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The question that every mother or concerned new skier wants to be answered is; Is skiing really dangerous? Is it worth the risk and should I let my kid go on that ski trip? Here’s the honest answer:
Skiing is dangerous if you go about it wrong or you happen to be very unlucky, and it’s safe if you wear a helmet, ski responsibly, and be smart about how you learn. In the US out of 51 million skiing days, an average of 41 people die per year skiing, 44 suffer serious injury (paralysis, head trauma, etc) [source]
Medical Disclaimer: The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
In other words, skiing is double-edged when it comes to danger. If you take the wrong path (figuratively and metaphorically) then yes it can be very dangerous. But if you follow the advice from more experienced skiers, listen to your ski instructor, and don’t be stupid on the slopes – then you’re quite safe.
That’s not saying that a freak accident couldn’t seriously hurt you – the fact is skiing is an outdoor sport and anything COULD happen that may endanger your life.
Is it more dangerous than driving a car? No
By now you must be wondering, what are the main dangers? Read on and I’ll lay them out for you and then explain how you can mitigate them.
What Are The Main Danger With Skiing?
- Hitting rocks, trees, or other people.
- Getting hit by another skier or snowboarder.
- Failing over and hitting your head, breaking a bone, or twisting a joint.
- Getting seriously sunburnt.
- Snow blindness.
- Falling into tree wells.
How To Avoid Danger While Skiing
There are plenty of ways to stay safe on the mountain. Here are my top tips for keeping yourself intact.
1. Wear A Helmet
Wearing a helmet is a smart choice, studies show that it has reduced head injuries by 30-50%. Unfortunately, fatalities have not been significantly reduced (source), which underscores the importance of NOT taking more risks, just because you’re wearing a helmet.
I cover everything you need to know about this topic in this article: 5 Essential Reasons to Wear a Ski Helmet
2. Never Stop Where Oncoming Skiers Can’t See You
This includes below a hill or in the path of any skiers that won’t see you. Advanced skiers move at speed, and they are very good at reacting to slow skiers ahead – but there is only so much time to react. If they can’t see you until they’re on top of you, it’s too late.
Stop at the side of pistes only when there is clear visibility to oncoming traffic.
If you’re in a clear spot, don’t worry too much about approaching skies. unless it’s very clear that they are about to hit you, don’t try to second-guess their movements.
Getting scared and moving uncontrollably, means that the approaching skies may be more likely to hit you.
In busy sections try to make your turns in a clear pattern. When the slope is less populated you can be more free and creative with your movements and turn shapes.
3. Learn To Control Your Speed
Controlling your speed is an essential skiing skill and without learning how to slow down and speed up depending on the situation, you can pose a danger to yourself and others.
4. Learn To Stop
Learn to stop before you go on anything steeper than a baby slope. It is the first thing you should learn to keep yourself safe and make skiing more enjoyable.
5. Take Ski lessons
Take ski lessons.
6. Know Your Trail Colors
Every skier should know the meaning of trail color signs. Knowing whether you’re on a green, blue, red, or black slope is paramount for your safety. Pick a wrong slope and you can be in serious trouble.
7. Wear Your Ski Boots Snug
Make sure your ski boots are snug. Well-fitting ski boots are pretty important.
8. Avoid Sking Too Close To Trees
Only venture off-piste or backcountry skiing when you’re a confident skier. Never go too close to trees as it’s all too easy to fall into a tree well, get stuck, and suffocate.
9. Avoid skiing in whiteouts
Skiing when it’s snowing is fun, but as visibility approaches zero, then hitting other skiers or straying off the groomed slopes becomes more and more of a possibility. Ski with caution and seek shelter in a blizzard.
10. Other Ways To Be Safe
- Wear strong sun protection & lip balm.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration affects judgment & stamina.
- Wear sunglasses or ski goggles. The sun is fierce at altitude.
- Everything You NEED to Pack
Ski Injury Statistics
Skiing and snowboarding enjoy an excellent safety record. Skiing and snowboarding are less dangerous than other high-energy participation sports, and less so than some common activities.National Ski Areas Association / Facts about Skiing Safety.
To keep the skiing statistic in perspective / although this is not statically significant because fewer people ski.
|35,900 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents;|
|5,300 pedestrians were killed;|
|8,600 died from unintentional public falls;|
|4,500 died from unintentional public poisoning;|
|2,400 people drowned while swimming in public areas;|
|2,400 people drowned while swimming in public areas;|
Is Skiing Getting Safer or More Dangerous?
Skiing is getting safer
The overall rate of reported skiing injuries has declined by 50 percent since the early 1970s.National Ski Areas Association / Facts about Skiing Safety.
The most significant danger historically was breaking a leg while skiing, since the 1970s incidents have declined by 95%. This is most likely due to improvements to the ski boot, which have lengthened considerably to safely lock in the ankle and heel.
Great ankle support in modern boots is protecting many skiers from suffering broken bones or torn joints.
Who Is Most At Risk?
Most fatalities occur in the same demographics that participate in other high-risk behaviors. The majority of ski fatalities are male (80%) who are between their late teens to later 30’s (70%).
Crucially it is not beginners who are most at risk, but above-average skiers moving at speed on the edges of blue & red runs. [source: NSAA]
Although it is possible, in my estimation that beginners who stop dangerously on the piste or ski into oncoming traffic without looking, contribute to this.
How To Prevent Knee Injury
Knees are one area that many skiers worry about and your chance of a knee injury is now much lower due to advances in ski bindings – there is still a small risk. To protect yourself:
- Build your muscles with strength training before your ski trip.
- Stretch and warm up your body before skiing each day.
- Rest when tired – listen to your body.
- Ski within your limits – only tack slopes that match your ability.
If you want more practical tips, read my full article on preventing knee injuries.
Why I Nearly Died The First Time I Went Skiing
The first time I went up the mountain, I was young and naive. It was a complete WIPEOUT, a snow blizzard and the lifts were just about to close.
I was new to skiing, and I had no idea what I was doing. I went up with a friend, thinking that I’d learn it on my own and be fine. I had no instructor and neither I nor my friend knew the first thing about skiing.
We took the gondola to the top of the mountain and then we took a chairlift further up to the top of the baby slope. Then we attempted to ski down…there was so little visibility that I could barely see anything but my own hands and the tops of my boots.
I couldn’t tell what was the sky and what was the ground. The only way I knew how to stop was to fall over.
The gondola wasn’t far, so after the first run, my friend wisely jumped on it and went back down to the safety of the town. Instead of doing the smart thing and getting on that lift, I stubbornly choose to ski down the main run all the way back down to the town. It took me 2 hours of horrible skiing to make it back down, tumbling over more times than I could count (it should take a competent skier only 20 minutes).
At some point, I had un-knowingly skied off-piste and nearly flew off a ravine. Luckily I stopped just in time and managed to take my skis off and walk back to safety. I found out afterward that the lifts had closed just after I reached the top, due to bad weather.
I made so many mistakes it’s hard to believe now, that happened. That day taught me a valuable lesson: know what you’re getting yourself into & never ski in a whiteout if you’re a new skier.
The Truth About Falling Over On Skis
Despite my scary story above, most falls on skis are pretty harmless and all part of the fun of learning. Stick to shallow gradients as you learn and only progress onto steeper blue and red runs when you have the agility, muscle memory, and confidence to ski at this level. Confidence is an important part of skiing, but over-confidence can be dangerous.
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