The old saw in skiing says you're bound to get your broken leg sooner or later; it's inavoidable and just a question of time.


Serious injuries in skiing per skierday are going down and - possibly - out. Skiers are as safety-conscious as the rest of the country, maybe more so. Proportionally, more skiers wear safety straps than drivers wear seat-belts. Proportionally, more skis are equipped with release bindings than cars are equipped with four wheel disc brakes.

Proportionally, more skiers have antifriction devices on their skis than there are drivers with airbags in their cars.

Skiers know skiing can be hazardous, and they are trying to do something about it.

That is not to say that skiing is as safe as falling out of bed. There are still things to be concerned about when you ski.

CONDITIONING: Like the weekend tennis player, the weekend skier is a good candidate for injuries because he is not in top shape. Just as important as preseason conditioning to get limber and strong is during-the-season conditioning to keep that way. And so is prerun conditioning.

Prerun conditioning is five minutes of exercises before going to the lifts and one minute of stretching and limbering when you get off the lift at the top - each time - after your cold wait on the lift line and slow ride up the mountain. Those few minutes can mean the difference between muscles that are ready for the first difficult turns at the top and muscles that don't warm up until they are part way down the mountain.

EQUIPMENT: Of course you have release bindings and safety straps and antifriction devices; you'd be a first-class fool to go out on the slopes without them. But when did you last check them? In five minutes you can ensure safer skiing every weekend.

First shake the skis to see if anything rattles. Check the screws to see that they aren't loose; clean mud and gook out of the bindings and make sure nothing has corroded since last inspection. Put your boots in the bindings and kick toe and heel to make sure the release functions (however, if you have not had a professional release check and binding setting this season - or if you have skied every weekend since the cold set in - run to your nearest ski shop for a check). Check your safety straps to make sure they are whole and attached well.

Look at the ski bottoms to make sure you do not have any holes or gouges that can let water in and weaken the skis. Check edges for sharpness. If you can't feel an edge, sharpen your skis; holding power on ice will increase dramatically.

Finally, check your antifriction device. If it is Teflon or some other synthetic, make sure it is absolutely smooth. An antifriction device that has many scratches and holes is no longer an anti anything - except maybe antisafety. Remember, the important thing about an antifriction device is that it prevents your skis and boots from grabbing each other through friction. If something is going to give, it had better be your binding, not your tibia.

And while you are antifrictioning, lubricate your binding. Silicone sprays work well.

CLOTHING: You know, of course, that some of the fabrics made about 1970 promoted sliding after a fall. They are no longer on the market, but if you still bare some of those glissade fabric parkas or pants, put them away for trips to the shopping center or shoveling snow. An uncontrolled slide after a fall is dangerous to you and everyone below you on the slopes.

Beware of all loose clothing. Long scarves, although tres chic on college campuses, are a hazard around rope tows. The same with long hair hanging loose. In fact, even open jackets can cause bizarre accidents if they get tangled in chair lifts or other places.

And consider a helmet.The advantages are obvious. The disadvantages are all in your head. You decide.

LESSONS: The government once came up with statistics that said that some 70 per cent of accidents happened to skiers who had had no lessons or just a few hours.

Get a series of lessons. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says no fewer than five lessons before you tackle the slopes alone.

And once you have had your five lessons, stay on the easy slopes. Skiers who ski on slopes beyond their abilities endanger themselves and others.

SKIN CARE: Two aspects: cold and sunburn. For cold, adequate hats and sweaters are obvious. But, if you do see the telltale white patch of forstbite, warm the affected part with your hand, not with snow, heaters or rubbing. As for sunburn, not only does high altitude increase ultraviolet radiation, but the reflective capacity of snow can help burn you under your chin! Use a sunscreen with PABA.

Now, what if you do hear that dread, unforgetabble noise - the crack of a bone breaking?

You suddenly realize that those men and women in blood-colored parkas and blue fanny packs with yellow crosses are more than just skiers who got into a good thing and can ski free. They are the Florence Nightingales of the slopes, the local representatives of the National Ski Patrol.

While you lie there wondering what to do, they come to your aid with splints, bandages, on-slope first aid, and a cleverly handled toboggan that will get you, your skis and poles and any miscellaneous items down to the first aid room. And before you know it they'll arrange to get you to the nearest hospital or doctor of your choice.

There are about 26,000 members of the National Ski Patrol, an organization founded by a man whose best friend died of exposure when he injured himself on a ski slope. About 200 patrollers are in the Southern Appalachian Region - Maryland and close-in Virginia and West Virginia.

All have been through rigorous on-snow training (six to eight weeks) and indoor lessons on splinting, bandaging and the like. Patrollers have to be better-than-average skiers, but not hotshots. They also have to be first aid certified by the Red Cross before they begin training.

In training they learn to handle the heavy, unwieldy toboggan and get a special snow-based first aid course. Once they have passed an excruciating exam that winds up with an endurance test, they have to continue attending training programs.

Patrollers are required to spend a minimum of six days patrolling each season. But this time is not enough for a patroller to be part of an area patrol. At Massanutten, for example, a member of the patrol must spend 15 days patrolling each season. Patrolling does not just mean cutting lines and skiing free. It means being the first one out on the slopes and the last one into the lodge. It means skiing whether the snow is powder or crud, whether the skies are sunny or rain and hail are pelting. It means hunting for, lost skiers when everyone else has gone.

The most amazing thing about ski patrollers is that they stay with it so long.

Bob Dean, assistant regional director of the National Ski Patrol and ski patrol director at Massanutten, has been a patroller for a dozen years. His wife, Peggy, is a patroller, his older daughter married his training officer and both are now patrolling in Vermont.

Why does he do it?

"I started because it was a skill level I wanted to achieve," he said. "I stay because I have a moral responsibility to the skiing public. It is a self-imposed moral responsibility. It is there to be done, and I do it."