The hospital in Zell am See is full. Currently, every day about 160 injured skiers are being hospitalised there. The Emergency Surgery department works to the max to treat broken legs, thorn ligaments and many other injuries of international patients. The languages you hear in the corridor are mostly English, German, Russian and Arabic. Next to 15 scheduled surgeries, 10 emergencies have to be scheduled every day.
The head of the department, doctor Heinrich Thöni has been in charge since 1992. He shares his experience of a surgeon: When the slopes are very hard, the skiers usually hurt their pelvis, skull and spine. On warmer days, knee injuries prevail. The best days are the ones with heavy snowfall: the skiers fall softly.
With the reign of carving skis and faster pace, the injuries are different than 20 years ago. Especially the knee and shoulder injuries became serious and complex. Luckily there is good news too: wearing a helmet decreased the amount of traumatic brain injuries massively. A patient who is now hospitalized with a concussion would have previously had no helmet – thus a skull fracture.
Also the surgery methods have changed: from invasive to less ‘deep cuts’ – the chance to heal is better, the risk of infections lower. And it hurts less.
Nevertheless, skiing remains a dangerous hobby: In winter 2011/2012, the total of 28 people died on Austrian slopes and 16 climbers were killed in avalanches. Each year, more than 10,000 skiers and snowboarders in Austria hurt so badly that they have to be treated in hospital. 93 percent of all accidents are single-vehicle crashes. The most common reasons are self-esteem and lack of physical fitness. 67 percent of skiing accidents happen in the afternoon, are to blame emerging fatigue, lack of concentration and lack of energy.