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Skiing safe means skiing smart

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- The first thing I did when I got my assignment to Mountain Home AFB was look up the nearest ski resort, and I was excited to learn that so many great options were nearby. I've lived most of my life in the mountains and have been fortunate to be a skier from a young age.

Skiing has taken me to new towns, states and countries. I've competed in races, I've instructed and many of my closest friends were made on the mountainside. Skiing is more than a sport to me - it's part of my identity.

I'm always excited for new people to experience this amazing sport, and as we approach the Wing's ski day, I encourage those new individuals to take advantage of this opportunity to learn to ski or snowboard. I also know the dangers associated with the sport and caution people to do it the right way.

What is the right way? I have three recommendations.

First, new people should always start with a lesson. There is no substitute to spending time with a professional - you will progress faster, develop better technique and stay safe.

Second, wear protective equipment. A helmet for everyone - it can literally save your life. Snowboarders should also consider wrist guards because the risk of wrist and shoulder injuries is higher in that sport.

Third, ski or snowboard within your ability. Start out with green slopes and work your way up to more challenging runs. If you're an experienced skier, make sure you're warmed up before you seek out those double-black diamond runs.

These recommendations come from real-world experience. While I worked as an instructor a tragic event shook the entire community. A person died on the mountain. It was a preventable and terrible accident - if only this individual listened to the advice of others.

It was their first-day skiing, and they were athletic, young and vibrant. A group of friends convinced her to go up to the top of the mountain, much beyond her ability. She did not have a helmet and had no formal instruction. On her first run she lost control, missed a turn and struck a tree.

I share this with you to remind you of the dangers of this sport. However, it's a sport that can be enjoyed safely and responsibly. It's a sport that can change your life.

Ski smart. Ski safe. Ski forever.