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  Slope Safety--"Facts About Skiing/Snowboard Safety"

by Bill Jones, Ski Instructor
Certified Professional Ski Instructor (Registration #110478), Level III
private ski lessons at Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, other areas

An article presented by the National Ski Areas Association, an industry group. Text is found at

Facts About Skiing/Snowboarding Safety
Updated March 2006

Skiing and snowboarding are no more dangerous than other high-energy participation sports, and less so than some common activities. However, they are challenging and require physical skills that are only learned over time with practice. The sports involve some inherent risk, but in some measure, it is that risk that entices most skiers and riders to pursue the sport.

Statistics on skiing/snowboarding
Fatalities - According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA): During the past 10 years, about 38 people have died skiing/snowboarding per year on average. During the 2004/2005 season, 45 fatalities occurred out of the 56.9 million skier/snowboarder days reported for the season. Thirty of the fatalities were skiers (39 male, 6 female) and 15 of the fatalities were snowboarders (14 male, 1 female). The rate of fatality was .80 per million skier/snowboarder visits.

Note: A skier/snowboarder visit represents one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night and includes full-day, half-day, night, complimentary, adult, child, season and any other ticket types that gives one the use of an area's facility.

Serious Injuries - Serious injuries (paraplegics, serious head and other serious injuries) occur at the rate of about 42 per year, according to the NSAA. In the 2004/05 season, there were 45 serious injuries. Twenty-four of these serious injuries were skiers (18 males, 6 females) and 21 were snowboarders (19 males, 2 females). The rate of serious injury in 2004/05 was .80 per million skier/snowboarder visits.

Comparative statistics to other sports
Death rates experienced in different activities are sometimes difficult to compare because of different ways of expressing exposure to risk. Below skiing/snowboarding fatalities per million are presented based on “visits” (can be referred to as days of participation) and by participants. Drowning due to swimming and fatalities related to bicycling are also listed below.

Skiing/snowboarding (11/05)

  • 2004 number of fatalities* 45
  • Number of participants (in millions)** 12.2
  • Fatalities per million participants 3.69
  • Days of participation (in millions)* 56.9
  • Fatalities per days of participation rate (per million) .79


  • 2004 number of fatalities*** 2,900
    (Drowning: Includes drownings of person swimming or playing in water, or falling into water, except on home premises or at work. Excludes drownings involving boats, which are in water transportation)
  • 2004 Number of participants (in millions)** 53.4
  • Fatalities per million participants 54.3
  • Days of participation (in millions)** 2294
  • Fatalities per days of participation rate (per million) 1.26

Bicycling (resulting from collisions with motor vehicles)

  • 2004 number of fatalities*** 900
  • Number of participants (in millions)** 40.3
  • Fatalities per million participants 22.3
  • Days of participation (in millions)** 2,379
  • By days of participation rate (per million) .38

* National Ski Areas Association
** National Sporting Goods Association (Sports Participation, 2004 edition)
***National Safety Council (Injury Facts, 2005-2006 edition)
**** Divers Alert Network, North Carolina
Note: The "participant per million" rate is calculated by dividing the number of fatalities by the number of participants. The "days of participation" rate is calculated by dividing the number of fatalities by the days of participation.

An Additional Perspective

Although there is no statistical significance to the following, it helps to offer a perspective: The National Safety Council (Injury Facts, 2005 Edition) points out: 46,200 Americans died in motor-vehicle accidents (2004); 5,900 pedestrians were killed (2004); 6,700 died from falls from one level to another or on the same level (excludes deaths from falls in moving vehicles) (2004); 3,600 died from poisoning by solids and liquids, gases and vapors (2004); 31 died from lightning (2004); and 34 died from tornadoes (2004).

Frequently Asked Questions

How often do collision accidents with other people occur on the slopes?
According to Jasper Shealy, professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., who has studied ski related injuries for more than 30 years, the number of collisions accidents with other skiers or snowboarders accounts for only 6.4 percent of reported accidents. Shealy’s research also confirmed that alpine skiers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision with other people than snowboarders.

Are the rates of collisions among skiers and snowboarders on the rise?
No, the rate of collision accidents is not on the rise. In fact, the research conducted by ski injury researcher Jasper Shealy indicates that there has no significant change in 30 years with rates remaining at approximately 6.9 percent of accidents reported.

What is the best way to avoid a collision with another skier or snowboarder?
The best way to avoid a collision is to follow the seven steps of Your Responsibility Code including, stay in control, stop in a safe place for you and others and when starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield. It is also important to obey signs designating slow zones and intersecting areas. It is recommended that all skiers and snowboarders share the slopes and always show respect for others.

Has the introduction of helmets made any difference in terms of head injury and fatalities in skiing and snowboarding?
Helmet utilization in the U.S. is increasing by about 5 percent per year for the last several years. In the 2004/05, season the overall usage of helmets among the general public (skiers and snowboarders) was estimated to be 33.2 percent. It was higher among children nine and under at 66 percent; it was next highest among those over 65, at 46 percent. Only 19 percent of entry level skiers and snowboarders used a helmet versus advanced/expert at 45 percent. Among males, 35.2 percent used a helmet, and 30.4 percent of females wore a helmet.

According to Jasper Shealy, professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., who has studied ski related injuries for more than 30 years, recent research has shown that the use of helmet reduces the incidence of any head injury by 30 to 50 percent, but that the decrease in head injuries is generally limited to the less serious injuries such as scalp lacerations, mild concussions (Grade I) and contusions to the head, as opposed to more serious injuries such as concussions greater than Grade II, skull fractures, closed head injuries and the like. There has been no significant reduction in fatalities over the past nine seasons even as the use of helmets overall has increased to more than 33 percent, and to as much as 40 percent within the population at greatest risk—experienced young adult male skiers and snowboarders. The pattern of death seems to be affected by the use of a helmet. Most fatalities are due to multiple causes or injuries. Approximately two-thirds of those who die who do not use a helmet have as the first cause of death some injury to the head. For those who die while wearing a helmet, only about one-third have a head injury as the first cause of death. It seems that while the use of a helmet may shift the distribution of the first cause of death, it is not sufficient to reduce the overall rate of death. In incidents leading to death, it appears that the severity of the incident simply overwhelms the ability of the helmet to prevent death.

Is the number of ski injuries increasing?
The overall rate of reported skiing injuries has declined by 50 percent since the early 1970s, according to Shealy. The once feared broken lower leg from skiing is now a thing of the past, declining more than 95 percent since the early 1970s. The overall rate of reported alpine ski injuries as of the year 2,000 remains essentially the same as 10 years ago—2.63 reported injuries per 1,000 skier visits. To only look at the overall number, or rate of injuries, does not tell the whole story. In research that was reported on at the International Society for Skiing Safety Congress in May of 2003, it was noted that in the last three to five years, the rate of serious knee injuries was starting to decline; unfortunately the number of mid-shaft tibal fractures was increasing after having declined dramatically from 1970 through the mid 1980s. The reason for the decline in serious knee injuries is believed to be due to the market penetration of the newer shorter skis. The reason for the increase in mid-shaft tibial fractures appears to be due to a decline in the functional properties of the ski-binding-boot systems.

Have snowboard injuries increased?
The rate of injury for snowboarding as of the 2000/01 season has increased to 6.97 from 3.37 per 1,000 visits from 10 years ago, according to Dr. Shealy.

Has the rate of some ski injuries changed?
The most significant upward trend in ski injuries since the early 1970s, according to a study by the University of Vermont Department of Orthopedics, was in ACL injuries, or injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament of the knees, which crosses the knee at a diagonal angle underneath the kneecap. The increase in serious knee injuries, especially ACL injuries, has reversed itself in the last three to five years. This welcome decrease is on the order of 30 to 35 percent so far. We believe that this decrease is due to the recent introduction of significantly shorter skis. Unfortunately, at the same time that knee injuries are starting to decline, we are now seeing an increase in both mid-shaft tibial fractures and injuries due to inadvertent releases, many of which would be preventable if skiers were more attentive to taking their skis into a qualified ski shop for an annual inspection and readjustment as needed.

Who gets fatally injured while skiing and snowboarding?
Most fatalities occur in the same population that engages in high-risk behavior. Victims are predominantly male (85 percent) from their late teens to late 30s (70 percent), according to Dr. Shealy. Less than 10 percent of fatally injured skiers and snowboarders are under 10 or over 50 years of age, but more than 16 percent of all skiers and snowboarders are in these age groups. Most of those fatally injured are usually above-average skiers and snowboarders who are going at high rates of speed on the margins of intermediate trails. This is the same population that suffers the majority of unintentional deaths from injury. For example, in 1995 this population suffered 74 percent of fatal car accidents and 85 percent of all industrial accidents, Dr. Shealy reports. Males comprise about 60 percent of skiing participants, and more than 75 percent of snowboarding participants.

Snowboarders don’t appear to be making the slopes less safe for their skiing peers, either, says Dr. Shealy. A study presented at the Ninth International Symposium on Skiing Trauma and Safety in 1993 indicated that 7.7 percent of all ski injuries are the result of skiers running into skiers, while only 2.6 percent of snowboard accidents are caused this way.


What is being done to improve safety?
Skiers at NSAA member resorts (currently 325 alpine resorts) are given several opportunities to learn how to ski safely. All ski areas endorse and are asked to display the “Your Responsibility Code,” which admonishes skiers and snowboarders to ski and ride within their ability, to watch for skiers downhill, to look uphill before entering a trail, to move to the side of the trail when stopping, use devices to help prevent runaway equipment, observe all posted signs and warnings, have the ability to load and unload lifts, and to practice courteous ski habits. Those who break the code are routinely stripped of their passes by ski patrollers. The Smart Style Elements were added to resort safety materials in 2004. Smart Style enforces a code of conduct in terrain parks. The elements encourage participants to look for others before using the jumps, respect other participants and to participate at their own level of skill.

Ski areas have undertaken several programs to increase ski safety. Those programs range from establishing family ski areas to increasing the number of monitors on the slopes. Alpine and snowboarding lessons are offered and encouraged at ski areas. During the 2004/05 season, based on 115 of the nation’s 492 ski areas that responded to the NSAA Kottke National End of Season Survey, 24,467 ski lessons were given on average per responding resort. A total of 6,229 of these lessons were Level I (never ever). Additionally, a total of 5,775 snowboard lessons were given this year, of which 3,036 were Level I.

What do ski areas do to address the safety issue of skiing?
Mountain resorts expend tremendous energy and expense educating their guests about skier and snowboarder safety. NSAA and its member areas officially endorse the "Your Responsibility Code," the seven slope safety points. Below are some of the many slope safety campaigns.

Lids on Kids Campaign
Lids on Kids debuted in August 2002 as a resource for consumers to learn about helmet use in skiing and snowboarding. The site contains FAQs about helmet use, fit and sizing information, general slope safety information, related articles and games, and testimonials about helmet use from well-known athletes, including US Ski Team members. The site has received nearly 2 million hits since it was created.The tagline, “A Helmet-It’s a Smart Idea,” is printed on posters and promotional cards at resorts nationwide.

“Heads Up. You’re Responsible” Campaign,br> The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), along with the National Ski Patrol (NSP), the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA), and Association for Snowboard Instructors (AASI), created a campaign to assist ski area operators nationwide address the topic of slope safety education for guests. The initiative was launched during the 1999/2000 season and is continuing strong. The objective of the campaign is to attempt to further reduce the frequency of accidents and to unify the industry to focus on and communicate a proactive, strong safety message. We recognize there are inherent risks to skiing and snowboarding. It’s important to keep the risks of skiing and snowboarding in perspective and communicate how personal responsibility is key. Over the years, various slope education themes have been used.

The theme of “Heads Up” has been chosen because people generally identify it as a friendly reminder and as a short safety-related message. Also, it’s an easy concept for ski areas to incorporate into their on-going, skier/snowboarder educational programs, signage, etc. “Heads Up” can be used as a simple safety reminder in a variety of ways, such as “Heads Up. Set the Example,” “Heads Up. You’re Responsible” or “Heads Up. Know Your Limits.” The target audiences for the campaign are guests, ski area employees and the media. The National Safety Council supports the National Safety Initiative and the “Heads Up” campaign. To learn more about it and additional components, log on and click on “skier/snowboarder safety.”

Smart Style
NSAA and Burton Snowboards created the "Smart Style" Terrain Park Safety initiative. This venture is a cooperative effort to continue to heighten the awareness of the proper use of terrain parks at mountain resorts, while also delivering a unified message that is clear, concise, and effective. The "Smart Style" program includes three main messages; Look Before You Leap, Easy Style It, and Respect Gets Respect. These messages encourage participants to scope around jumps first, to be aware of their landing areas, to start with the basics and to respect other participants.
NSAA launched a new consumer website: in October 2004. The site incorporates up-to-date information on freestyle terrain safety, and encourages consumers to educate themselves about the use of terrain parks, halfpipes and other freestyle areas at snowsports resorts. As the sport grows in popularity, the elements of the site are meant to educate the consumer about aspects of freestyle terrain.



"SKIING IS A SLIDING SPORT"--a skiing web manual:    Skiing Web Manual Contents   Why Read This Skiing Web Manual   That First Skiing Lesson   A Little Skiing History  Motion in Skiing  Conventional Skiing Wisdoms  Skier Excuses   Fear in Skiing  Conditioning for Skiing  Equipment and Technique  Skiing Equipment  How Skis Work   How to Develop Balance on Skis  A Skiing Turn Simplified  The Final Skiing Skill: pressure management  Tactics for Terrains and Snow Textures and Racing  Skiing Tips and Tales--a potpourri  Exercises for Developing Skiing Skills   Children and Skiing   Age and Skiing  Gender & Skiing Culture & Skiing Skiing Ethics & Slope Survival   SLOPE SAFETY Skiing Environment    Glossary  Acknowledgements SkiMyBest Website Contents  

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