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Ski/Snowboarding Injuries and Prevention: Brought to you by the American College of Sports Medicine

Roy, Brad A. Ph.D., FACSM, FACHE; Stimpson, Kim M.D.

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000002
DEPARTMENTS: Fitness Focus

This copy-and-share column discusses ski/snowboarding injuries and prevention.

Brad A. Roy, Ph.D., FACSM, FACHE, is an administrator/executive director at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. He is responsible for The Summit Medical Fitness Center, a 114,800 sq ft medical fitness center located in Kalispell, Montana, and a number of other hospital departments. He is the editor of the Medical Fitness Association’s Standards and Guidelines for Medical Fitness Center Facilities and a past board chairman for the Medical Fitness Association.

Kim Stimpson, M.D., is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon practicing at Northwest Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Kalispell, MT. Dr. Stimpson received his medical degree from the Medical College of Ohio and, following his residency at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Cleveland, OH, completed a sports medicine fellowship at New England Medical Baptist Hospital in Brookline, MD. Dr. Stimpson has been in practice for 22 years.

With the arrival of winter, many people head to the ski slopes for some fun physical activity. Although the overall injury rate is low, a few individuals will find their weekly physical activity routines significantly impacted because of banged heads, dislocated shoulders, broken wrists, and mangled knees. Exactly the last thing highly active people want to have happen — prolonged rest and recovery from a preventable incident.

Each year, in the United States, a little more than half a million people incur a ski-related injury, translating to an estimated risk of two injuries per 1,000 skier days or 0.2%. Snowboarders have a slightly higher injury risk of 0.4%. Deaths are very rare, occurring at a rate of 0.71 per million skier days and most frequently occur on groomed slopes from high-speed collisions with other people and fixed objects such as trees, lift accidents, and falls. Some groups have a greater risk than others with children more frequently injured than adults. Females have a higher incidence of ski injuries than men, but their male counterparts more frequently have severe injuries. Snowboarders are two times as likely to incur a fracture when they get hurt compared with a skier. There are a number of issues that predispose people to injury, including:

  • Lack of proper preseason conditioning
  • Fatigue (time skiing/boarding without rest) and dehydration
  • Poor judgment (boarding/skiing beyond ability level; going off trail or out-of-bounds)
  • Improper/faulty/poor fitting equipment
  • Failure to observe posted warning signs
  • Inadequate adjustment to altitude

Fortunately, there are a number of steps people can take to avoid being a passenger in the ski patrol sled and missing precious activity days recovering from an injury. The following tips will help keep your winter mountain adventure enjoyable.

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Fitness and Conditioning

A well-rounded physical conditioning program should be initiated before the season arrives. Many fitness facilities offer preseason ski conditioning classes. If your conditioning is not quite there, start with easier runs and gradually increase the difficulty as your conditioning and skill improve throughout the season.

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Proper Equipment and Clothing

Using equipment that fits and is adjusted appropriately is critical to reducing injury risk. It is never a good idea to borrow equipment that is not specifically fitted to the person using it. Layer light, loose, and water/wind-resistant clothing for warmth and protection.

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Proper Instruction

Injury risk is greater in beginners, people with poor technique, and those who have acquired bad habits. Proper instruction and progressive skill development are important preventive steps and should be considered.

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Cold stiff muscles are more prone to injury. Start gradually with some walking, calisthenics, and easy runs to warm up your body before trying more challenging runs.

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Stay Within Your Ability

While tempting, it is best to avoid the persuasion to attempt slopes or speeds beyond your skill level because this dramatically increases injury risk to you and others.

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If You’re Going to Fall, Fall Down

Trying to stop a fall only increases your rigidity and likelihood of incurring an injury. When you start to fall, go with it, stay down, and don’t try to get up until you’re finished.

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Wear a Helmet

Although helmets do not decrease the risk of incurring a ski or boarding injury, they can reduce the severity of injury.

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Know When to Stop

A high percentage of injuries occur in the afternoon when fatigue sets in. “One more run” is not always the best choice.

Skiing, snowboarding, and a host of other winter activities are excellent ways to add variety to your exercise program and enjoyment to the winter months. Advanced preparation with a good physical conditioning program and following some basic guidelines will help keep these activities fun and minimize the chance of injury.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine.