Skiing is a beloved winter sport that will capture the heart of anyone once exposed to the thrill of sliding down one of nature’s most breathtaking slopes.
The action is captivating, the speed is alluring, and the adrenaline keeps you going. But everyone, myself included, has had safety concerns.
Most beginners keep the risk in mind and often ask themselves, is skiing dangerous?
Can you take your family on a ski trip during the upcoming ski season? Can you safely protect yourself from the potential dangers of skiing like any sport?
The short answer is that there are inherent risks involved in skiing, as with any outdoor sport. But if you follow recreational skiing rules and use the right equipment, it is also as safe as any other sport.
A person can take up skiing at any age and enjoy the sport safely all while avoiding the most common ski injuries – as long as they do it right with a small risk appetite.
Even on professional skiing slopes or backcountry skiing tracks where the risk increases due to ski avalanches, skiing is still far from being the most dangerous sport.
Ok, enough rambling. Today’s post will show you exactly why skiing is considered as safe as any game of football. We’ll cover the most common ski injuries and how to keep yourself safe.
Last but certainly not least, we will show you the best avalanche transceiver available right now and why you need one if you plan on going backcountry skiing.
Is Skiing Dangerous for Beginners and in General?
The risks associated with skiing as a beginner are low and almost negligible, but they are still present.
As a beginner, you will be skiing on the easiest track known as the green circle track. This space is usually the safest spot on any slope and will be filled with beginners learning to ski.
Be careful with overstating your skill and choosing to move to a blue square trail where the risks are potentially higher for a beginner. Avoid this at all costs while you are still learning.
Falls in the green circle track aren’t uncommon but they’re also not harmful and very rarely lead to injuries.
If anything were to go wrong, you’ll be in a controlled environment with ski instructors and safety personnel. They will quickly get to you and sort out the issue. Taking up skiing as an adult is fine, but you must recognize the risks associated.
Types of Skiing and Associated Risks
There are many styles of skiing and they all have varying levels of associated risks. To maintain the focus of this article we will cover the most popular types of skiing that you may begin with or participate in as an expert.
Cross Country Skiing
Also referred to as nordic skiing, cross country skiing is without a doubt the safest type of skiing. This style is often done on a groomed trail that is entirely flat and in most cases free from surrounding trees.
Cross country skiing is normally a part of the Olympic winter sports. It’s a great place to start if you want to remove all the risks associated with skiing down a mountain.
Alpine Skiing/Downhill skiing
Alpine skiing or downhill skiing involves skiing down a groomed and marked trail. Downhill ski resorts will normally feature many zones marked according to the difficulty of the slopes.
Normally as a beginner, you will start at the foot of the mountain with other beginners and learn how to stop, turn, control your speed, and use ski equipment. You will progress up to other zones as your ability level increases. The most difficult trail (black diamond) is mostly left for professional skiers.
The risks here are slightly higher than cross country skiing due to the complexity of moving up and down the mountain with skis and ski lifts. This is also what makes downhill skiing fun and popular.
Ever seen professional skiers skiing downhill while performing a variety of stunts on runs that have different types of obstacles, terrain, and slopes?
This is called freestyle skiing and is one of the most active and adrenaline-packed ski types for both the skier and the audience.
It requires a high level of skill, professional training, and a bit of finesse to perform freestyle skiing without harm.
As such, the level of risk here is higher even though this is done on a controlled and groomed ski slope. Any misstep can lead to a wipeout and serious injuries. It is not recommended for beginners.
Backcountry skiing refers to any type of skiing that is done in the mountain wilderness or any uncontrolled space where the slopes are not groomed or monitored for potential avalanches.
The occurrence of avalanches increases the risk during backcountry skiing, which accounts for the use of additional equipment and training (avalanche rescue and assessment training).
All backcountry skiers must carry avalanche rescue equipment, like shovels, safety vests, and avalanche transceivers, which we will get to later. They must also travel in groups up and down the mountain.
Ski touring, a variation of backcountry skiing, requires the use of more sophisticated skis with ski bindings that can be switched from leaving the heel free when moving up the mountain to keeping the heel locked in when skiing downhill.
What are the Dangers of Skiing?
The potential dangers of skiing range from acute injuries due to light collisions to fatal skiing accidents during a ski avalanche.
So you’re probably wondering: is skiing dangerous? Understanding the risks you could be exposed to will help you plan, prepare, and practice for a safe and error-free ski ride. Here are the main dangers below.
Most accidents that lead to fatal head injuries or head trauma on groomed and monitored ski tracks are a result of collisions.
10% of accidents are caused by collisions with other skiers and 80% of accidents are caused by falls to the ground, tree collisions, or other collisions.
Formula One legend, Michael Schumacher, once suffered a severe head injury after he hit his head in a french alp ski resort while skiing off-piste in 2013.
Head injuries can also be caused by colliding into a tree or the ground where a rock might be present. Skiers can lose control on a ride and fail to steer correctly due to high speed, which can cause them to collide with a tree.
Skiers often collide with other skiers on the track who are not in the line of sight. Skier to skier collisions can lead to cuts, bruises, sprains, and fractures.
Ground collisions where rocks are present also increase the risk while skiing off-piste.
Although equipment failure has declined over the last few decades due to technological improvements in ski equipment, including ski boots and quick binding releases, it is still possible to suffer an injury if your equipment fails while skiing.
Always check all equipment before hitting a slope, especially in backcountry terrain where no inspection is being carried out. Leg injuries are most commonly associated with equipment failure since a skier’s toes are almost always attached to the ski.
This risk of having a bad fall or landing is heightened in freestyle skiing, ski touring, and backcountry skiing. A professional freestyle skier that fails to successfully land a stunt can suffer severe injuries that can even lead to death.
Professional Skier, Sarah Burke, died shortly after sustaining severe injuries that lead to brain damage during a freestyle skiing training session before the 2014 Olympic games.
When backcountry skiing or skiing off-piste in a ski resort, falling off a cliff is also a major risk of injury. Sometimes skiers, due to high speeds, may be unaware of a cliff ahead, making it too late to take control of the situation. It is safer to ski in familiar terrain.
Falling into tree wells is also a possibility that can be fatal if there is no one around to come to your rescue. A tree well is a hollow space created beneath the tree due to the tree’s branches preventing snow from filling up around the base of the tree.
Skiers usually fall headfirst into the tree hole and can die from suffocation if buried too deep or suffer injuries by knocking into the tree headfirst. While people have dug themselves out of this situation, it takes extreme care, aptitude, and strength to pull yourself out of a tree well. Steer clear of trees while skiing to avoid falling into tree wells entirely.
Ski Triggered avalanches occur when a skier’s speed, weight, or steering dynamics cause an underlying layer of snow to fall apart, causing the tightly packed surface to move down the slope.
They are unpredictable, difficult to escape, and even more strenuous to pull yourself out if caught under a shallow avalanche.
Commonly encountered in backcountry skiing, ski avalanches cause 25 to 30 deaths every winter and also lead to many kinds of injuries. The causes of death in avalanches include suffocation, hypothermia, and frostbite.
Compacted snow is as strong as slightly wet cement, so it can quickly cause suffocation if you are buried deep beneath the snow after an avalanche with no air holes.
Direct exposure to sheets of ice and snow can slowly cause frostbite and hypothermia which can lead to severe injuries.
Ski Lift Injury
Ski lifts are generally safer than they were decades ago as the percentage of yearly fatalities is close to zero. National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) safety lift fact sheet recorded an annual fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled to be 0.149%.
The ski lifts are maintained frequently and checked daily with attendees present at all times to stop the lifts in the event of any malfunction. So your chances of falling from a ski lift or sustaining a ski lift-related injury are insignificant.
What Causes Skiing Injury and Accidents?
Now that you know the potential dangers of skiing, what other factors cause these accidents even if you follow the rules of conduct when skiing?
Excess Speed in Unfamiliar Terrain
Speeding on a ski track you are familiar with is safe if you are professional. This is seen in Olympic competitions, training sessions, and ski resorts. We all want to go faster. Sometimes I even try to beat time when I’m on familiar terrain.
But remember, it’s always safer to go slower, especially when you are on unfamiliar terrain. You could steer into another skier, sustain a fall in unfamiliar terrain and hit your head, or even lose control.
Most injuries are from a skier losing control of their equipment while skiing. There can be several causes, including skiing in unfamiliar terrain, equipment that fails on the ski, or a combination of different other factors outside of your control, like another skier colliding into you.
Bad landings can also lead to some potential injuries while skiing. You could jump from a cliff and land on a weak surface that triggers an avalanche or fail to land a stunt that can lead to severe injuries.
Although the durability, safety, and lifespan of ski equipment are constantly improving, you could potentially use bad equipment that is either faulty or a size that doesn’t fit you properly.
This can lead to several bad scenarios including losing control on a ski trail or having to deal with ski binders that fail to release on impact.
Unfit to Ski
One of the biggest potential hazards that can lead to a ski accident is sheer negligence.
You are unfit to ski if you are drunk or out of shape. If you are unfit to be on the slopes you might lose sight of the skier in front of you, miss warning signs on the trail, go off-piste, or be too fatigued to steer if you are out of shape.
You could also be potentially unfit to ski if you have had no training. Your mere presence on a trail, if you don’t know basic ski rules and maneuvers, could be hazardous for other skiers.
How Dangerous is Skiing Compared to Other Sports?
Skiing is often considered safer when compared to other outdoor sports like cycling, football, and snowboarding. Although the risk of sustaining a head injury is similar for cycling, football, and skiing, it is higher for snowboarding.
Skiing produces fewer acute injuries but more fatalities. Backcountry skiing and freestyle skiing are often the most dangerous form of skiing.
A review of professional snow sports in 2022 showed that freestyling skiing has an incidence rate of 6.83 per 1000 athlete-days and nordic skiing/cross country skiing has the lowest rate at 2.7 per 1000 athlete-days.
Skiing also ranked lower than cycling, football, baseball, softball, basketball, water sports, soccer, and skateboarding for several admissions to the emergency room for head-related injuries.
Common Ski Injury Statistics: How Common are Skiing Deaths?
The percentage of ski deaths is often witnessed in the demographic of skiers that participate in high-risk ski behavior. These are skiers who go at high rate speeds or go skiing where there is a high risk of an avalanche occurring. The NSAA reports that during the past 10 years, 40.6 people die per year on average from skiing /snowboarding in the US.
In comparison, more than 38,000 people die in car crashes. In the US, 854 people died from cycling accidents in 2018, and 390 deaths on average per year are attributed to drowning or swimming in public areas.
Common Ski Injuries
Knowing some of the most common injuries will help you recognize what to look out for and how best to prevent them from occurring on the slopes.
Head injuries occur while skilling mostly during collisions, where there is a high risk of hitting your head on the ground, a tree, or another skier. Wearing a ski helmet is one of the best ways to protect yourself from head injuries.
Head injuries are the most severe and fatal kind of ski injury and can happen to even the most professional skiers.
They often require the most immediate attention to avoid further brain damage in severe cases. Head injuries also include mild bruises and cuts on your head
In cases where you suffer a fall, the arms and shoulders are usually the first points of impact with the ground. The force, as a result, can cause the shoulder to dislocate, fracture, or sprain the ligaments in the shoulder joint.
It is a very painful injury that should be quickly remedied. In the event of dislocation, there will still be a sensation of pain in the area as it slowly heals.
More severe shoulder injuries like fractures should be attended to immediately. The best way to prevent shoulder injuries is to use proper safety equipment. Doing so will reduce the impact of the fall on your shoulders.
Similarly, during the impact of a fall, the wrist can also be fractured or sprained. This injury will leave you unable to ski properly.
If you start feeling pain in your wrist after a fall, it is best to quickly alert the ski patrol at your ski resort, or seek immediate medical help from a qualified specialist on grounds to estimate the severity of the sprain.
Always wear safety equipment when skiing and follow the rules of conduct to reduce falls, slips, and other impacts that can cause wrist fractures.
Toes and heels are attached to ski binders causing your knees to be the most susceptible to injuries.
If you suddenly bend your knee when you fall, stop at a high speed, or twist your knee as a result of another skiing accident, knee injuries can occur.
Knee injuries can lead to a long reconstructive process, physical therapy, and pain management to restore the knee and ease the pain.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) tears are the two most common knee ski injuries.
Walking with a knee injury is painful and can further increase ligament tears if ignored. You should seek immediate medical assistance if you’ve sustained a knee injury on a slope.
With enough rest and treatment, you will soon be back on your feet. Preventing knee injuries is backed by skiing safely with the right equipment on the right slope.
Ensure to check that your release binders are functional and that you are not on unfamiliar terrain.
With enough pressure on your thumb, your Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), which extends inward from your hand to your elbow can be ruptured or sprained (Skier’s Thumb).
It occurs if you fall with your ski poles still attached to your hand. A skier’s thumb should not be taken lightly and should be addressed with urgency when sustained.
Skier’s thumb will cause weakness in the thumb and pain in the base of your thumb. This leads to the inability to use your thumb if the inflammation continues or goes untreated.
How to Stay Safe and Avoid Ski Injuries While Skiing?
Take Ski Lessons As a Beginner
One of the easiest ways to stay safe and avoid injuries while skiing is to start with skiing lessons as a beginner.
You will learn the basics of safety conduct while skiing: the maneuverability tactics (stopping, turning, steering), and safety training you should be familiar with on a particular ski trail.
Starting with appropriate lessons as a beginner will also teach you how to read signs, choose trail colors and use ski equipment.
Always Wear a Helmet
It goes without saying by now, but wearing a helmet is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of injury in falls and collisions. A helmet will also reduce your risk of sustaining fatal head injuries.
Always Be in Line of Sight
When on the ski slope off-piste or on-piste, ensure you are always in the line of sight when you are not moving or skiing slowly. You’ll reduce the chances of incoming collisions with other skiers.
Avoid Skiing When Visibility is Low
Skiing during whiteouts or in the dark with low visibility is a recipe for disaster. Not only will you miss any incoming warning signs you are also more likely to crash into an object or person.
Follow the International Ski Federation 10 Point rules for conduct
Following the International Ski Federation’s rules for conduct of skiers and snowboards is the bare minimum way to ensure you stay safe and in no way impact the safety of others.
Wear the Right Protective Equipment
Wear fit and snug ski boots, a helmet, ski tights, and use an avalanche transceiver while backcountry skiing. Using the right equipment will increase your odds of walking away unharmed from a skiing accident.
Learn How to Call for Help
Learning what to do in the event of an accident, how to call for help with onboard equipment, and how to signal a nearby rescue team may save you and your friends in more ways than one.
Avoid Trees When Skiing
Experienced skiers will no doubt be great at avoiding trees. For beginners, it is important you understand how to steer to avoid trees at steep turns, saving yourself avoidable collisions and from falling into tree wells
Always Have an Avalanche Transceiver (Beacon) on Backcountry Ski Trips
With the increased risks of ski avalanches, and an increasing number of skiers looking for backcountry access points because of COVID-19 restrictions in ski resorts, backcountry skiing is quickly becoming more dangerous.
It is crucial to always have an avalanche transceiver on you while backcountry skiing, including freeriding or ski touring in the backcountry.
Let’s learn how avalanche transceivers work in detail.
How Do Avalanche Beacons Work?
An avalanche beacon, or an avalanche transceiver, is a piece of equipment that is used for transmitting and receiving radio signals at a radio frequency of 457 kHz.
This gear is an essential part of any kind of backcountry skiing that serves two main functions.
It is used to locate people buried in snow after an avalanche when their beacon is in transmit mode and used to search for people in search mode within a range of 40 m to about 100 m, depending on the type of beacon.
A beacon is an easy-to-carry tool that any skier can get used to. It also has straightforward controls that allow you to quickly switch from transmit mode to search mode in an instant.
Avalanche transceivers are mostly digitally operated today with three strong antennas, long battery life, and a screen that displays distance as well as directional indicators that will allow you to find someone buried in the snow from any direction.
It is used in combination with a probe for pinpointing burial locations and a shovel for extricating victims from the snow.
Every backcountry skier is expected to have basic avalanche assessment and rescue training using avalanche transceivers.
Regular practice and testing of each skier’s avalanche transceiver before a ski tour is necessary as well.
Best Avalanche Transceiver for 2022
After researching and reviewing all top-rated avalanche transceivers, comparing them against industry standards, and ranking them by which is most convenient and safe for you, we have made a final choice that will cover all of your needs.
Best Choice: Backcountry Access BCA Tracker S Avalanche Beacon + Avalanche Probe
Made to outshine even the “Top-Rated” BCA 3 Transceiver, the Backcountry Access Tracker S brings a host of new features to the table, making it the best avalanche transceiver to recommend in 2022.
The product designers at BCA expertly retained the profile of the BCA 3 and even complemented it with a molded rubber grip exterior and a larger and more vibrant screen (with directional indicators).
This fourth iteration of our most preferred avalanche transceiver checks all the boxes. Any professional avalanche expert will appreciate its slim profile with beginner-friendly features that will please newbie backcountry skiers.
In terms of its technical features, it has a fast processing speed, advanced signal suppression capabilities for rescuing multiple victims, and a great signal range of 55m (will transmit without fail in deep avalanche burials).
Additionally, you get up to 250 hours when transmitting so you can go multiple days without worrying. Even in emergencies, the battery can be replaced easily from the back.
If you are looking for an avalanche transceiver that will serve you well and without fail as a beginner, then the Backcountry Access Tracker S is an excellent choice.
The transceiver also ships with an SBD 260cm aluminum avalanche probe, batteries, and a body harness that will keep the Tracker S close to you at all times.
The Tracker S is a durable avalanche transceiver that you can trust to transmit and receive a signal quickly, hold a charge for back-to-back ski days, and is portable enough to carry around. It is a solid option that is easy to use and is highly recommended.
- Dimensions: 4.7 x 3.0 x 1.0 inches
- Weight: 7.6 Ounces
- Battery life: 250 hours
- Probe: Yes
- Body Harness: Yes
- Upgradeable firmware: Yes
- Increased ease of handling
- Larger and more vibrant LED display
- Rubberized exterior increases durability
- Additional accessories included
- No inclusion of Bluetooth
Do Different Avalanche Transceivers Work Together?
Modern avalanche transceivers transmit signals at similar frequencies of 457 kHz, so regardless of the type of transceivers your fellow skiers use, they can all communicate with each other in the event of an emergency.
Most avalanche transceivers also have similar features, differing mostly in terms of size and transmission range.
Ski patrollers and guides will often use larger beacons that have improved search ranges and more detailed displays for better searching capabilities like the Mammut Barryvox S.
Whereas recreational users prefer small and portable beacons that can be comfortably used and stored like the BCA Tracker S.
Create Your Plan of Action
It’s time to put all this information to use as a skier.
If you have chosen to go backcountry skiing, it is essential to get an avalanche transceiver, learn how to use it in practice, and take training classes to aid in rescue if an avalanche hits.
There is simply no concrete way to protect yourself from an avalanche. But following the recommended advice and using the right equipment can give you a slight edge if an avalanche hits.
Start taking avalanche safety classes. Practice with fellow backcountry skiing beginners and pick up our recommended best avalanche transceiver for good use on the mountainside.
If you follow this guide closely, you would have done all you can to increase your odds of surviving an avalanche.
Conclusion: How Safe is Skiing?
Skiing is an exhilarating winter sport that we all love for the rush, the breathtaking view, and the feeling of being in nature.
We have shown you the potential risks associated with skiing and what you can do to protect yourself. By now you should have an answer to the question, “is skiing dangerous?”
In our professional estimation, the research and statistics show that skiing is a safe sport with risks like any other outdoor or extreme sport. Reduce your risks by avoiding dangerous behavior, sticking to the rules of conduct, taking appropriate skiing lessons, and using the right equipment.
By purchasing the best avalanche transceiver when going backcountry skiing and using a helmet when you ski downhill or cross country, you reduce risks substantially and make skiing safe for even a child to participate.