidays. From sprains and strains to concussion and broken bones, there's no part of the body that is immune to potential harm, but the most common skiing injuries occur in the knee, with tears and ruptures of the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) the most common.
Skiing is very physically demanding and puts a huge strain on the muscles and joints, especially on your knees. If you've been inactive since your last skiing holiday, you won't be well conditioned or prepared and you'll be putting yourself at greater risk of injury.
You should therefore do plenty of training before you go on your ski holiday, and work on getting into the best possible shape before you end up at the top of a long steep slippery slope! You should also ensure that your bindings aren't too tight. One of the main dangers on the slopes is actually falling at low speed, when the bindings fail to release. When this happens you then have a six-foot-long ski creating a massive lever arm, twisting a 10cm-wide joint. It's this twisting that normally tends to tear the ACL.
For those unfortunate enough to injure themselves you should not feel pressured into going ahead with surgery straight away in a hospital abroad. It's very rare that there's so much damage that immediate surgery is a necessity. It's actually far better to make sure that the knee is properly protected with a decent brace and to use crutches, and then to get the knee properly assessed once you get home. You can then get a detailed diagnosis and you've got time to do your research, making sure that you get to see the right person and discuss all the options and all their associated pros and cons. It's important that you get answers to all your potential questions before you then make a measured decision about what treatment route you'd like to take.
If you've sustained a significant knee injury then this is normally fairly obvious, because there will have been major pain at the time of the injury followed by the knee swelling up, and you won't feel able to continue skiing. If you fit into this category then you're going to need an MRI scan (not just X-rays!) and you'd benefit from a full and detailed assessment from a proper specialist knee surgeon. What some people might not fully appreciate is that if you're going to see a knee surgeon, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're automatically going to be listed for surgery - the most important thing is to get a full and correct diagnosis so that you can then go down the most appropriate treatment route, whether that be surgery or rehab.
If you've had a serious knee injury prior to your holiday, this does not mean that you can't enjoy the slopes. Repairing or reconstructing a damaged knee may allow you to get back to your skiing (and other sports), but it won't protect or prevent you from potentially re-injuring the knee again in the future. The diagnosis you had and the treatment you received will largely determine how soon you can return to skiing, but something I often incorrectly hear is that it's OK to return to skiing nine months after ACL reconstruction. The premise that the sooner you attempt to get back to sport the better your surgery must have been couldn't be further from the truth. In elite sport, there are huge financial pressures for sports people to return to play as fast as possible. The reality is that the research shows that it can take up to 18 months to fully regain muscle strength after surgery and up to two years for an ACL graft to remodel and become fully strong. The only sensible approach is to take your physio rehab really seriously and only return to sport once you've had a proper formal functional assessment by an experienced physio and you've been deemed safe.
It's easy to get carried away skiing, taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying the exhilaration, but also ensure you're aware of your surroundings and most importantly, remember to suitably prepare yourself for your holiday.