It’s Official – Skiing is More Dangerous Than Snowboarding

Rider: Mads Jonsson Photo: Jeff Curtes

Regular Whitelines writer Chris Moran had an article published in the Guardian this week, and we thought you lot might have an opinion on. So here it is!


It’s Official – Skiing is More Dangerous Than Snowboarding

Enmity on the slopes between the rival winter sports tribes of the skier and the snowboarder is long running – and now further dispute has been prompted by a study on which one is the most dangerous. A statistician working with the American National Ski Area Association claims to have settled it: snowboarding is safer in terms of risk of serious injury, he says.

Jasper Shealy from the Rochester Institute of Technology studied injury and fatality data collected over 30 years and concludes that while snowboarders are between 50 to 70% more likely to sustain injuries, they are also around one-third less likely to be killed on the slopes than those skiing.

“Skiing victims are generally late teens to late forties males, better than average skiers, who have a high speed impact with a tree on the margins of groomed trails,” said Shealy, speaking as Winter 2011 shapes up to be a bumper year on the slopes with the heavy snowfall since November prompting European and North American resorts to open earlier than planned.

Skiing’s lower injury count can be attributed to “better maintained equipment, better standards for equipment, and the use of helmets,” said Shealy. The broken leg, a common injury in the 1970s is today “almost nonexistent, if a skier’s binding is appropriately set, adjusted and well-maintained.”

He adds: “When a snowboard rider falls, the board acts like a sea anchor, so they’re slowing before they get to the tree, rock or other fixed object. Skiers tend to slide further when they fall.”

Spencer Claridge, who organises the British Skiing and Snowboarding Championships, thinks the fatalities are explained by the differences in the sports. “If you can walk you can ski, so it’s easy to get out of control and go careering into a tree at a rate of knots. Learning how to go fast on a snowboard takes longer.”

James Stentiford, a pro snowboarder on the Freeride World Tour believes the culture of snowboarding is different too. “Skiing is often about racing, even if it’s just to see who’s the first back home. Snowboarders are more focussed on manoeuvres: jumps and tricks, which are done at a slower pace. Though naturally, it’s easier to get hurt doing them.”

Shealy’s report has its opponents. Cat Weakley, deputy editor of the Daily Mail Ski and Snowboard Magazine, said it focussed on the wrong data. “I don’t think either sport is intrinsically more dangerous than the other. It depends on the skier or snowboarder as a person – if he or she is cautious or reckless.”

The study does have one piece of uncontroversial good news: head injuries have declined by 50% since 1999, a statistic attributed to the increase in helmets being worn on the slopes. “I think a few high-profile head injuries have helped spread the word,” says Stentiford. “Here in Chamonix [France], you see people with a backpack, goggles and a helmet. It’s the mountain uniform now.”

The injury report comes out against a mixed picture for the snow sports industry. “I wouldn’t say there was downward trend in sales, but we’re definitely seeing a change in booking trends,” says Lisa Tyrrell of Inghams Holidays. “People are booking later, and are preferring to stick to the classic European resorts in France and Austria especially.”

Jessica Prior of says her users are becoming internet savvy when it comes to the best snow. “Our members on the forums are reporting exceptional snow in Breckenridge [Colorado], Jackson Hole [Wyoming], Mammoth [California], and in the French Alps. Things like airport transfers have been hot topics on the forums as people hunt the best conditions using low cost airlines and late accommodation deals.”

And perhaps climate change is having an effect. Skiing columnist Gabriella Le Breton says she has never seen so much snow so early, though the conditions have been changeable “The temperatures have been erratic. I went from minus 33 in Gstaad [Switzerland], to plus 3 degrees in Val d’Isere [France], in a matter of days. But such melt-freeze cycles make for a solid base to ski on.”

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