Is Snowboarding Dangerous? How to Stay Safe on the Slopes
Thinking about getting into snowboarding but not sure if it's safe? Read through this guide to be aware of the dangers and learn how to keep yourself safe.
Are you interested in getting into snowboarding and worried about the potential danger involved? Are you a parent looking for tips to keep your little grom (kid snowboarder) safer out there? Maybe you are a more experienced rider looking to reassess your goals for the winter.
If so, you’ll likely find yourself asking, ‘Is snowboarding dangerous?’ Yes—probably—but, to answer this question properly, we need to ask a few more questions. In fact, throughout this article, you’ll find that asking questions and finding solutions is a good technique for assessing hazards, managing risk, and avoiding dangerous situations altogether.
Ultimately, we are asking, ‘Is snowboarding worth the risk?’ With proper safety awareness, the answer is YES, without a doubt. Snowboarding is too much fun not to give it a try! Here are some ways to stay safe out on the mountain.
Tips for Avoiding Injury
Managing risk is something we do countless times a day: Should I take the highway or risk getting caught by the lights in town? Should I bring an umbrella or risk getting wet? Should I put shoes on to take out the garbage or risk it and go barefoot?
Risk is potential exposure to something dangerous or unpleasant. When we are able to recognize hazards and think critically about how to mitigate them, we are practicing risk management. Every time a snowboarder hits the trails, they are faced with countless decisions, and their choices can directly affect their safety (and others' safety) on the mountain. These are some of the top considerations:
Sphere of Awareness
Keep your head on a swivel. Being aware of your surroundings is the first step in recognizing hazards and avoiding them. One of the most dangerous hazards on the hill is other skiers and snowboarders, particularly on a crowded day. Give other riders plenty of room and pass with caution. The downhill snowboarder/skier has the right of way. However, it is also very important to check uphill, particularly when trails converge or cross.
Stretching your muscles, tendons, and ligaments before you bomb down a slippery slope is a great way to prevent injuries and also prepare your mind and body for a successful day of snowboarding.
The first run of the day is always a little more awkward than the rest. Start with easy runs to give your body adequate time to get the blood flowing and feeling the groove before tackling more difficult terrain.
Knowing a bit about the current conditions on the mountain can allow you to avoid hazards altogether. Is it November with little snow coverage? Maybe sticking to groomers will be a safer choice than tree-riding during the early season.
The next condition to assess is your skill level. Even experienced riders can overestimate their abilities. Should I try my first backflip on opening day? Start the season by brushing up on old skills and setting attainable goals for yourself throughout the winter.
I encourage every rider to wear a helmet. However, it is important to remember that wearing a helmet doesn’t turn you into an invincible torpedo. Other protective gear like impact shorts and wrist guards are definitely going to provide protection to some of the areas most prone to impact, especially while learning. Just know that injuries can still occur while wearing protective gear.
Be Realistic About Your Ability Level
The amount of extreme-sports media being filmed is astounding. Remember, just because you saw someone on YouTube do it, doesn’t mean you can. Those people are professional athletes who have often trained for much of their lives to attain such peak levels of performance.
Respect the fact that you are in an unfamiliar environment with a lot of new variables. Take the time to learn the basics before sending it off the biggest jump you can find.
Ride Within Your Ability
As a beginner snowboarder, mastering the basics before jumping into harder terrain is a must. Find an area of the mountain that you are comfortable riding and concentrate on technique, flow, and fun. Smiles make styles.
Avoid getting into a contest to see how much air you can get or how cool you look. Have a good idea about what you are getting yourself into before trying something new. There are tons of resources around the mountain to assist you in navigating new terrain. If you are unsure of anything, ask.
Ski hills are made to be controlled and accessible environments for everyone to enjoy the outdoors. Take advantage of tools like trail maps, mountain tours, and information kiosks.
Ride With a Buddy
Always ride with a buddy. If all of your safety precautions fail, make sure there is someone out there who’s got your back. A three-person team is most effective in an emergency: one buddy can stay with the injured person while the other can go get help from ski patrol. But if all goes according to plan, it’s also best to have homies to high five at the bottom of the run.
Common Risks to Snowboarders
Falling is inevitable when snowboarding. Even the most experienced or cautious riders can catch an edge every now and then. Knowing HOW to fall can prevent a minor fall from becoming a major injury. And knowing the most common injuries that occur while snowboarding can help you stay on the hill and out of the emergency room.
The best way to avoid wrist injuries is to avoid falling with an outstretched hand. Instead, try to roll with a fall or distribute impacts evenly across your body. Many riders wear wrist guards. They can feel a bit awkward, but I highly recommend them if you have never snowboarded before. Most injuries to upper extremities are caused by an arm or wrist getting caught in a fall and having the full weight of one's body impact that area.
Riding in the terrain park is often viewed as a more dangerous form of riding due to the frequency of falls that happen when learning new tricks. However, if a park rider is aware of risk management, progresses within their own ability level, and learns proper falling technique, many risks can be mitigated.
Terrain parks create an ideal, controlled environment for riders to learn technical tricks. The terrain is in-bounds, and the runs are groomed. Jumps, rails, and other features are carefully constructed. From this perspective, they are one of the safest places on the mountain.
Wear a helmet. It will help protect your head. At the same time, remember that wearing a helmet does not turn you into an unstoppable juggernaut. Concussions can still happen if you are wearing a helmet. Taking the proper precautions to avoid head trauma is the first step in avoiding head injuries.
Inspect your gear to ensure that it is working properly before every ride. Give your board, boots, and bindings a good visual inspection. 1. Are your bindings properly secured to your board? 2. Are all the nuts, bolts, and screws properly tightened down? 3. Are the laces of your boots frayed or broken, or are your BOA® coils operating smoothly?
Make sure that you have a boot with the appropriate amount of flex for your riding style. Riders who plan on encountering steep moguls, and big drops should wear a stiffer boot to absorb impacts.
Lacerations from a snowboard edge are far less common than certain horror stories might lead you to believe. Many lacerations are caused by sticks and branches when riding through tight, forest terrain. Picking safe lines and assessing hazards before you run into them is the best way to avoid pulling a stick out of your leg.
Tree wells are areas of soft or unpacked snow at the base of a tree trunk. Since a tree’s foliage covers the base of the tree and prevents snow from accumulating there, “wells” form as areas around the tree collect more snow. A rider that ventures too close to one of these wells can be swallowed by them.
Avoid landing headfirst in a tree well at all costs. If you find yourself in a tree, stay calm. People fall into tree wells all the time. Life-threatening scenarios in tree wells usually only occur in extreme and specifically circumstantial conditions. You’ll probably want to take a couple of deep breaths and have a good laugh before deciding if you want to unstrap your bindings before crawling out. In the event that you need to shovel your way out of the hole you’ve found yourself in, dig from the downhill side. If you are unable to dig and crawl yourself out, call for a buddy to start digging you out from the downhill side. If you don’t have a buddy, you should.
It may sound a little funny to be concerned about sunscreen on a ski hill, but on a sunny day, SPF protection will save you from a legitimate sunburn. Ultraviolet (UV) rays reflect off of the surface of the snow and intensify the sun's effect on your skin. Since the lower half of your face is normally the only skin exposed while snowboarding, common sunburns occur on lips and faces. Many lip balms feature SPF protection.
If you have learned a lot of new information from this article already, then you have a lot more to learn before you even think about exploring any avalanche terrain. Become properly educated before exploring the backcountry terrain. Observe and follow posted signage concerning avalanche terrain.
It is my hope that after reading this article, you will feel informed and more confident while exploring the slopes. I would love to hear what you think. Are there dangers that you still have questions about? Are there additional safety tips that you would like to share? Reach out to a Snowboard Expert here on Curated, and let’s chat about it.