Snowboarding and Skiing Injuries

Abstract & Commentary

Synopsis: As compared to skiing, snowboarding presents a relatively high risk for injuries, especially serious injuries. This study specifically documents the risk scenario for first-time skiers and snowboarders.

Source: O’Neill D, McGlone M. Injury risk in first-time snowboarders versus first-time skiers. Am J Sports Med 1999;27:94-97.

O’Neill and McGlone studied the incidence of injuries in first-time skiers and snowboarders at two major ski resorts in New Hampshire between 1994 and 1996. They recorded a comparative risk profile among beginner (first-time) participants in both sports. The incidence of injuries was equal in the two groups (4%), but the incidence of injuries requiring emergency treatment was significantly higher in the snowboarders (42% vs 16%). Also, upper extremity injuries occurred more commonly in snowboarders than in skiers (53% vs 21%). They conclude not only that snowboarding poses a greater threat for serious injury but also that "this rate should diminish with the use of helmets and wrist guards."

Comment by Stephen B. Gunther, MD

The rising popularity of snowboarding has brought with it a new source of musculoskeletal injuries. O’Neill and McGlone present a well-controlled cohort study in which all participants were beginners in a "learn to" program with rental equipment and a certified lesson. It is valuable to document the incidence of injuries in each sport (4%) for beginners, and the relatively greater risk for "serious" injuries in snowboarders. The injury profile for intermediate and advanced participants is another important variable. There is also a need to document specific injury patterns and fractures as well as to further delineate the severity of injury.

Injury prevention is the most important corollary to epidemiological studies. Physicians, participants, and members of the ski industry must carefully evaluate these types of data. The use of helmets may decrease the risk of serious injuries, but education and awareness are equally important. Clinical studies in the future should aim to test the efficacy of protective equipment as well as to further document injury patterns. Biomechanical studies are also helpful. The take-home point from this study is that injuries occur even in beginners, and that safety is an important issue.