Is Snowboarding Dangerous? A Feature by Richard Lubin, D.C. Part 2

Posted By: The Ski Channel on October 14, 2009 9:25 am


Lack of experience, going too fast or too big for your ability , poor physical conditioning, prior injuries, not wearing protective clothing or devices, inaccurate assessment of terrain and conditions, poor equipment or lack of proper tuning and adjustments,and then again, plain old stupidity, or unsupported daring.


Believe it or not collisions between skiers or boarders or any combination only represent a small percentage of overall injuries, around 7%.

In my ski club and organizations, there is a frequent and persistent concept that snowboarders run into skiers way more than the other way around.  I could find no evidence of that either by looking at studies or talking to ski patrollers.  Studies show that as a skier or a boarder you are more likely to be hit by another skier; and that’s not just because there are more skiers. I suppose that many slow ,beginner/learner snowboarders may collide at low speeds with people because of their lack of control. If there is no substantial injury these may not get written up by the ski patrol. I suspect that the age difference, attitude, and decorum may contribute to this misperception by skiers.   Because a snowboard stays attached to both feet when a snowboarder falls, they tend to stop shorter with this ‘anchor’ attached.  Skiers can, in general, go faster than snowboarders and this speed can be a danger in either sport.  A skier is more likely to slide a distance and strike either an object or another participant, especially if they release from their bindings. Many deaths are a result of this phenomenom.


Taking lessons may significantly decrease injuries. It is highly recommended because instructors are trained to teach basic techniques including how to fall.  The quicker you learn, the more fun it is. Also, it is a logical conclusion, that if a snowboarder can advance from the high risk beginner period rapidly, they also decrease their risk of the injuries one gets from dumb-ass falls, like getting off the lift. Once advanced you have a choice whether to engage in high risk behaviors.


Can helmets make snowboarding (and skiing) safer? YES.  According to Dr. Stewart Levy and Dr. John Nichols of the Intermountain Neurosurgery and Neuroscience in Denver they conclude that helmets reduce the risk of sustaining a brain injury of any kind by about 60 percent to 65 percent.  Dr. Jasper Shealy, (regarded by many as one of the most foremost ski safety experts) ,notes that helmets reduce the less serious injuries likes cuts and bruises, but are not very effective for collisions over 15 mph  where more  serious injuries like severe concussions, skull fracture,.  He has maintained that while helmet use has increased, there has been no significant reduction in fatalities. Perhaps wearing a helmet makes one feel more invincible and go faster. For what it is worth, the author has been wearing one for 10 years.My noggin ain’t a loggin I am terse for what it’s worth

Helmets appear to decrease some of the injuries to the head.  Interestingly the adult population that tends to wear them the most people over 50, who have lower rates of injuries overall than younger snowboarders.

By the way, helmets are sweet. Aerodynamics, headphones, protection, snow resistance make them the best cap to have. (Throw your locks out  later when you are pale {I dress mine with an old dreadlock cap, ok it’s stupid, but memorable})


 Wrist injuries including fractures are very common when learning snowboarding and much less common in advanced snowboarders. These injuries occur rarely in skiers. When you are learning you will fall, and fall plenty.  It is natural to put your arm out and the wrist, elbow, or shoulder bear the brunt. It is strongly recommended that at least beginners wear wrist protection.  Estimates note a 50% or more decrease in injuries like wrist sprains and fractures. In contrast, the most common  hand injury is a thumb tweak when your pole gets tangled. If you are new to snowboarding, definitely, and most definitely use wrist supports.


By far and away the vast majority (over 95%) of snowboarders use soft boots. These certainly increase the risk of ankle injuries over the hard boots used by skiers. Fractures or sprains of the ankle are much more common in snowboarders. In the developing technology of snowboard bindings and boots some of these risks have diminished due to improvements in design and rigidity. Get nice boots, they are more comfy and safer.  Interestingly, hard boot snowboarders tend to demonstrate less ankle injury rates, but knee injury rates similar to skiers. The theory is that the hard boot transmits the force further up the leg.


Protection for other body parts is available. Things like hip and butt pads, elbow pads can help to lessen the impact.  For the most part they are not necessary and not used that often, except in certain circumstances.  For example some freestylers (tricksters) and boarder cross racers use these protectors. In these instances there definitely is a high probability of impact. If you have a previously injured region, you should consider some sort of support, brace, or protector on that area.


Your brain is your #  1  safety net. We enjoy ski resorts because they give us a feeling of freedom. Once proficient, your skill level lets you make choices on the hill. You can do risky things if you want, just be aware of the consequences. Primarily, you control when you get hurt.  Icy conditions and moguls are areas you may want to avoid unless you are skilled. Stay away from challenges beyond your level, which you can mostly anticipate.  It is so obvious, falling results in many injuries, try not to fall. If you plummet, you were probably going to fast or trying something out of your skill level. The time honored skiers responsibility code should be memorized before you even start. Parks are great places to be stylin’ but follow the Burton Smart Style recommendations:  Make a plan, look before you leap, easy style it, and respect gets respect. Start small and work your way up. Many resorts have graduated parks to get your skills improved. I am not suggesting you shouldn’t  try stuff, just do it wisely. Many snowboarders venture into the trees. Some may consider this hazardous, but ski patrollers relate that they do not see many injuries in these areas. To ride the trees you need to be adept. It is rewarding, but take it slow.