Snowboarding

This archived article is from March 2006. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

Snowboarding is one of the fasting growing winter sports. The appeal of the sport is often the risk associated with it. Younger people who enjoy "living on the edge" like the freedom that comes with the speed, the jumps and the daring board tricks.

According to the Canadian Ski Council, in the 2004-2005 season there were 800,000 Canadian snowboarders aged 12 and over. Although a diverse range of people enjoy the sport, 60 percent of snowboarders are male and 77 percent are 24 years of age or younger.

Preventing Injuries

As boarding continues to gather enthusiasts, its increasing popularity is leading to more injuries.

While the number of snowboarding injuries has not surpassed those related to skiing (three to four injuries per 1,000 exposure days for both), boarding injuries are usually more severe. US data show that 38 per cent of snowboarding injuries are fractures, as opposed to 15 per cent for skiing.

The Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRRP) collects data for children seen at the emergency rooms of 16 hospitals. Snowboarding cases per 10,000 injuries rose from less than one in 1990 to over 111 in 2000. Eighty-eight per cent of the children injured while snowboarding were between the ages of 10 and 19, and 80 per cent of those injured were boys. Half of the injuries were fractures, of which over 40 per cent were to the arm.

Jumps are the most exciting part of snowboarding. Not surprisingly, they also result in the most injuries - the higher the jump, the more severe the possible injury. Poorly performed jumps are the most frequent cause of concussions and broken wrists.

The most common injuries are to the arms, ankles and wrists, followed by the head and knees. The injuries can be very serious, causing long-term physical (and sometimes mental) disability. Head injuries are usually a result of falling backwards onto hard snow. Arms, wrists and hands are often hurt when boarders use them to break falls. The safer way to break a fall is to fall on the fists.

Learning how to fall properly is fundamental. Snowboarders should take lessons to learn techniques that will reduce their chances of injury.

Helmets

In the US, the debate about wearing helmets on the slopes got going in 1997. That winter, Michael Kennedy, son of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, died when he hit a tree while skiing in Colorado. Less than a week later, singer and Congressman Sonny Bono was killed in a similar incident in Lake Tahoe.

In 1999, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a report showing that helmet use by skiers and snowboarders could prevent or reduce the severity of 44 percent of head injuries to adults, and 53 percent of head injuries to children under the age of 15. From 1993 to 1997, the number of American snowboarders rose 55 per cent. During the same period, snowboarding injuries nearly tripled and the number of head injuries from snowboarding increased five-fold.

The CPSC findings are consistent with a 1986 Swedish study which found that head injuries among skiers wearing helmets were 50 per cent lower than for skiers not wearing helmets. A Norwegian study published in 2006 found that using a helmet was associated with a 60 percent reduction in the risk of a head injury.

A new CSA standard for alpine and snowboard helmets is scheduled for completion in 2008.

Jumps

You need intense control to jump and land safely. However, by practicing again and again, you can significantly lower your chance of injury. Start by perfecting your jumping technique. Then, you can learn, practice and perform more difficult tricks.

If you are a beginner, learn to "ollie" on flat snow. Jump up on the board without going over an actual jump. The front edge of the board must come up higher than the back edge and you should land on a downward slope. A flat landing can hurt the ankles, knees and back. Practice ollies until you're comfortable and then move to a sloped groomed run no higher than about half a metre (one to two feet). Always check out landings before jumping and approach with a flat board, not your edge.

When you jump, do an ollie to give yourself a boost. In the air, keep your body upright and immediately look for a spot to land. Land flat on the board and bend your knees to absorb the shock. Once you master the smaller jumps, you can move to bigger ones, but always pace yourself.

Despite the benefits of helmet use, many snowboarders maintain a cavalier attitude about using them.