Snowboarding a leading cause of emergency room visits nationwide |

Snowboarding a leading cause of emergency room visits nationwide

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. ” Snowboarding accidents accounted for a quarter of all emergency-room visits related to outdoor sports injuries in 2005-2005, according to a recently released report by the Centers for Disease Control.

At the same time, the number of serious head and neck injuries resulting from snowboard accidents has dropped in the past three seasons, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Researchers compiled emergency room data from 63 hospitals in 2004 and 2005 to get a snapshot view of injury numbers for those years.

They calculated that about 213,000 people were treated for outdoor sports-related injuries nationwide, with 26 percent of those injuries related to snowboarding.

“It’s a great attempt. It’s a precedent-setter for looking at injury data bases,” said Dr. Paul Auerbach, a Stanford University wilderness medicine expert.

Sledding was second on the list at 10.6 percent, then hiking (6.3 percent), personal watercraft or tubing (3.7 percent) and mountain biking (3.6 percent).

Fractures and sprains accounted for half the injuries studied by the researchers.

About half the injured people were between the ages of 10 and 24, and half the injuries are caused by falls.

Males are injured at twice the rate of females, although the researcher weren’t sure if that difference was a behavioral pattern or the result of participation rates.

In Summit County, St. Anthony Summit Medical Center wouldn’t release specific percentages, but trauma-program manager Shelly Almroth confirmed that the medical center’s emergency room sees a high number of trauma cases related to skiing and snowboarding each season.

Almroth, who tracks injury statistics for the hospital, also said that statewide numbers also reflect the injury risks associated with snowboarding.

According to medical statistics tracked by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 17 percent of all injuries between 2001 and 2003 (the latest figures available) requiring hospitalization resulted from ski and snowboard accidents.

The numbers show snowboarders are injuring themselves at a rate four times greater than skiers.

The numbers seem to suggest that snowboarding is among the most dangerous outdoor activities with regard to injury risk.

But that conclusion is an over-simplification of the study results, said Auerbach, who, as a ski patroller, has some first-hand experience with ski resort injuries.

The idea was to look at patterns of injuries with an eye toward prevention, he said.

“As a skier or snowboarder, what steps can you take for prevention?” Auerbach said.

The overall look at injury stats is a first step in that direction, he added.

“You can’t take all the risk out of these activities, but maybe you can take out the unnecessary risk,” he said.

More in-depth studies would look at those patterns to see if behavioral changes, equipment or regulatory factors could reduce the risk of injuries, Auerbach said.

The focus on prevention fits well with industry efforts to reduce snowboarding injuries, said Geraldine Link, policy director for the National Ski Areas Association.

The industry trade group tracks similar statistics.

Link said serious injuries have declined in the past three seasons. She defined serious injuries as those that are “potentially life-altering, including head and spinal injuries.

She attributed the decline to education efforts on the part of the industry.

“We want the numbers to come down,” she said.

“A huge number of kids were suddenly demanding this terrain,” Link said, referring to the dramatic growth in the popularity of terrain parks.

Finding an educational message to resonate with that age group was the big challenge for resorts.

For information on the National Ski Areas Association’s preventional education message, go to: