As the first official day of winter draws near, thousands of skiers are hitting the slopes across Pennsylvania and gearing up for the season ahead. Unfortunately, this time of year also brings an uptick in skiing accidents and injuries.

On the whole, skiing is a relatively safe activity, especially when you follow basic precautions. Skiing and snowboarding fatalities amount to only a fraction of the death toll from motor vehicle accidents each year. Nonetheless, an injury can not only sideline you for the season, but also cause lasting pain and complications that could haunt you for years to come.

Whether you’re a novice or veteran skier, it’s important to ski safe. You can protect yourself and others by following these basic tips:

  1. Don’t ski beyond your abilities: Many accidents occur when skiers overestimate their skills. If you’re on the fence about tackling that craggy black diamond run, don’t do it. Better to err on the side of caution than end up in the emergency room for the sake of a quick thrill. Likewise, don’t engage in risky activities – such as jumps, moguls or spur trails off the beaten path – unless you’re absolutely confident you can handle them.
  2. Listen to your body: Most injuries occur in the late afternoon or evening, when you’re trying to get your money’s worth by taking that one last run. Muscle soreness, stiffness and fatigue can all contribute to crashes. Take frequent breaks to give your body a rest, and know when to call it quits for the day.
  3. Wear a helmet: Research shows that helmets reduce your risk of an injury by 30 to 50 percent. Nonetheless, only 25 to 50 percent of skiers and snowboarders ages 18 to 24 – the most at-risk age group – consistently wear protective headgear. This simple precaution could make a big difference if you’re unlucky enough to suffer a serious accident.
  4. Pay attention to the conditions: Hardened snow, choppy coverage and slick, icy conditions are all recipes for disaster. They can make it difficult to steer and remain in control. On iffy days, stick to easier runs or stay off the slopes entirely.
  5. Keep your speed under control: Most serious skiing and snowboarding accidents involve excessive speed. If you’re not in control, you’re in trouble.
  6. Respect the rules: Obey all signs and slow zones. Give skiers and snowboarders downhill the right-of-way. Yield to those uphill when you’re merging. Stop only where it’s safe to do so. And always be mindful and respectful of others – skiers and snowboarders alike.

Make this ski season a memorable one – but for the right reasons. By following these tips and playing it safe, you can reduce your risk of injury while still enjoying the activity you love.