Crowded slopes mean more crashes, study finds
Differences between ski/board, male/female injuries, too
By Chris Woodall
Skiers crash differently from snowboarders, and males hurt heads while females hurt knees, says a doctoral study of Blackcomb Mountain slopeside injuries.
The study by Dr. Bob Cadman examined 2,139 "injury events" in 1992, as well as data from 1993 and 1995.
What he discovered should make for interesting chit-chat around the aprés ski table.
o Teenagers and children are "significantly" more likely to wipe out than adults, Dr. Cadman's study says. Although adults represent 79 per cent of the skier population and have 67 per cent of the injuries, children and teens account for 29 per cent of injuries although they are only a fifth of the people on the slopes.
o Boys and men crash on their heads or do face plants. Girls and women crash on their knees.
o "Personal error" caused most accidents, Dr. Cadman's study finds, although 12 per cent of teenagers hurt themselves jumping and 17 per cent of small children (aged to six years) were injured by whacking into something.
o As might be expected, the majority of injuries happened among beginners and intermediate skiers/snowboarders on groomed hard-packed slopes.
o Weather does not affect the number of injuries. But hard-pack or deep snow conditions determined the kind of injury.
o Avoid busy ski days... maybe.
High volume ski days (more than 10,000 skiers) saw more accidents than low volume days (fewer than 6,000 skiers) as might seem logical.
But if you're going to crash, oddly enough, it'll be more spectacular when the ski runs are relatively empty.
The number of skiers who had to get medical attention was less on high volume days. Dr. Cadman's study shows that the rate of skiers who needed medical help on low volume days was 2.16 skiers for every 1,000 skier visits; whereas it drops to 1.81 skiers for every 1,000 visits on crowded ski days.
o The safest place to be is on the ski lift, which accounts for a mere 5 per cent of total ski/snowboard-related injuries, usually when getting on or off the lift..
o Don't let your child take a school ski trip.
"Children on school-sponsored ski trips have significantly more injuries than children not skiing with school groups," says the study, that found school group children had a 55 per cent greater likelihood to injure themselves than the same age level outside a school group.
As well, a Skiers Knowledge Initiative survey of 1,000 young people (under 18) revealed more surprises about mayhem on the mountains.
o Snowboarders jumping blind are begging for a crash because, the initiative found, 25 per cent of respondents never use a spotter. "Check those hits," Dr. Cadman says.
o Almost one-third of young skiers have their bindings adjusted by people who really haven't a clue what they're doing, which includes such non-certified technicians as parents and friends.
"Watch hand-me-down equipment," Dr. Cadman warns. Settings for one skier may not suit the new owner. And as equipment ages, bindings just may not function well.
o Almost one-third of young skiers think they know better and ski on closed runs, with almost 70 per cent skiing among trees.
Avalanches are trouble any time, but especially for snowboarders, Dr. Cadman says. Where skiers tend to tumble, lose their skies and rise to the surface of a slide, snowboarders tend to auger into the avalanche because they can't detach from the board.
If a boarder is lost in an avalanche, look for him or her — if you can — underneath the slide.
o Only 22 per cent of young skiers lower the bar on the chair lift.
o And almost one-third of young uninjured skiers have never heard of the Alpine Responsibility Code.
Skiers and snowboarders will bang themselves up differently, Dr. Cadman discovered.
Number one on the hit parade of injuries for snowboarders is a wrist fracture, says Dr. Cadman. Wearing in-line skate wrist guards would go a long way to prevent that kind of bang-up, Dr. Cadman says.
"More boarders are using them, but not necessarily beginner boarders."
Fifty per cent of those who had a wrist injury did it in their first year of riding. "Most of those boarders did it on their first day," Dr. Cadman says, hoping equipment renters will take note and include wrist guards in their inventory.
Next most popular injury for boarders is a smack on the knee. Ironically, improvements to boarders' boots are to blame.
"As boots improved, they became harder so there were more injuries to the knee. Injuries tend to be at the ankle with softer boots," Dr. Cadman says. "It's a trade-off: you get better performance with a hard boot, but you'll more likely hurt your knee."
Third are head injuries. "Most are concussions, contusions or lacerations," Dr. Cadman says.
Once again, protection is prevention.
"It's really positive seeing more and more helmets being used, especially with the hard booters," Dr. Cadman says, noting that helmets are becoming mandatory in competitions.
For skiers, the favourite way to end a season is to destroy your knee's "anterior cruciate ligament," says Dr. Cadman.
Strong leg muscles will help avoid major damage in a fall, but Dr. Cadman suggests the best way to keep the knees in place is to go with the flow. "If you're falling, stay down and roll with it," he advises skiers.
"On any given day, half the ski injuries are knee injuries."
As with boarders, the second most popular way to stop skiing for the day is to damage the head. Shoulder damage ranks third.
But unlike the single plankers, many skiers rip their shoulder when a pole gets caught in the snow behind a plant, doesn't come loose, and yanks the arm backward. "Don't wear the wrist straps," Dr. Cadman says, noting there are a lot of thumb sprains, too, but they don't get reported too often because skiers — visitors especially — can make it home before fixing it.
On a happy note, Dr. Cadman says there has been a 60 per cent reduction in lower leg fractures thanks to improved bindings.
As for deaths, the pattern has changed.
"We're not seeing as many 'speed' kills, but we're now seeing mountaineering-type injuries where people have gone exploring into the backcountry," he explains.