Skiing and snowboarding does have a reputation of being a risky sport, but the overall injury rate for skiers is a little lower than you may expect with 3 injuries per 1000 skier days (1)(2). Put another way, if you ski 20 days a year, on average you’ll sustain an injury every 16-17 years. Snowboarders have a higher injury risk with a reported 4-16 injuries per 1000 snowboarder days (3).
There have been a number of studies that have looked at the incidence and severity of ski and snowboarding injuries, and in general skiers tend to sustain more knee injuries whereas snowboarders are more vulnerable to injuries of the upper limb. The most recent paper to look into this was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Surgery this year (4), and the authors retrospectively analyzed all the injuries sustained at the Levi Ski Resort in Finland over a 6-year period (2006-2012). This study reported a slightly lower rate to previous statistics with an overall injury rate of 1.97 per 1000 skier days. Maybe the Finish ski and ride a little more safely, are more experienced, or maybe improvements in equipment technology (bindings, wrist guards etc) and resort safety measures (slow signs, safety netting etc) are having an impact.
A breakdown of the statistics is interesting, with skiers injuring themselves mainly on-piste (72%), to a lesser extent terrain parks (19%), whilst on a ski lift (6%), and skiing off-piste (3%). Snowboarders had a similar spread but with a higher incidence of terrain park injuries (25%), and less whilst on ski lifts (3%).
Anatomical locations of injuries were similar to previous studies with the bulk of injuries to skiers being to the lower extremity (42%), most of which were the knee. Injuries were also noted for the upper extremity (34%), head (15%), and spinal column (6%). Respective figures for the snowboarders were lower extremity 17%, upper extremity 59%, head 12%, and spinal column 9%. Sixty one percent of the upper extremity injuries to snowboarders were to the wrist, hand or thumb.
Most injuries (about 75%) for both skiers and snowboarders occur either by falling down or loss of control during a jump, with only between 3%-8% occurring by collision with other skiers or riders. This statistic I feel is the most important as it highlights the fact the skiers or riders themselves’ are at fault. Poor fitness, poor selection of terrain or conditions, poor judgement of one’s ability, or poor maintenance of equipment would be factors in many injuries I’m sure. The take home message is that many skiing and snowboarding injuries are preventable.
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- Johnson B, Ettlinger C, Shealy JE: Update on injury trends in alpine skiing. J ASTM Int 2009;17:11-22
- Davidson TM, Laliotis A: Alpine skiing injuries – A nine year study. West J Med 1996;164(4):310-314.
- Abu-Laden RB: Snowboarding Injuries: An analysis and comparison withy alpine skiing injuries. CMAJ 1991;145:1097-1103.
- Stenroos A, Handolin L: Incidence of recreational alpine skiing and snowboarding injuries: Six years experience in the largest ski resort in Finland. Scand J Surg 2014;0:1-5.