SKIING Scene: Little Skis, Big Step Back?


Two recent studies suggest that skiboarders are more¿probably lots more¿likely to break a leg than skiers. Skiboards are those cute little (90 cm or so) ski-like things typically sold with nonrelease bindings. A two-year study of skiboard rentals at 18 areas (authored by longtime ski-injury researchers Robert Johnson, Jasper Shealy, and Carl Ettlinger) showed skiboarders, compared with skiers, were more than twice as likely to suffer some injury, and nearly four times as likely to suffer a fracture or sprain below the knee.

During the 1998¿99 ski season, researchers at the Vermont Orthopaedic Clinic in Rutland also studied skiboard injury rates. They measured injury incidences in "mean (skier) days between injuries," or MDBI (100 skiers on the slopes for one day counts as 100 days). Though the findings are considered preliminary, the MDBI among skiboarders for tibia fractures was 3,394. Alpine skiers' MDBI for tibia fractures is around 25,000 (according to Johnson et al.), which is a rate of injury seven times lower. Melbourne Boynton, M.D., one of the Rutland researchers, chalks it up to demographics. The average skiboarder is male and much younger than the average skier, he says, and "young males are statistically more prone to injury."

Ettlinger points instead to skiboards' nonrelease bindings as the most likely culprit. "The rate of sprains and fractures below the knee for skiboarders appears at least as high as it was with the primitive release bindings of the early 1970s," he says. And research has proven that, with skis, at least, modern release bindings offer significantly improved protection against busted legs than their crude, older relatives. Would release bindings provide an equally great safey boost for skiboards? Stay tuned.

Lower-leg fractures among skiers have declined over 90 percent since the advent of the releasable binding.