Ski Canada Magazine
INJURIES THROUGH THE YEARS
Published medical studies about ski injuries, and indeed just the collection of ski injury data, barely existed before the mid-1980s, so in order to fill in some blanks I chatted with two iconic skiing MDs, Bob McMillin and Peter Fowler. Both physicians have treated countless ski injuries over the past five decades.
Dr. Bob was the director of racing at Craigleith Ski Club for 15 years and even coached a young Steve Podborski. He was also often the first guy called to the ski patrol hut in cases of serious injuries. He skied until the age of 88, at which time he settled down and started snowboarding.
An orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Peter Fowler is a long-time member of Devil’s Glen Ski Club who’s treated countless injured skiers on-hill as well as many members of the national ski team in the operating room. Fowler hung up his skis for good last year.
Their years of experience treating injured skiers over the past 50 years reflects the sparse published data of changing injury patterns over the decades. The change in frequency and type of injuries they have seen is primarily a reflection of the modification of ski equipment.
Although low leather ski boots of the 1960s changed to higher and plastic in the ’70s, they remained poorly fitted compared to today. Both docs agree that, combined with ski bindings with rudimentary release mechanisms, inherent design flaws resulted in many more sprained ankles and broken tibias than we see today, where serious knee injuries are much more common.
Ski helmet use has also changed the types of face and head injuries they treated. “Prior to widespread use of helmets, there were more scalp lacerations and concussions,” said Dr.
Bob. “I recall a faceplant where the forehead was sheared off to the hairline, and there were broken noses from slalom poles.”
Over the decades, Dr. Fowler remembers “putting in at least a dozen shoulder dislocations at the bottom of the hill.” In my own 28 years as a doctor who skis, I cannot recall reducing a shoulder dislocation outside of the E.R. The injuries that I typically see are mostly knee ligament sprains, “skier’s thumb”—and hangovers.
Dr. John Foote is an emergency room physician at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital and a Devil’s Glen skier.