Preventing Injuries on the Slopes


JP Stowe, ATC
Healthy Living - January 26, 2016

We're in the middle of skiing and snowboarding season here in Maine and with the fun, speed, and excitement of it all comes injuries both small and catastrophic. Though injury rates have gone down significantly in recent years, there are still measures that you can take to make sure you are safe on the slopes.
In 2015, there were over 9.5 million active skiers and snowboarders in the United States alone. According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), skiers will suffer an injury 2.5 times per 1,000 visits to the mountain while snowboarders will suffer an injury 6.1 times per 1,000 visits. Why is there more of a prevalence of injuries in snowboarders than in skiers? Though snowboarding may seem like the safer option, it is picked up by younger, less experienced kids who may not go through a professional lesson. They would rather learn from friends and hit the difficult trails before they are ready. The same is said for advanced skiers who want to try snowboarding thinking that the skills will translate easily, which is untrue.  
This leads to the types of injuries skiers and snowboarders suffer. Because snowboarders may not learn proper balance and techniques through a lesson, they tend to fall on their outstretched hands to catch themselves. This mechanism results in a very high rate of wrist injuries and fractures at 25 percent of the total injuries they suffer. The next most injured body part for snowboarders is the head/face and shoulder at around 14 percent each. Skiers suffer a very high rate of knee injuries at 34 percent of their total injuries. Most of those knee injuries are significant ligament tears of the ACL or MCL which can end a snow sports season very quickly. Lower leg fractures in skiers have reduced by 97 percent over the last 20 years, mainly due to new developments in making the bindings safer and more easily releasable. Those bindings unfortunately cannot perceive stresses at the knee like they do at the ankle making knee injuries the most prevalent.
What steps can you take to be safe on the slopes this winter?
1.Be well conditioned and warm-up before hitting the mountain
Research has shown that most skiing and snowboarding injuries happen during the first run, at the end of the day during the last run, and on the last day of a vacation which tells us that not warming up properly, fatigue, and improper conditioning play a large role in the injuries that occur. Taking rest breaks and staying hydrated will help to combat this fatigue and tiredness.
2.Check your equipment regularly
Poorly functioning or improperly adjusted equipment is a recipe for disaster. Make sure the boots fit snugly, the skis aren’t too long, and the bindings are in excellent condition. Buying your own equipment makes this easier to monitor rather than renting. Having the newest type of bindings and a properly adjusted binding release is essential to prevent injuries to the lower leg, ankle, and knee.
3.Wear a helmet and other protective equipment
Last year, 70 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets compared to just 18 percent just 10 years ago! This is a great step in the right direction and has been a large reason why catastrophic injuries are seen less commonly.  Helmets reduce the risk of head injuries by almost 60 percent, so there is no excuse not to wear one. While snowboarding, wrist guards can greatly decrease the inherent risk of wrist fractures and other injuries.

4.Get proper instruction
Taking lessons before both skiing and snowboarding greatly decreases the risk of injury. The instructors not only teach proper technique and balance but also how to detect unsafe conditions and situations on the mountain. They will also advise beginners when it is safe to proceed to a more advanced trail.
"Industry Stats." NSAA RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
Gittings, Paul. "Danger on the Slopes: Are Winter Sports Safe? -"CNN. Cable News Network, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.
Langran, M. "Snow Sports Injuries in Scotland: A Case-control Study." British Journal of Sports Medicine 36.2 (2002): 135-40. Web.