Anyone who's an avid skier will know the feeling you get when the conditions of the mountain are simply perfect. On a recent skiing trip to Bagnères-de-Luchon, I was lucky enough to have just that. Endless blue skies, soft, deep powder, bright winter sunshine and peaceful open runs.
While my skis were on, I don't think I stopped smiling all week...until a child half my size decided to cut straight in front of me while I was at top speed. The result? A spectacular crash that somehow resulted in a nasty wound on my middle finger, right (dominant) hand. In medical speak, I'd severed the extensor tendon and proximal interphalangeal joint capsule of that finger. This proceeded to become infected, leaving me stitched, bandaged and in a sling for over a week. Yuck.
Lying awake a few nights later, feeling a dull ache in my legs from my week skiing, mixed with the extreme pain of my finger, I started thinking - how often do people put themselves at risk in the pursuit of good health? How often do people end up injured, in hospital or left needing long-term treatment because of skiing or other leisure activities? What's the cost of sporting injuries, both to our health and financially, in comparison to being inactive?
Let's put it in perspective. Currently, it's estimated that there's over 200 million skiers and 70 million snowboarders in the world. UK snow sport fanatics alone spend over £500m every year on equipment, clothing and ski gear. Statistically, the overall risk of injury of any snow sport is about 0.2 to 0.4%. In real terms, that means for every 1,000 people skiing or snowboarding in a day, between two and four people will need some kind of medical attention before the last lifts close.
How about those who are inactive? What's the cost of a sedentary lifestyle? A new report has painted a pretty grim picture. Just over a quarter of adults in the UK were classed as obese in 2010. 22% of men were estimated to be at increased risk of a range of health problems and 23% classed as being at 'very high risk'. Women weren't far behind, with equally as worrying data.
And this statistic left me speechless - 20% of respondents to the survey revealed that they took walks of at least 20 minutes long "less than once a year or never". In terms of financial cost, physical inactivity was estimated to cost at least £2 billion in England in 2002.
Focusing our attention back to skiing, most injuries are minor sprains, followed by fractures, lacerations and dislocations. Over the years, we've seen dramatic and impressive changes to both ski equipment and slope design, which has helped bring down the incidence of injury. But there are still a huge number of people that have their winter holidays cut short by a fall, collision or chair lift mishap.
It's well known that very often skiing results in knee ligament damage, most commonly, a torn medial collateral ligament, or more seriously, rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament. This injury can spell long periods of rest and immobility, and can even require surgery. Not to mention the long process of rehabilitation and physiotherapy. This is not only frustrating, leaving you unable to exercise or continue with leisure activities, but it doesn't come cheap. Whether you pay for physical therapy yourself or it's prescribed through the NHS, the costs soon mount up.
And let's remember, it's not just snow sports. Every single sport and leisure activity comes with a risk of injury. Most athletes probably class injury as part and parcel of their career. Ankle sprains alone account for nearly half of all sporting injuries. Pain, periods of discomfort, having to take time off training and physiotherapy just seem to be part of the deal.
Of course, some sports carry more risk than others and there many sport enthusiasts or adrenaline junkies that like to push the boundaries, and will do knowing the risks.
But isn't it ironic? Those of us willing to be active, to exercise and get more out of life means it could all come at the cost of our health. And let's face it; probability predicts it's going to happen to a good chunk of us. It seems unfair somehow that those who are less active have less chance of snapped bones, torn ligaments and long-term physiotherapy.
On the positive side, exercising, playing sports and getting adventurous outdoors does amazing things for your wellbeing, not to mention reducing your risk of developing health conditions later in life. In my opinion, the risks associated with sports such as skiing are worth it because ultimately, the benefits are significant. I for one most certainly won't be exercising less because there's a chance I could get injured. The skis will be back out next season, without a doubt! Life is for living, accidents and injury will happen. Besides, a scar always has a good story behind it.