Page last updated at 17:52 GMT, Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Just how dangerous is skiing?

Skiing does carry a risk

About 10,000 Britons every year are injured on the slopes. But should the sport be regarded as any more dangerous than a game of football? Safety experts insist not, and here's why.

What is the likelihood of getting injured en piste?

With an average of 34 deaths a year, or 0.69 fatalities per million skiers and snowboarders, it is a very safe sport, providing you have the proper training and equipment, according to Dupont Emergency Response Solutions.

Dr Mike Langran, a GP who has studied alpine injury rates for several years. He says around three in every 1,000 enthusiasts require medical attention.

Don't be tempted to overstate your level of skill
Dr Langran

He said: "I don't personally regard snow sports in general as dangerous sports at all.

"For a start, the overall injury risk combining all the snow sports is about 0.2% to 0.4%.

"This is really very low. Think of an average game of football. Usually two or three players end up with an injury at the end of the game."

He said injury rates on the slopes have been decreasing over the years, mainly due to the development of safer equipment such as release bindings and ski brakes.

How do injuries happen?

According to Dr Langran, most snow sports injuries occur as the direct result of an isolated fall.

"Most of the time the injured person has lost control, often travelling too fast for the prevailing conditions and on a slope inappropriate to their ability level."

Some are true accidents and other falls are due to sheer recklessness.

About 10% of accidents result from a collision with another person or object, 5% are lift related and 5% occur as the result of equipment failure, he said.

How serious are they?

Thankfully, most injuries are minor bumps, grazes and sprains, but fractures are not uncommon.

For skiers, knee injuries are the most likely, accounting for a quarter of all injuries, where the joint is twisted and the ligaments are stretched or torn.

Common snow sport injuries
Knee ligament tears and strains
Broken limbs
Cuts and bruises

Whilst most knee injuries have a good prognosis, some can lead to significant impairment and may even stop someone from ever skiing again.

Among snowboarders, shoulder, wrist and arm injuries are also particularly common.

Damage to more vulnerable parts of the body like the head and spine is thankfully less common.

For every 10,000 people on the slopes on any particular day, no more than three people will sustain a head injury requiring medical attention.

Fortunately, out of all these people with head injuries, the majority (90%) of the injuries are minor cuts and bruises. The remaining 10% are potentially more serious and can be deadly.

Spinal injuries are rare but can have devastating consequences, such as permanent paralysis.

Typically they follow a pattern of excess speed, losing control and a bad landing from a jump.

How does this compare with other sports?

The data on this is patchy at best, not least because there is no single body or organisation responsible for gathering the information.

In 2006, New Zealand researchers published work on "adventure" sporting accidents and found horse riding, tramping/hiking, mountain biking, and surfing all resulted in more injuries than skiing.

Fatalities occurred frequently as a result of fishing, mountaineering and diving or snorkelling.

According to American Sports Data Inc, the most practical method of assessing risk potential in a sport is to measure the number of injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures - the number of times a participant engages in the activity over the course of a year.

Using this method, boxing ranks first with 5.2 injuries per 1,000 exposures, followed by American football (3.8), snowboarding (3.8), ice hockey (3.7), Alpine skiing (3.0), soccer (2.4), softball (2.2) and basketball (1.9).

How can you stay safe on the slopes?

Obviously, having the right kit is important.

Dr Langran recommends: "Have your own equipment checked regularly or use a reputable equipment hire company as advised by your rep.

"And don't be tempted to overstate your level of skill - longer skis are more difficult to turn and bindings set too high for your ability are more likely to cause injury."

The International Ski Federation (FIS) has a 10-point "code of conduct" for the piste, which includes such things as the unspoken rule that the skier or snowboarder in front has priority.

Following these can help keep you safe.

A spokeswoman for the Ski Club of Great Britain said: "Skiers and snowboarders should always be in control of their speed and ensure they are skiing or snowboarding within their own ability.

"It is important to be aware of other mountain users and obey the rules of the slopes.

"As long as these guidelines are followed, skiing and snowboarding can be enjoyed safely and by people of all ages and levels."

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