Many women too unfit to go skiing

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IT MAY sound like they are skating on thin ice, but ski experts have urged unfit women to think twice before they hit the slopes.

Medical professionals, including Scotland’s leading sports surgeon, have warned that less than toned females are at greater risk of serious knee injuries.

Research indicates women are up to eight times more than likely than men to rupture their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a painful injury that often requires reconstructive knee surgery.

Females skiers are more prone to ACL injury for anatomical reasons, but lack of fitness can make them particularly vulnerable.

Professor Gordon Mackay, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, said women, in particular, needed to prepare before going on ski trips or holidays.

He said: “There is a much higher incidence of cruciate rupture in females. Women are more at risk of injury and, therefore, they should be taking more care in terms of preparation. If you are in a good physical condition you are more likely to avoid the fatigue factor.”

Prof Mackay added: “If you are not accustomed to eight hours of intense exercise a day it doesn’t make sense to stay on the slopes until the lift closes. Three hours of skiing is pretty good going and is far more realistic.”

ACL damage is often caused by falling awkwardly and struggling to get up, which skiers are more prone to do if they are tired.

Prof Mackay, based at Glasgow’s Ross Hall private hospital, stressed the injury gender gap was not caused by recklessness.

The surgeon, who has operated on a number of Scottish rugby internationals and SPL footballers, explained: “The greater injury level among females is not caused by dangerous skiing. Women suffer fewer head injuries because they are taking more care.

“It is partly due to physical gender differences and fatigue that seems to result in serious injuries on the slopes.

“My best general advice is to spend several weeks in advance of a ski trip improving your overall levels of fitness, improving technique and preparing to make the best choices.”

Dr Tessa Pirie, who specialises in treating ski injuries, has considerable experience of dealing with knee ligament damage.

The Aberdonian, who is clinical director at the urgent care clinics at the Mt Ruapehu ski resort in New Zealand, said: “The majority of people who suffer ACL injuries are middle-aged woman skiing on soft snow.

“They are usually in their 40s or late 30s, normally a bit overweight, not that fit and you see them time and again. Because they are less fit they get more fatigued and, as they are carrying a bit more weight in their upper half, there is a bit more weight pulling on the ligament.

“Your heart goes out to them because you know it is a devastating injury.”

However, the picture of women taking to the slopes without undertaking any preparation, is not recognised by former British alpine ski champion Amanda Pirie.

The Scot, who now works as a coach at the French resort of Val d’Isère, said: “In my experience men and women tend to prepare in the same way for a skiing holiday.

“Some make a big effort to get fit and do ski-specific fitness while others arrive not as fit or strong as they could be for doing sport every day. But men do that just as often as ladies.

“If anything, I would say that women are slightly more conscientious and more likely to go down to the gym to get themselves ready.”