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February - Virtigo

The Safety Site

Monica Palmer, Safety Administration

Recreational Safety takes Responsibility & Control


Webster Dictionary defines vertigo as a “disordered condition marked by dizziness”, or “a sensation that the environment around you is spinning in circles”.  For some people, vertigo may be a medical condition that can last for days, weeks, or more.  Vertigo can also cause nausea, problems with balance and motion sickness.

Skiers with motion sickness or vertigo may trigger the vertigo symptoms simply from riding the chairlift or gondola, especially over high peaks or over canyons or from skiing downhill fast.  If you are skiing in a snow storm with low visibility and the wind is blowing the snow, and possibly also fog, around, there is a real risk of developing vertigo.  When skiers are lost during a storm, vertigo is likely a cause along with the poor visibility.

A 43-year old skier went missing while skiing at Northstar on Christmas Day, 2021, during white out conditions.  Unfortunately, he was not missed until he failed to show up for dinner, and the authorities were not advised until almost 10 that evening.  By then, there was more new snow and poor visibility hampered search efforts.  It is presumed that he may easily have been affected by vertigo.  He had gone a considerable distance from the resort boundaries on the back side of the resort, where he was found on January 8.

Vertigo can be experienced by anyone.  I have to admit that it happened to me on a ski trip to Whistler-Blackcomb.  It was almost the end of the vacation, so I went up the mountain with friends in spite of the poor visibility.  I am normally a fair-weather skier.  We had decided to head back to our hotel, which had ski-in/ski-out facilities.  We were taking the cat track to get back to the run that led to the hotel.  There were orange markers all along the uphill side of the track, so we used those to guide us, because it had become so hard to see.  Unfortunately, I apparently became affected by vertigo from the swirling snow.  In my mind, I could still see orange markers on my right, but I had unknowingly skied off the track into a gully filled with loose snow for several yards before I realized what I had done.  While trying to turn around in the heavy snow, I went down, and 1 ski came off.  In order to turn around, I removed the other ski and began a slow trek back to the cat track while carrying my skis.  It was exhausting.  Luckily, some more friends from my ski club came by and stopped to help me out.  One actually skied in close enough to me and carried my skis out. Another held out a pole and helped me back onto the track. Friendships are awesome.  I thank them again.

My advice to fellow skiers is to avoid skiing when storms deter visibility enough to create a dangerous situation.  It is also best to ski with a buddy and keep each other in site.

I found this statement below while researching vertigo:

Alcoholic beverages cause your body to lose heat faster. This statement is from the Rutland Herald, January 19, 2022.