By Marc Haro, MD, MSPT
As snowboarding took effect as a mainstream sport in the 90s, the sport has seen an astronomical increase in participants, especially with the X generation and millennials of today. Albeit, as access to more equipment became available and ski resorts retrofitted their facilities for use by snowboarders, more and more winter sport enthusiasts were left with the choice for which sport to participate – skiing or snowboarding? And such a question also beckons another even more apparent conundrum – which is safer?
On the surface, you can look at each and try to make an apples to apples comparison. They’re both winter sports, generally performed downhill and on snow. But in reality, comparing skiing to snowboarding is no different than comparing soccer to football. They’re drastically different sports that require equally different body movements. And just because both are played on grass or turf doesn’t mean their participants are subject to the same types of injuries. The same holds true in the argument between skiing and snowboarding, as the injuries associated with each are also very different.
That said, evidence shows us that overall injury rates are higher with snowboarding. Snowboarders typically experience more upper extremity injuries, such as wrist, clavicle and elbow, as well as ankle fractures and concussions. However, I would mainly attribute that with youth and inexperience. For example, we’re seeing many young people hitting the slopes on snowboards with inferior equipment and little to no training. In contrast, more experienced adults who, by and large tend to choose skiing, generally take the proper precautions necessary to avoid injury.
In fact, “Injury rates in snowboarders have fluctuated over time but currently remain higher than in skiers,” wrote the researchers in a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. “Wrist, shoulder, and ankle injuries are more common among snowboarders, while knee ligament injuries are more common in skiers. Injured snowboarders were significantly younger, less experienced, and more likely to be female than injured skiers or snowboard control participants.”
However, based on what we know, a recommendation can’t really me made on whether skiing is safer than snowboarding, as each sport equally has its respective pros and cons.
Regardless of whether you choose to ski or snowboard, the best recommendation I can make is to use proper equipment and take the time to receive professional training while you’re first beginning to learn.
Marc Haro, MD, MSPT, is an orthopedic surgeon with Asheville Orthopaedic Associates, an affiliate of Mission Health, and surgical director for Mission Sports Medicine.