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Students encouraged to take ‘smart risks’

Howe Sound first school district in Canada to adopt Snowsmart program



It was late in the day last June when local high school student Nadia Samer decided to head back up the mountain for one more run.

She was tired. She was dehydrated. And little did she know that this last run of the day would put her on crutches for the next several months. On the way down she tore her ACL, a knee injury which put her on the sidelines for the season.

She knows now that she had crossed her "Stupid Line" – that imaginary line of choice which separates smart risks from stupid risks.

Now Samer, along with Whistler Secondary School Grade 12 classmate Mike Messeguer, wants to highlight the concept of the Stupid Line, as they spread the word about the Snowsmart program.

Snowsmart is a new national high school program aimed at reducing the incidence of predictable and preventable sports-related injuries, such as Samer’s torn ACL.

"On my ski racing team last year there were three racers out with torn ACLs. I was one of them," said Samer. "I ended up tearing my knee and I was out for the season. I was wearing the gear. I’ve been ski racing since I was two but I pushed it too far late in the day when I should have probably gone down, and I didn’t drink enough water."

Eighteen year old Messeguer, who is the Snowsmart representative at Whistler Secondary along with Samer, has also crossed his Stupid Line before. He’s had a number of close calls on the snow, particularly racing in skier cross.

He said the Snowsmart program isn’t about stopping his peers from racing or heading into the backcountry or into the terrain park. It’s about making smart choices when you’re there, he said.

"I’d be really hypocritical if I were to say there’s lots of stuff that you can’t do because I’m going to go right out and do it right after I tell you not to," said Messeguer candidly.

Samer said they’re not trying to take away from the experience on the snow, rather raise awareness about the Snowsmart messages.

"We’re not enforcers out here," she said. "We’re not trying to ruin their fun. We’re just trying to let them have fun but do it safely so they don’t end up in the emergency room – have fun so you can keep doing your sport and get better."

Both students were in Kamloops for a two-day conference in early October where they learned about the program and ways to reach out to their fellow students with its message. There they learned that unintentional injuries kill more teens between 15 and 19 years old than all other causes combined.

The peer leadership initiatives, which will come from the two students this season, are just one component of Snowsmart. In-class lessons for Grade 7 and 10 students are also part of the program.

Maggie Butterfield, assistant vice principal at WSS, said she hopes to have the Grade 7 and 10 program implemented into the classroom by February. It will be in all Howe Sound high schools, while the peer program will be concentrated at the Whistler high school for the time being.

This makes the Howe Sound School District the first in the nation to implement the program on a district-wide level.

Butterfield calls Snowsmart a "natural fit" for the corridor because it’s a mountain community. It’s also a place where the Whistler high school at any given time has a handful of students hobbling around on crutches or sporting broken arms and wrists.

"We can all certainly benefit from it," she said. "What we’re really doing is trying to develop attitude but also providing risk management and risk awareness skills, which I think is essential for building a happy and successful and healthy lifestyle."

The Snowsmart program is based on Smartrisk, the Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to preventing injuries and saving lives. The five key messages, which transcend both programs, are: Buckle Up, Look First, Wear the Gear, Get Trained and Drive Sober.

And though most students know the mountains like the backs of their hands, said Samer, conditions change, your body changes and it’s important to recognize these changing elements.

Samer and Messeguer have some ideas in mind about how to get the message across to their peers. First however they plan to survey the student body to get a sense of how they assess risks on the snow.

Messeguer said: "There’s no doubt in my mind that we can have fun doing this and that’s the main part."

With her ACL mended, Samer looks back on the day of her injury and knows things would have turned out differently if she had followed some of the Snowsmart catchphrases.

"If I had quit skiing that day and gone down earlier and drank a little bit more I probably wouldn’t have torn my knee," said Samer. "There are things I could have done differently to prevent that."