Ways to stay safe while participating in snow sports

Skiing and snowboarding are excellent recreational and competitive sports. Every year, these sports are becoming more and more popular.

The good news is that the rate of injury in snow sports has declined every decade since the 1980s. This is in part due to advances in ski and snowboard equipment, boots and bindings. People are also more accepting of safety gear such as helmets.

But even still, let’s not underestimate the dangers of snow sports.

Snowboarders are more likely than skiers to sustain a more serious injury, including fracture and concussion. Snowboarders are also most likely to have an upper extremity injury like a broken wrist, collarbone or shoulder. Skiers are more likely to have lower extremity injuries like a sprained knee, ACL tear or fracture. And head and neck traumas in both sports remain the most common cause of fatality.

So how do you stay safe on the mountain?  Here are a few things you can do to dramatically reduce your chances of injury:

  • Know your limits. Based on my experience as an orthopedist in Vail, Colo., there were very few injuries and broken bones before noon, while the afternoon was ripe with them. Many people want that “one last run” even if their legs are dead tired. This is a recipe for injury.
  • Wear a helmet. In fact, if you don’t wear a helmet, you are the minority. Approximately 75 percent of skiers and snowboarders wear a helmet. They are not only comfortable and warm, they are effective at preventing head trauma. A helmet reduces minor to moderate head trauma by 30 to 50 percent.
  • Wear other protective gear. For snowboarders the risk of wrist fracture is high. Wrist guards can dramatically reduce risk of injury. Proper clothing is also critical. Dress appropriately for the weather as you head out, and be prepared for changes.
  • Respect your equipment. It’s important to have well-fitting and functioning equipment. If your bindings don’t release when needed, or release when not appropriate, this increases your risk of serious injury. A simple pre-season equipment tune up can keep you out of the hospital.

It’s also very important to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol while on the slopes.

When done correctly, snow sports are fun and safe. Every year is better than the last in safety numbers.  Follow these simple, common sense recommendations and you will likely be able to have years of enjoyment.

Benjamin Petre, MD, Anne Arundel Medical Center

By Benjamin Petre, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at AAMC Orthopedics. He is also the team physician for the U.S. Ski Team, U.S. Snowboard Team, Baltimore Orioles, Bowie BaySox, and Annapolis High School. To reach him, call 410-268-8862.

Originally published Jan. 28, 2018. Last updated Jan. 6, 2020.

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