Take care to avoid snowboard injuries

1/4 of accidents occur during a first outing

By Alton Thygerson

Snowboarding is an increasingly popular winter sport in which participants ride an epoxy fiberglass board (resembling a large skateboard) down a ski slope or on a halfpipe ramp, a specialized snow structure used for performing tricks.

The first snowboard was used in 1965 when Sherman Poppen bolted two skis together. Commercial snowboards were available in the 1970s. Today, more than 3.5 million people snowboard, making it the fastest-growing winter sport in the United States. It was even introduced as an Olympic sport at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

Snowboarding differs from downhill skiing in two ways: Snowboarders ride with both feet affixed by non-releasable bindings to a single board, and they do not use ski poles, but use their hands and arms for balance, much like skateboarders or surfers.

But like skiing, snowboarding can be dangerous.

Advanced snowboarders may try more dangerous maneuvers, such as jumps and other aerial tricks, which can result in injuries. But beginning snowboarders are more prone to injuries. Beginners usually have brief rides followed by falls. Since falling is the leading cause of snowboarding injuries, the beginner is at high risk for injury.

About one-fourth of snowboarding injuries occur during a person's first outing, and almost half happen during the first season.

Jumps are the second most common cause of injuries and may result in head, facial, spinal and abdominal injuries. Collisions are also common. While severe injuries are rare, the most common cause of severe injury is a collision with a tree. The left leg is most often injured because the "regular" position - with the left foot forward - is favored by two-thirds of snowboarders.

Here are some steps to make snowboarding safer:

Take a lesson before venturing out for the first time. Learn from a trained instructor in good weather (whenthere is good visibility and it's not too cold). Use slopes that are not crowded and that have packed snow. Avoid icy slopes.

Use the right equipment. Buy or rent good snowboarding boots, an all-purpose snowboard, a helmet and wrist guards.

Wear wrist guards and knee pads for protection during a fall. Most racers and professional snowboarders wear helmets, wrist guards, arm guards and shin guards, as well as customized protective gear. Most snowboarders do not wear such protective equipment. A possible problem with wrist guards is that they shift the distribution of impact forces. For example, there is a greater susceptibility for a broken bone above the wrist guard, like a shoulder injury or lower arm fracture.

Keep hands in a "closed-fist" position if not wearing wrist guards. Don't break a fall with an open hand. During a fall, try rolling like a paratrooper would, spreading the force of the fall out over your body instead of taking all the force in one place.

Take a break when tired or fatigued.

Consider a helmet, especially if you are aggressive and you snowboard in areas that have lots of rocks and trees. Helmets have become more popular since the deaths of celebrities Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy, who sustained fatal brain injuries from high-speed accidents while skiing.

Stay on groomed trails. Resorts often design and maintain separate snowboard parks and runs to separate skiers and snowboarders.

Don't start jumping until you are experienced and have had proper instruction; jumps are the most common causes of injuries and can result in a spinal injury.

Eliminate "hot dog" activity.

Even though snowboard injuries are on the decline, safety must always come first.


Alton Thygerson, professor of health sciences at Brigham Young University, is the National Safety Council's first aid and CPR author and technical consultant. For more information, the National Safety Council First Aid Handbook by Thygerson is available in local bookstores.