Safety should be first when cruising the mountain |

Safety should be first when cruising the mountain

Anna Moore

The Park Record

Emily Brown, 28, had her worst mountain biking injury when a bee flew under her sunglasses on the downhill. Brown says she made the “terrible mistake,” of shaking her head to get it out. Luckily she only dislocated her finger and earned some nasty bruises. Despite the wrecks, she loves the constant challenge of improvement and the remote places mountain biking takes her.

Mark Blume, 23, lived in Park City for two years before catching mountain bike fever. At first, "I didn't like [mountain biking] because I kept falling," says Blume. Once he started to master switchbacks, hitting rollers and getting air, it started to remind him of shredding powder in the trees.

Going fast and hard is what makes these outdoor sports fun. However, pushing one's skills to the limit can result in serious consequences. For Blume, this meant 33 stitches on his face, a broken cheekbone and a few visits to the plastic surgeon.

Blume started mountain biking because all of his friends were into the accident-prone sport.

He and a buddy got off work at 5 p.m. and wanted to get in as many laps as possible before the lifts closed at 7 p.m. Blume remembers working hard to keep up with his more experienced friend. Getting more and more air off of dirt rollers, he landed off-trail, face-first into a log.

As soon as he stood up, blood began to pour from his face. "I could see a piece of skin in my periphery and I knew it was bad," said Blume. Four miles from the car, his best option was to bike down to get help. Once on Main Street, the frightened stares of children reassured him that his face was not OK. Blume says, "I could feel the wind flapping my face open."

Just like skiing, there are many variables you can't control when mountain biking. Terrain, animals, other riders and flat tires are things you'll have to accept. However, "Riding within your comfort level is something you can control," says Dr. Chris Gee, Emergency and Sports Medicine Specialist at University of Utah Hospital.

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Gee is no stranger to mountain-biking injuries. Recently, he rounded a rocky corner right into a ditch, injuring his shoulder.
"If you're riding a lot, you're bound to come across some kind of injury." Gee said. It's not a matter of if, rather, when.

In a 2012, The Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Journal published a study focusing on mountain biking injuries at the Whistler Bike Park. Of 898 injuries reported, 86 percent of the injured riders were male with a median age of 26. Since 2012, the sport of "free-riding," and downhill mountain biking has only grown in popularity as more ski resorts are granting riders summer lift access.

The most common mountain biking injuries include road rash, lacerations, dislocated shoulders, as well as broken collarbones and forearms. Most riders wear their helmets- religiously, but Dr. Kellee Shea of the Park City Medical Center cannot stress the importance protecting the brain enough.

"Broken bones can heal, but head trauma can leave lasting neurological issues," says Shea. Replacing an old helmet, or one that has experienced an impact is just as important as wearing it in the first place.

Shea also believes that most injuries can be prevented by being courteous and riding within your skill level. Trail courtesy, including yielding to uphill riders and using a bell, can greatly decrease the chances of a crash. Beginner riders should always check a trail map to make sure the terrain won't become too challenging.

A few weeks after taking a log to the face, Blume admits that he might have been pushing too hard the day he was injured. His stitches have been removed and the almost invisible scar is a light shadow on his smiling face. He has ditched the diet of straw-slurping milkshakes for Davanza's pizza and has created a YouTube video montage of his experience entitled, "How I Broke My Face." Watch at your own risk. When asked if he'll ride more cautiously, Blume says he'll probably ride harder, adding, "Don't tell my mom."

It seems that the love of  riding trumps the fear of another injury. Tumbles are inevitable says Blume. "Just don't use your face to break your fall."

Easy Steps to Prevent Injuries on the Trail:
Plan your ride: Map out your route before you ride and know different routes in case you need to bail.
Check your bike: When was the last time your bike was inspected? Each season, you should have a professional inspect your bike, especially the brakes.
Get warmed up: Before ripping down a technical switchback black diamond, make sure you’ve done some warming up. A quick ride around a pump track or uphill will get your body prepared for the demands of a downhill.
Gear up: A helmet is essential, but proper eyewear and body armor can greatly reduce injuries. If you are doing a ride in the evening, bring a headlamp in case you need to ride out in the dark.
Fuel up: Make sure to have enough water and a snacks to keep you hydrated and your glucose levels stable throughout your ride.
Look ahead: When riding, try to keep your eyes looking further up the trail. If there is a section with big drops, get off your bike and investigate before riding over it.