Fun And Dangerous : Common Skier and Snowboarder Injuries

Fun And Dangerous : Common Skier and Snowboarder Injuries

Today I'm going to tackle some of the risk factors that all you mountain-goers face when you hit the hill. (No pun intended).

Skiing is one of my favorite things to do.  It's also one of the reasons that I live in Vail, and it's also the reason I see many, many patients every year who need surgery on their skiing injuries.

Yes, skiing is an amazing, rewarding, fun activity.  But it sure can hurt!

Epic Popularity Led to an Epic Rise in Common Snowboarder Injuries

Additionally, we have the positively epic rise in snowboarding over the past thirty years, which has led to more people on the mountain and a slew of additional injuries.

Snowboarders slide down the hill sideways, as you know, and this different technique at approaching the mountain results in some different types injuries, as well.

Go Huge, Get Hurt

Factor in the propensity for snowboarders (and some of our bolder skiers) to launch themselves off of jumps and slide down metal rails in "the park", and you've got yourself a recipe for even more injuries. 

What Are The Risk Factors in Skier and Snowboarder Injuries?

So let’s get into it. Today I'm going to tackle some of the risk factors that all you mountain-goers face when you hit the hill. (No pun intended). I've given this talk many times in the Vail area and all over the world.

Let's get it started..

Skier Injury Rates

More jumps equals more injuries. Just sayin'...

More jumps equals more injuries. Just sayin'...

Here are some numbers for you.

  • We see 2 to 3 injuries per 1,000 skier days

  • More than 20,000 people are skiing on any given day at Vail Mountain

Ok, so this doesn't sound like a lot at first glance...

But do the math, and you've got up to 60 people injured per day. Add that up over a course of a season, and you can certainly see that we have a whole bunch of skiers and snowboarders getting injured on the mountain.

And remember, that's ONLY at Vail!

Add up all the resorts in the U.S. alone, and you start to deal with some pretty hefty numbers.

What are the most common injuries for skiers?

Good questions. Here's the answer:

  • For the upper extremities the most common injuries are wrist and shoulder injuries.

  • For the lower lower extremities, we see knee ligaments being injured most often.

Injury Patterns In Recreational Alpine Skiing

Let's talk percentages here and show the *numbers:

  • Knee injuries = 43%

  • Shoulder = 12%

  • Thumb = 8%

*regardless of skier level

sn0wboarder injury rates

The injury rate for snowboarders remains slightly higher than in skiers.

Why is this? Several factors:

  • Snowboarding has a younger demographic

  • Snowboarders are (generally) less experienced than skiers

  • Snowboarders are more likely to be female. This adds another layer to the discussion. (For more on the risk factors unique to females athletes, please visit

  • Snowboarders are more likely to frequent terrain parks. Snowboarders have a 3x higher rate of being injured in the park than skiers.

Injury Patterns In Recreational Snowboarding

Let's look at the numbers for snowboarders when it comes to injuries*

  • Wrist injuries = 18%

  • Shoulder = 14%

  • Knee = 13%

  • Ankle = 13%

*beginning snowboarders are more likely to incur these injuries

Raising the Risk: Terrain Park Injuries in Skiers and Snowboarders

Ah yes, "the park". Pretty much every mountain in the US has added a terrain park to cater to the throngs of snowboarders (and skiers) who want to jump, slide, and launch their bodies in ways we never thought possible.

1080-back-reverse-pretzel flip, anyone? These kids are having fun, for sure.

Now let's talk about injuries. First of all, one of the major factors that increases injury rates (and severity) are the massive aerial features that the youngsters are launching in an effort to feel a little extra stoke. The larger the drop, the higher the injury rates and severity! No surprise there.

Now let's talk about the relative risk of injury in the Park based on the specific activity:

  1. Rails - 1

  2. Half-pipe- 9.6

  3. Jumps - 4.3

  4. Mushroom 2.3

  5. Kickers 2

What does a high (injury) risk skier look like?


We’ve all got an image in our head of the skiing “Jerry” who looks like they just wandered onto the hill off the street, wearing improper clothing and swinging their skis around, threatening to decapitate anyone within reach. Well, this stereotype isn’t too far off when it comes to the injury-prone.

Our highest risk skier looks like this:

  • Beginner

  • Wearing rented skis which are often improperly adjusted

  • Not wearing a helmet or wrist guards

  • Haven't had lessons or learned proper technique

And the chance of injury increases when they are dealing with the following factors:

  • Flat light

  • No Snowfall in the Past 24 Hours

  • Limited Grooming

  • No Rest Or Hydration For 3 Hours (this is a big one!)

  • Skiing Above Their Level Of Ability

Shoulder Injuries in Skiing and Snowboarding

When we compare snowboarding and skiing, we see that the upper extremity is injured twice as much in snowboarding than in alpine skiing. 

  • In skiing, shoulder injures are 1/3 of all upper extremity injuries

  • In snowboarding, shoulder injuries are 1/4 of all upper extremity injuries

Knowing is Half the Battle, Jerry

Now you know some more about skiing and snowboarding injuries. So if you go out with a beginning skier, help them out! Make sure they are taking breaks. Help them adjust their equipment. Encourage them to learn proper technique. Help them be safe in the park or pipe, or stay out of there completely. And do the same for yourself.

Stay safe!

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