Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Skiing and snowboarding are no more dangerous than other high-energy participation sports, and less so than some common activities. However, it is challenging and it requires physical skills that are only learned over time with practice. It involves some risk, but in some measure, it is that risk that entices most skiers and riders to pursue the sport. Because snowboarding is a relatively new sport, around only the past 10-15 years, more data is available about skiing injuries.
Statistics on skiing/snowboarding
Fatalities – According to the National Ski Areas Association: During the past 15 years, about 34 people have died skiing/snowboarding per year on average. During the 1998-99 season, 39 fatalities occurred out of the 51.9 million skier/snowboarder days reported for the season.
Thirty-three of the fatalities were skiers (27 male and six female) and six of the fatalities weresnowboarders (all males). The rate of fatality was .75 per million skier/snowboarder visits.
Note: A skier/snowboarder visit represents one person visiting a ski area for all or any part of a day or night and includes full-day, half-day, night, complimentary, adult, child, season and any other ticket types that gives one the use of an area’s facility.
The National Sporting Goods Association reports in 1998 there were 7.7 million skiers and 3.6 million snowboarders. According to NSGA, 24 percent of snowboarders also ski, therefore, the total on-slope participants were 10.4 million. (24 percent of 3.6 million snowboarders =864,000. 3.6 million minus 864,000 = 2.7 snowboarders, added to 7.7 million skiers totals 10.4 million on-slope participants). During the 1998-99 season, there were 39 fatalities nationwide (33 skiers and 6 snowboarders). Using NSGA’s 10.4 million on-slope participants, the per-participant skier/snowboarder fatality rate in 1998 equates to 3.75 per 1 million on-slope participants.
Note: NSGA estimates the number of participants in various sports, age 7-plus each calendar year.
Serious Injuries – Serious injuries (paraplegics, serious head and other serious injuries) occur at the rate of about 37 per year, according to the NSAA. In the 1998-1999 season, there were 45 serious injuries. Thirty-four of these serious injuries were skiers (27 male and 7 female) and 11 were snowboarders (all males). The rate of serious injury in 1998-1999 was .87 per million skier/snowboarder visits.
Comparative statistics to other sports Death rates experienced in different activities are sometimes difficult to compare because of different ways of expressing exposure to risk. Below skiing/snowboarding fatalities per million are presented based on “visits” (can be referred to as days of participation) and by participants.
Scuba, swimming, boating and drowning (due to boating/drowning) are also listed below.
1998 number of fatalities* 39
Number of participants (in millions)** 10.4
Fatalities per million participants 3.75
Days of participation (in millions)* 51.9
Fatalities per days of participation rate (per million) .75
(most recent figure available – 1996)
1996 number of fatalities*** 85
Number of participants** 2.4
Fatalities per million participants 35.4
Days of participation (in millions)** 18.1
Fatalities per days of participation rate (per million) 4.7
1998 number of fatalities*** 1,500
Number of participants (in millions)** 58.2
Fatalities per million participants 25.7
Days of participation (in millions)** 2,324.4
Fatalities per days of participation rate (per million) .65
(registered recreational vessels) (most
Recent figure available- 1997)
1997 number of fatalities*** 821
Number of registered vessels (in millions)*** 12.3
Fatalities per million registered vessels 66.7
Days of participation (in millions) n/a
Fatalities per days of participation n/a
(resulting from collisions with motor vehicles-additional bicycling-related deaths, such as collisions with other bicyclists in 1996 was 87.)
1998 number of fatalities*** 700
Number of participants (in millions)** 43.5
Fatalities per million participants 16.1
Days of participation (in millions)** 2,564.8
By days of participation rate (per million) .27
* National Ski Areas Association
** National Sporting Goods Association (Sports Participation, 1998 and 1997 editions)
***National Safety Council (Injury Facts, 1999 edition)
Note: The “participant per million” rate is calculated by dividing the number of fatalities by the number of participants. The “days of participation” rate is calculated by dividing the number of fatalities by the days of participation.
An Additional PerspectiveAlthough there is no statistical significance to the following, it helps to offer a perspective: The National Safety Council (Injury Facts, 1999 Edition) points out: 41,200 Americans died in automobile accidents (1998); 5,900 pedestrian were killed (1998); 16,600 died from falls from one level to another or on the same level (excludes falls in or from transport vehicles or while boarding them) (1998); 8,400 died from poisoning by solids and liquids and 600 from poisoning by gases and vapors (1998); and 732 died when hit by falling objects (1996). The National Climatic Data Center (NCD) reports that on average 90 people die in the U.S. each year (during the past 39 years) from lightning strikes. They also report that 67 deaths resulted from tornadoes in 1997.