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Snow Warning For Skiers

Acclaimed New Zealand climber Peter Hillary knows better than most the importance of protection from the increased levels of UV Radiation at high altitudes and in snow reflecting conditions.

Media release
23 August 2005

Snow Warning For Skiers

Anyone planning to visit the ski slopes this spring: be warned. A new study has highlighted the potential for skin damage through exposure to UV Radiation over snow-covered surfaces and at high altitudes.

The study was undertaken by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research scientist Dr Richard McKenzie and Mark Allen from the University of Canterbury’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The researchers wore specially designed UV radiation monitoring badges to measure how much UV they were exposed to on the Mt Hutt skifield compared to the amount at the same time of day on a nearby sea level site in Christchurch city.

According to the authors, studies of UV radiation in mountainous areas in Europe and on other continents have found that not only are UV levels higher at greater altitudes, but the intensity of the UV on snow covered surfaces is even greater as a result of the reflection.

The New Zealand study arrived at the same conclusion.

“The peak UVI measured by the personal UV monitoring badge on the UV ski-field at altitude 2.1km was found to be 20 to 30 percent greater than that measured on the same day at a nearby sea level location,” says Dr McKenzie.

He says the increase is due to the combined effects of less air to scatter the radiation, the reflection of fresh snow and reduced tropospheric ozone. He says the increases would have been even larger if the snow had extended over a wider area. Also, in more polluted locations, the contrast between low altitude and high altitude would be larger.

Cancer Society SunSmart spokesperson Wendy Billingsley says the research paper confirms warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which explains the thinner atmosphere of high altitudes absorbs less radiation. With every100 metres increase in altitude, UV radiation levels rise by 10 to 12 percent.

“So while it might sound crazy to warn people of the risk of sunburn when they are off to enjoy snow sports, it’s vital they use sunscreen and good quality sunglasses,” Ms Billingsley says. “And they should not forget either that the reflected UV is directed at skin which does not usually have sun shining on it – for example, the under side of the nose and chin – so the skin is even more vulnerable.”

The Cancer Society recommends using an SPF 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen and sunglasses that wrap around the eyes and perform to the requirements of the AS/NZS1067 Sunglass Standard.

Nearly 300 people die from skin cancer and more than 50,000 cases are diagnosed in New Zealand each year. The cost to the health system is believed to be more than $33 million annually.


Snippets for fillers

The Cancer Society says be cool in the snow – slap on sunscreen and avoid skin damage from increased levels of UV radiation at high altitudes and reflected by snow. Only clowns look good with red noses.


The Cancer Society says its well know Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap summer sun protection advice is just as relevant for people enjoying the ski slopes this season. High altitude and snow reflection mean increased exposure to higher levels of UV radiation. So Slip on some gloves, Slop on some sunscreen, Slap on a hat and wrap on some sunglasses.


Broken bones and aching muscles aren’t the only risks you take on the slopes according to the Cancer Society. They’re warning skiers that UV Radiation levels increase dramatically at high altitudes and when reflected by snow, they are even more risky. So make sure you take your sunscreen as well as your winter woollies when skiing this season.


If you’re heading for the slopes this weekend, pack some sunscreen with your skis: because the Cancer Society is warning skiers that skin cancer causing UV Radiation levels rise at high altitude.


Avalanche, frostbite, broken bones…according to the Cancer Society, skiers are just as much at risk from the sun. High altitudes combined with snow reflections make the UV radiation levels rise and that means a risk of skin damage – potentially leading to skin cancer. You may not be able to prevent an avalanche, but you can protect your skin with a liberal layer of sunscreen.


The Cancer Society warns high altitude combined with reflected snow mean high risk of skin damage from UV Radiation. Be cool in the cold – smart skiers protect their skin with sunscreen.

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