Is it possible to go skiing with a Pacemaker or an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator)? Well, my answer is yes in my circumstance. However, every case is different and unique, just like you. So I suggest it would be best to check with your doctor, cardiologist or cardiac physiologist first.
When I was doing my research before I went skiing in Cortina Italy and Saint Gervais, I struggled to find a definitive answer. Apart from ‘I can’t advise you not to go but be careful and ‘take the right precautions to stay safe’.
This led me to getting online and reading a lot of different forums on how to go skiing with a pacemaker and ICD. I wanted to hear what other people’s experiences were and how they handled them.
Given that the whole point of having a pacemaker/ICD is to be able to live as normal a life as possible. It would be a shame if you couldn’t do what you love being active.
Here is what I found doing my personal research and learnt skiing with my pacemaker and ICD. I must also point out that I am on blood thinners as well. This is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration.
Looking for a new ski jacket for the winter season but unsure of the suits you? Then there is a great buyer’s guide on what is best for you and the feature you should require.
1. Consult your Doctor first
Many people go back to their favourite sports activities after they have had a full recovery after surgery. However, some activities need more precaution than others. Skiing/snowboarding are impact sports and you have a risk of damaging your device. Another main factor for pacemaker/ICD patients is making sure your internal leads don’t move.
Best to consult with your doctor first and have clearance before booking a flight and skiing holiday. Check to see if there are any other activities that you should avoid on your trip. And what extra precautions to take to keep safe. Another factor you would need to consider is if you are on blood thinners.
Read some of the questions that I asked my doctor in Steps to Travelling with a Pacemaker/ICD
2. Keep in the back of your mind that you can fall hard
You can be an advanced or even a beginner skier but even with all the right precautions, something can happen. Keep in the back of your mind that you can fall hard, causing serious impact or damage to your device. If you have ICD you could also trigger it, if you fall awkwardly. You could even damage the ICD and it won’t be able to deliver the required shock if needed.
Obviously, none of us wants to fall on the slopes but it is something we should keep in the back of our minds. I would suggest to try and have extra padding and protection around the area of your implantation.
I’ve fallen a few times skiing with my pacemaker and ICD but I got back up and I was fine.
3. Get Travel Insurance that covers skiing with Pacemaker.
I highly recommend getting Travel insurance for your pacemaker or ICD for skiing or snowboarding. You never know what can happen on and off the slopes. Even worse you could get airlifted off the mountain due to an unforeseen accident. It will not only give you peace of mind when skiing but you won’t be stuck with a hefty bill.
Currently, l obtain travel insurance for skiing with my pacemaker and ICD as and when I need it. Each trip for me is a case by case situation. I have found that insurance seems to be more expensive if you have had an operation within 12 months. I have had 4 operations within the last two years but again this is my situation and circumstance. Everyone is different.
Getting Pacemaker and ICD travel insurance
Are you unsure where to look for insurance companies specialising in pacemaker and ICD travel insurance? Firstly, check with your pacemaker clinic, the heart foundation website or the brochures given to you by your doctor.
Secondly, ask your previous insurer or try a search engine company for results. I use a free search engine called AllClear Travel Compare and add in my medical information. Then it shows me my options for different insurers, a quote and what it covers.
48hrs in Val Di Fiemme Ski Resort Italy
Make sure your Travel Insurance covers Pacemaker while Skiing
When you have your pacemaker /ICD implanted you will need to inform your insurer of your change of circumstances. As far as I am aware if you don’t notify them of this change you are not legally covered. At the same time check to see if travel insurance covers skiing with your pacemaker or ICD.
Skiing and snowboarding are usually covered as an add-on to your policy under “winter sports”. Once you have notified the insurance company, make sure you obtain a copy of the updated policy.
My policy was not vailed anymore, after my pacemakers and ICD implant. The insurer cancelled the existing policy and paid out the duration, which was fine.
⇒ Les Menuires ski resort is a great suggestion for skiing with your pacemaker / ICD.
- Print out a copy of your Travel Insurance summary page and keep it on yourself. Maybe keep it with your official pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) ID card.
4. Take a ski lesson before you go to build confidence
To build your confidence and help strengthen your stamina on the slopes, take a ski lesson before you go. It is also a good way to brush up on your skills while having fun. Two options are dry slope (indoor or outdoor) or indoor snow ski centres. As far as I am aware both options are fine with a pacemaker/ICD.
Indoor Ski Centre
Indoor snowdomes are becoming increasingly popular across the UK. One such place is The Snow Centre located in Hemel Hempstead. It is London’s closest indoor real snow slope. They are a great day out for everyone, especially with all the additional facilities.
Feel free to read about my experience learning to snowboard at The Snow Centre
Indoor dry Slope Skiing
If you wanting a more controlled environment then a great option is an indoor dry slope. Chel-ski located in Chelsea West London is a great option and one of my favourites. It is a rotating snow mat that has an adjustable incline, as well as speed control. The coach taking the lesson remotely controls the snow mat.
The sessions are either one on one coaching or a small group of 3. Even though you have to use their skis, you can even take in your own ski boots to train in. Which is a great bonus in my books.
5. Carry a day backpack for relevant medical items
Take a day backpack for skiing or snowboarding to carry all your relevant items like Medical ID and medical magnet. As well as your water to keep you hydrated. You can also put your money in there and GoPro.
Test the backpack straps across your device before you go skiing
Test your backpack out before you leave and see how the straps feel across your chest on your device. I took one of my backpack’s l used for skiing before my implant and thought nothing of it. Until I got out skiing and did the straps up and it started rubbing on the area of my device.
It felt uncomfortable and irritated the area, so ended up having to ski without the straps being done up.
Here are some good suggestions for day backpacks for skiing, snowboarding, all are reasonably priced.
What to pack in your day backpack skiing
Here are some suggestions on what to pack in your day backpack while skiing and a useful checklist:
- Your official pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) ID card
- A copy of your travel insurance
- A refillable water bottle to keep hydrated
- Your medical magnet to stop the pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD)
- Nuts or Sweets in a reusable food storage bag.
6. Wear a Medical Alert Necklace or Wrist band
In an emergency situation, the simple addition of wearing a Medical Alert necklace or bracelet can save your life. Medical Alert ID bands or bracelets give the ski patrol crucial knowledge of your insertion. It will assist them quickly on what the problem may be and how to treat you.
Medical Alert Necklace or Wrist bands are not a compulsory item but are definitely a great addition. Most feature the international medical symbol caduceus, the image of a staff with two snakes, and open or turn to reveal securely concealed medical identification.
My medical alert ID wrist band states my rare heart condition, my insertion on the front. On the back my husband’s international contact number for emergency.
Here is a range of Medical Alert ID bracelets, you can choose for skiing. Select the one you want, the size and what you want to be engraved on it.
7. Have your Medical Alert ID somewhere easily spotted
Have your Medical alert ID somewhere that can be easily spotted when skiing or snowboarding with your pacemaker. Making it easier for the snow patrol to spot it and get you the correct medical help. Especially if you are on your own.
I suggest wearing a necklace, above your base layers but just under your ski jacket. If you are wearing multi-layers of clothing, still just have it on top of your base layer. I wear my medical alert ID on my wrist just under my ski jacket.
8. Let your ski companion know your situation
Skiing and snowboarding are a lot more fun with a companion or a group of friends. Before you hit the slopes inform your companion of your condition and let them where your ID card is located. If you are wearing a Medical Alert ID point that out also.
Just having a skiing companion who knows your heart condition can automatically put you at ease. It is also important in case if you require medical assistance in an emergency. Or if your ICD gives you a kick, it would be nice knowing that someone could inform the Ski Patrol.
9. Ski Gate Electronic waves
Electronic devices like mobile phones and security systems create electromagnetic waves of different frequencies and intensities. Sometimes these may lead to an undesired impairment of other sensitive electronic devices, like your pacemaker and ICD.
I read an interesting section on pacemakers, lift passes and ski gates written by Durran, A C and Karampini, E in 2008 Emergency Medicine Journal. It stated that the Interaction of an EMI (electromagnetic interference ) with a pacemaker is a rare but possible serious experience. The result may range from a minor rhythm disturbance to a terminal event. I have added the full section link here.
I didn’t know about lift passes and ski gates until I came across it while doing my research. To be honest, I didn’t even consider it a factor but it does make sense.
10. Going through the Ski Gates
Personally, I go through the lift ski gates and I don’t have a problem with them. However, I am not a medical expert and I think it’s up to the individual to decide what they are comfortable doing.
To me, they are no different than going through security gates at the supermarket. My only thing is don’t linger in these gates like you’re not supposed to for any security gate.
If you prefer not to pass through the gate, please alert the ski lift staff and you will be given an alternative direction for lift access. As I said I have never done this but I assume you will need to show them your pacemaker/ICD ID card. Which you should always carry on your anyway.
Don’t forget your GoPro for your next ski holiday.
11. Where to put your lift pass
Preferably when you are carrying your lift pass you shouldn’t put it near your insertion. This is due to the electronic waves of the lift pass connecting with the gate as you pass through.
Personally, you always have a small risk of having anything close to you with electromagnetic waves. I wear my lift pass either in my ski pants or on my arm in my ski jacket. I find the arm is the easiest though as I just touch it quickly without getting to close.
12. Other things to consider when skiing with Pacemaker and ICD
- Whether altitude will affect you
- Know your limits
- Take frequent breaks to rest
- Think about skiing with a Ski instructor for the first few runs
- Try doing a blue or green slope first just to find your feet.
13. Remember to Have Fun and Take care
Remember to have fun but take care!!!!
Snowboarding or skiing with a pacemaker does not have to be a daunting experience. Given that the whole point of having your implant is to be able to live a life as normal as possible. It would be a shame if you couldn’t do the winter sports you love. Last season, I was able to get to Tignes and Oz-Vaujany in France as well as St Johann in Austria.
I am definitely trying to live my life as normally as possible but still aware of my heart condition and implant. I also try to make sure that I take all the necessary precautions to prevent any issues.
Thank you for reading this article on skiing with Pacemaker and ICD. I hope l was able to give any tips/advice to help with your preparation for skiing. Is there anything I should add to the above list that might help others wanting to ski or snowboard?
⇒ Looking for inspiration on where to go skiing in Europe, please feel free to head over to my Ski Page.
Have you been skiing with your Pacemaker or Defibrillator (ICD) before? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below. Or let me know there is anything I can add to the list to help others with a pacemaker or ICD.
Disclaimer: All views are based on my own experience skiing with my Pacemaker and Defibrillator (ICD). As well as the personal research that I did.