Is Skiing an Extreme Sport?

by Alaina Johnson | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

If you've gone skiing in the winter, you may have noticed that some other skiers on the mountain seem to take it to the next level. Maybe you're just participating recreationally and working on cleaning up your technique while some people are

Depending on how you choose to ski, it may be classified under the umbrella of extreme sports. Freestyle skiing is considered the most extreme level of the sport and is also included in the Winter Olympics. Regular recreational skiing isn't often considered extreme unless the skier is taking on the backcountry with previously untouched snow. The risk is heightened in this situation, as one may encounter rocks and other hard obstacles.

Athlete Skier

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What Makes an Extreme Sport "Extreme"?

Free Rider

Extreme sports are oftentimes characterized by both high speed and high risk. Anytime an individual is moving at a very high rate of speed, they lose some sense of control — thus increasing the risk of a collision or other accident.

Rarely will you see a sport labeled as "extreme" within the scope of the mainstream traditional sporting world. These sports are often operating outside of these boundaries due to the higher risk that participants are undertaking if they choose to participate.

In fact, one of the definitions of an extreme sport is one that includes the participant needing to accept the potential of a severe injury or even death as part of the activity. When compared to the relatively safe sport of swimming, one can see how careening down the side of a snowy mountain on a snowboard would be considered inherently more extreme.

When talking about extreme sports, people often mention:

Regular Skiing Vs. Freestyle Skiing

Freestyle Skier

Freestyle skiing can be compared to skateboarding as it often involves many similar tricks and stunts — just on the snowy mountain instead of the skate park. Freestyle skiing is an Olympic sport, making it one of the more popularly accepted extreme sports.

Regular skiing can mean different things to different people depending on their experience and skill level. A casual day of hitting the slopes isn't without risk of injury. Statistically, however, that possibility is relatively low when compared to other sports.

Alpine skiing is often considered the norm when people are discussing their winter plans and it's often characterized by resorts with marked trails that are groomed by professionals to ensure their safety. There is still a chance of injury, but not a serious one as there are no obstacles for a skier to potentially crash into.

Freestyle skiing involves acrobatic moves such as large jumps and twists, which when done properly look impressive and when done incorrectly, can result in a broken neck or another serious injury. You may find a section at your ski resort with rails and small jumps, which allow guests to practice some tricks in a controlled environment.

Different Types of Extreme Skiing

The most common and popularly accepted style of extreme skiing is freestyle. However, there are times when skiing at high speeds in the backcountry could be considered an extreme style of skiing.

The backcountry poses higher risks of possible avalanches, large rocks, and other obstacles that could potentially cause a fatal accident for skiers. Combining all of this with skiing at a high rate of speed can turn a casual day on the slopes into an adrenaline-pumping experience that's not for the faint of heart.

Extreme skiing isn't for everyone and many people are satisfied with a day spent practicing their beginner or intermediate skills before heading back to the lodge for a warm drink by the fire. However, for those who are seeking a more thrilling adventure — extreme skiing may be the way to go.

Some other styles of extreme skiing include:

  • Heli-skiing — Participants use a helicopter to reach a remote area of the mountainside. Skiers often drop in from the helicopter before skiing down the backcountry.
  • Snowkiting — In this form of extreme skiing, skiers are harnessed to a large kite that helps the individual catch big air. This is a popular option when skiing in particularly rocky terrain, as skiers can simply jump the rocks when necessary.
  • Ski base jumping — Similar to regular base jumping, skiers will fly off the mountainside on their skis before detaching and deploying a parachute.
  • Ski gliding — This is basically the same as paragliding, except with skis. The skier will be strapped to a hang glider and will then ski off of a cliff.
  • Speed skiing — This sport has been referenced as the fastest non-motorized sport in the world, with athletes often surpassing 120 MPH.

Is Skiing Actually Dangerous?

Due to the nature of an extreme sport, freestyle and other forms of extreme skiing are considered dangerous and high risk. If there was no danger or the possibility of injury, the sport would lose its "extremeness."

However, if you're a recreational skier who enjoys hitting the slopes with your friends — wearing a helmet can greatly reduce your risk of a potentially life-threatening injury. You also won't have to worry about any protruding rocks or trees when you're going down a freshly plowed slope at a ski resort.

Extreme skiing could lead to a wide variety of potential injuries, ranging from chipped teeth to a broken spine. If a skier is trapped in an avalanche, they have a small window of time to be located and rescued before the situation becomes fatal.

During the 2014 Sochi Olympics, nearly half of the aerial freestyle skiers reported some type of injury. When compared to hockey's 11% from the same Olympics, you can see how risky freestyle skiing is compared to a notoriously violent sport.

While a sport such as snowboarding often accounts for a higher number of injuries, skiing accidents tend to be more serious and/or deadly when they do occur. Most deaths that occur in skiing are due to a high-speed collision with a fixed object, such as a rock or a tree.

How to Get Started With Freestyle Skiing

Ski Jump
Photo by Planetxau licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you're interested in taking on the challenge of freestyle skiing, you'll want to ensure that you have plenty of experience beforehand. This isn't a sport for beginners who are just learning the basic skills and finding their balance on the slopes.

The key to entering the world of freestyle skiing is starting with easier tricks and then working your way up. Some skiers even begin at the gym where they learn their aerial rotations on their feet before transferring to skis — as it helps them to understand the dynamics of their body in the air.

Practicing low jumps can be a big help to those new to this specific style of skiing, as catching air is a large portion of what freestyle is. Many of the tricks involve the skier being airborne and contorting their body into a series of turns and rotations.

Checking out the rails at your local ski resort can be a great way for a newcomer to find out if freestyle could be for them. From there, you can seek out a specialized terrain park that allows for skiers and snowboarders alike to test out their skills on a larger scale.