It’s Like a Motorcycle Accident on Skis: How to Stay Safe on the Mountain

January 3, 2024
family of skiers

It’s no secret that Colorado is a hub for the millions of skiers who come from all over the world to enjoy the exhilarating sport.

Enjoying the sport to its fullest means being aware of the safety risks involved and how to mitigate them. Skiing accidents are common and can be as serious as motorcycle accidents. The overall injury rate is 2.6 injuries per 1,000 skier days, according to a nine-year alpine injury study.

Understanding the Risks

The frequency of skiing accidents can vary based on skill level, terrain difficulty, and adherence to safety guidelines. Some of the most common types of accidents involve:

  • High-Speed Collisions. Skiing involves navigating downhill at high speeds, and collisions with other skiers or obstacles can result in severe injuries.
  • Terrain Hazards. Uneven terrain, moguls, and hidden obstacles pose significant threats. Skiers may encounter trees, rocks, or other hazards that can lead to accidents and injuries.
  • Equipment Failures. Faulty or improperly adjusted equipment can contribute to accidents. Regularly check and maintain your ski gear, ensuring that bindings are adjusted correctly, and all equipment is in good condition.
  • Skill Level. Skill level plays a crucial role in determining the likelihood of ski accidents. Novice skiers, unfamiliar with proper technique and inexperienced in navigating challenging terrain, are more susceptible to falls and collisions. Pushing beyond one’s skill level to conquer advanced terrain may lead to accidents.

Common Trauma and Injuries

Skiers need to be aware of common ski traumas and injuries, including:

Head Injuries

Head injuries are a serious concern in skiing accidents. Concussions and other head traumas, such as scalp lacerations, can occur in accidents involving high speeds, falls, or collisions. Most injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet.

Orthopedic Injuries

Fractures, sprains, tears such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and strains are common in skiing accidents, especially in the lower limbs. Dr. Marc Doucette, MD, said he often sees knee ligamentous injuries, wrist fractures (especially in snowboarders), collar bone fractures, lower leg fractures, femur fractures, and shoulder dislocations or separations.

Cold-Related Injuries

Exposure to cold temperatures can lead to conditions like frostbite or hypothermia.

Avalanche Related Injuries

Avalanche injuries pose a significant risk to skiers and backcountry enthusiasts, including traumatic injuries such as fractures, dislocations, and contusions, as well as risks of asphyxiation and hypothermia.

Tips to Avoid Injuries

  • Know Your Limits. Understand your skiing abilities and choose slopes that match your skill level.
  • Prepare Your Body. Skiing is physically demanding, and fatigue can increase the risk of accidents. Stay hydrated and fuel your body with nutritious snacks to maintain energy levels. 
  • Take Breaks. Take a break if you start feeling fatigued or notice signs of exhaustion. Listen to your body and rest when needed.
  • Follow the Rules. Adhere to the rules and guidelines of the ski resort. Respect the right of way, obey speed limits, and follow any posted signs or warnings.
  • Wear Appropriate Safety Gear and Protection. Wearing a helmet is a crucial safety measure that can significantly reduce the risk of head trauma.

Skiing is a fun and rewarding sport, but it’s essential to approach it with caution and awareness of the potential risks. Dr. Doucette added that skiers “should always be aware of your surroundings when skiing and snowboarding. Keep your distance from other skiers and fixed objects like rocks and trees, and always maintain control. Have fun but be careful!”

Content previously shared in The Denver Post