Skiers, snowboarders face dangers of ‘Sierra cement’ amid dry start to new year

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(KTXL) -- As they began the New Year with a dry spell, ski and snowboard resorts once again started making snow.

Powder is what it's all about up in the Sierra and nobody gets excited about what is sometimes called “Sierra cement.”

"Oh, you just got to take it a little easier, you know,” one snowboarder said. “You can't go hit the big stuff. Can't huck any big cliffs if it's pure ice."

Ignoring the conditions can earn skiers and boarders an unlucky trip to Reno, home of Renown Regional Medical Center, where the most serious ski and snowboard injuries from every Tahoe area resort are treated.

"As kind of the ski season really picks up, it's pretty common for our facility to see these really on a daily basis," said Dr. Tim Pence, medical director of the Renown Acute Rehabilitation Center.

Dr. Pence told FOX40 he sees the worst of injuries.

"Fracture to the pelvis, fracture to the ribs, major head injury, concussions and more of the major vertebral fractures," he said.

He explained a good prescription for prevention.

"Know where the trees are. Know where the tree wells are. Know where the rocks are. And above and beyond that, know where your other riders and your other skiers are, both up and down the mountain," he said.

Pence said about 70% of those who get seriously injured are experienced skiers and snowboarders.

He said the popularity of helmets in recent years has reduced traumatic brain injuries by 30 to 50%. But he also pointed out most helmets are rated for collisions of no more than 15 mph.

"Watch your speed," Pence said. "It's always easier to go a little bit slower and get more runs on the mountain."

It was something to keep in mind as the forecast promised fresh snow.

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