1. What are the commonest injuries sustained by snowboarders?
2. Are there any special problems that particularly affect snowboarders?
Snowboarders must be aware of:
- The risks of a wrist injury and the specific design characteristics of wrist guards that have been shown to reduce the risk of these injuries.
- The potential dangers of snowboarding off-piste (particularly the risk of avalanches).
- Tree wells (the holes that form under pine trees after heavy snowfall). These may only be a few feet off the side of a piste but that can act as a trapdoor leading to death by asphyxiation or hypothermia. More details here.
- The potential for a serious ankle injury due to a combination of excess compression and inversion forces. This is a fracture of the lateral process of the talus bone, a.k.a. "snowboarder's ankle". Many doctors will not be aware of this injury. You'll find full details on my snowboard page.
- The risks of aerial manoeuvres and terrain parks. Now the subject of a specific page on this website.
3. Should I be wearing wrist guards?
The high rates of wrist injuries (and fractures in particular) are a cause for concern amongst snowboarders. Amongst beginner snowboarders (who are inherently unstable on their boards) one in every 100 boarders on the slopes on any one day will sustain a wrist fracture. There is now laboratory and epidemiological evidence to support the use of wrist guards as a means to reduce the number of wrist fractures. Given that over 50% of all wrist injuries occur in snowboarders who have less than one week's experience, I believe that wrist guards should be considered an integral piece of rental equipment for beginner snowboarders. This very important topic is covered in some depth my wrist injury page and my page on wrist guards. You'll see that I include information on some specific wrist guards that I personally recommend you consider wearing.
4. I've got wrist guards but not the ones you mention - should i be worried?
In a nutshell no, not really. I personally believe that wearing any kind of wrist guard is generally better than wearing no guards at all. As you can see on my wrist page however, in certain fall scenarios it is possible that some more rigid wrist guards might lead to an under-guard injury at the wrist joint. The two systems that I recommend - Flexmeter and Biomex - have both been extensively tested and both are designed by doctors who have been active in the field of snowboard safety for many many years. I believe that they offer the highest level of protection currently possible. These would always be my personal recommendation for snowboarders looking for a wrist guard system, but they are not for everyone and not everyone can get hold of them - although I have provided retailer information on my wrist page. If you already have guards and are happy with them, then fine.
5. Which boot type should I go for?
Generally speaking beginner boarders should use soft boots as they are easier to manoeuvre. Experienced riders prefer the rigidity that a hard boot provides. Although different boarders argue about the binding systems in use (particularly Flows) there is no evidence that I am aware of that says one is safer that the other - so it's all down to personal preference. Click here for a good site for information on snowboard boots and bindings.
6. What percentage of people at a skier area are boarders ?
This will vary from ski area to ski area but the current figure is between 25-40%. In Scotland, it has stabilised at about 27%.
7. Why don't snowboards use releasable bindings like skiers?
Seems strange doesn't it? Skis have releasable bindings so why don't snowboards? Some would argue that they should, but the overwhelming majority opinion is that there is no need. Remember that skiing and snowboarding are completely different sports and you can't simply compare one with the other on every score. Here's the deal then - firstly, the main arguments in favour of release bindings
- They may help reduce the 'fly swat' effect of a typical snowboard fall (especially common amongst beginner boarders)
- They may help in the situation of a Non Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Death (a.k.a. 'NARSID' or tree well situation - see the section on fatalities on the overview page for more information). However for release bindings to help, the boarder would have to be able to trigger a binding release whilst in the tree well and that's by no means an easy thing to do.
- They may help reduce the incidence of certain (fairly rare it has to be said) situations where the lower leg of a snowboarder is injured as a result of being stuck onto the board. Such a situation might be a high speed dismount from a chairlift when the snowboard catches and twists the leg still attached to the board.
Against this are the following arguments:
- Release bindings prevent runaway boards - given that many boarders still do not use leashes, this plays an important role in preventing injuries not only to the boarder but to innocent third
- Fallen snowboards act as 'snow anchors' and prevent boarders sliding down the piste or, worse still, into trees. This is one reason why it is thought fatalities amongst snowboarders are so much lower than amongst skiers, who regularly fall, slide a long distance picking up speed as they go and then ultimately hit a tree or other static object (sometimes another skier or boarder)
- When one foot is released from the binding (which might happen if both feet are attached and then one binding does release), a boarder effectively becomes a skier with one hell of a fat ski on one leg - this would lead to more twisting knee and lower leg injuries amongst boarders
- The mechanics of a binding are such that they generally need rotation (twist) in order to release. For a snowboard, they would also have to release in the direction of the fall (such as catching an edge). Leading binding biomechanical engineers see this as a big problem in terms of designing a binding that fulfil these tasks
- Tree well deaths are extremely rare (less than 5% of all traumatic snow sports deaths in the US). The majority of snowboarders will never be susceptible to such a situation. Even if it happens, it is truly questionable whether a boarder could manage to release him or herself from their bindings whilst suspended inverted in the tree well.
It is the overwhelming opinion of the experts of the ISSS that release bindings are not required for snowboards. It is accepted that some boarders may wish to have them fitted because of their particular needs, but this does not apply to the vast majority of snowboarders.
8. Do we know anything about injuries in terrain parks?
Yes we do - quite a lot actually! We now have quite detailed information from three separate countries - France, the USA and Canada - which unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly) all show similar findings - that compared to on slope injuries, injuries in terrain parks tend to be more serious (especially affecting the head and spine). You can find full details on my terrain park page.