Here’s how to stay safe and make it home in one happy, healthy piece after hitting the slopes this winter.

First the good news: Serious skiing and snowboarding accidents have been on the decline for the past decade. That’s thanks to changes in equipment, an uptick in the use of helmets and an increase in awareness about the importance of skiing and snowboarding safely, reports the National Ski Areas Association.

Deaths on the slopes are rare, especially compared with other sports; in the 2015/2016 season, there were 39 reported fatalities, which compares favorably with 1,000 deaths caused by cyclist-auto collisions in 2014, as reported by the National Safety Council. But that doesn’t give you the greenlight to throw caution down the wind and take the next gondola up to that triple black diamond trail.

The most common snowboarding and skiing Injuries

According to Stop Sports Injuries, an advocacy group founded by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, the American Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons and others, the most common injuries seen on the slopes are:

Most injuries are caused by falls, collisions, lift accidents, and skiing or snowboarding on dangerous terrain.

How to avoid snowboarding and skiing injuries

  1. Wear a helmet and other protective gear, including wrist guards and elbow and knee pads. The use of protective equipment has been associated with a 43 percent decrease in the rate of head, neck and face injuries, according to Stop Sports Injuries.

Helmet use alone is responsible for a reduction of potentially serious head injuries, including paralysis, significant cervical, thoracic or lumbar fractures, and concussions. Together, these injuries dropped to 3 percent of all ski injuries over the course of a 17-year study (1995-2012), down from 4.2 percent initially during the study period.

“If the thought of wearing a helmet even crosses your mind, chances are you should put one on,” said Alexander E. Weber, MD, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at Keck School of Medicine of USC and an orthopaedic surgeon at the USC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery of Keck Medicine of USC. “It is always better to be safe and protect yourself against head injuries and concussions.”

  1. Use the proper equipment. Always check that your bindings aren’t too tight or too loose, and make sure it all fits properly, including your boots.
  1. Don’t attempt trails above your ability level, and pay attention to the weather. A trail that was easy for you one day may be significantly harder the next if snow and ice conditions change.
  1. Don’t ski or snowboard off-trail. Those caution and warning signs are there for a reason.
  1. Take plenty of breaks for water so you stay well-hydrated. Drinking ample water is particularly important when you’re at high-altitude, which can be dehydrating.
  1. Stop when you’re tired. The majority of accidents happen after lunch, reports Stop Sports Injuries.
  1. Always follow the National Ski Areas Association Responsibility Code.
  1. Before you hit the slopes, follow these health tips.

If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for exceptional care from some of the top orthopaedic surgeons in the world, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://www.ortho.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.

By Anne Fritz