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Sunny Slopes – Ski Safely!

2012 February 16

By Julie Kunrath

Pausing at the top of the ski slope, you look down to take in the magnificent view—a scattering of white-dusted trees, rocky peaks glowing on the horizon, powdery snow begging for fresh tracks…

…and high levels of ultraviolet radiation reflecting back at you.

Where’s your sunscreen?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun isn’t just a summer concern. Sunburns happen year-round, and sun protection is especially important for winter sports, since UV radiation reflects off snow. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high, even in the shade. In addition, UV radiation increases with altitude because there is less chance for the atmosphere to absorb the sun’s rays. Skiing at 8,000 feet certainly offers epic views, but it also exposes you to the invisible danger of UV radiation.

As an avid skier, my father put my siblings and me on skis at an early age. Following many of my childhood skiing adventures, I remember the infamous “goggle tan”—a distinct white mask surrounded by red skin. Back then, I was just embarrassed to have a “raccoon face.” Today I understand this was a sign of overexposure to UV radiation. This was a sunburn, an indication of damaged skin and a risk factor for future skin cancer.

As the most common cancer in the U.S., skin cancer is no light matter. Every hour, one American dies from skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancer is preventable with simple sun safety strategies, like sunscreen. As a tough man of the mountains, my dad never wore sunscreen when he skied, so neither did I. I didn’t wise up until a few years ago when my older brother handed me a sunscreen bottle while gearing up for a ski day. Sometimes older brothers know best.

My advice for all snow worshippers: keep a small bottle of sunscreen in the pocket of your winter jacket. Make sure it’s broad spectrum with SPF 30 or higher. pic of UV Widget Slather it on your exposed skin before you hit the slopes and every two hours thereafter. Lift rides or hot chocolate breaks in the lodge are good times to reapply. Your eyes are just as sensitive to sun damage as your skin; protect them with sunglasses or ski goggles that have 99–100% UVA/UVB protection. You can also check the UV Index for a forecast of the day’s UV intensity. Who wants a raccoon face anyway?

About the author: Julie Kunrath is an ASPH Fellow hosted by the SunWise program in the Office of Air and Radiation in DC.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Linda Kunrath permalink
    February 16, 2012

    Parents who grew up in the early 1950′s were not sun wise. They thought a tan body was a healthy body, plus they did not have role models like your brother to teach them protection measures from harmful UV radiation. Thanks for the education. I wear my hat and put on sunscreen every day. I am now SunWise.

  2. Snow Man permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Love the post and the pictures, I only wish that I were in the snowy mountains right now.

  3. Larry Kirkendoll permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Great article Julie and thanks for the reminder. Miss skiing with you.

  4. California Golf Vacation permalink
    February 21, 2012

    skiing is really great!.. however, sun protection should be applied for preventive action..

  5. Snowskin Sunscreen permalink
    February 23, 2012

    We LOVE this article! It seems as though most people are completely unaware of sun safety issues in the winter months. We have all grown accustomed to warm weather equating to sun protection measures, instead of actual contributing factors such as the UV Index, altitude, reflective surfaces, etc. Keep up the good work, and we are here to support you all the way!

  6. Knight permalink
    April 3, 2012

    Awesome blog; I just love every little thing on it! simple layout and valuable content, it’s what we call power.

  7. May 13, 2012

    We LOVE this article! It seems as though most people are completely unaware of sun safety issues in the winter months. We have all grown accustomed to warm weather equating to sun protection measures.

  8. Mark permalink
    August 25, 2012

    The UV on the slopes is very dangerous. Without glasses on sunny slopes is impossible. Check the weather before leaving.

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