Volume 3, Issue 5 (May 2006)
On Piste Fatalities in Recreational Snow Sports in the U.S
This study documents fatalities and risk factors in alpine winter sports. The authors have tracked all known fatalities (n = 854) occurring to recreational skiers and snowboarders within the boundaries of ski resorts in the United States since January 1978 through the winter of 2004/05. Data are limited to trauma deaths. Medical emergency deaths, deaths to employees, and deaths involving uphill lift facilities were excluded. Fatality data came from three sources: the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), and public news sources. Information concerning the accident, the injury, and the equipment used, were recorded. Data on skier and snowboarder resort utilization and demographic variables were obtained from NSAA annual reports. This particular analysis covers the 14 seasons 1991/92 through 2004/05. Five hundred sixty-two deaths were recorded; 97 to snowboarders and 465 to skiers during 761 million resort visits. During that time, helmet utilization went from essentially zero to 33.2% for the general at-risk population. The fatality rate for skiers was 0.75 deaths per million visits (D/MV), and the snowboarder rate was 0.53 D/MV. These rates have not changed significantly over time. Most fatalities occurred to experienced males between the ages of 18 to 43. The most common scenario is a severe head injury resulting from high speed impact with a tree on or beside an intermediate trail. During the three most recent seasons, the known average prevalence of helmet utilization was 38.7% among the fatally injured. Helmet utilization does not appear to affect fatality incidence, but it does shift primary cause of death patterns, from mostly head injuries for those not using a helmet to mostly chest and torso for those wearing a helmet. The fatality rate for alpine skiers remained significantly higher than for snowboarders. The demographic profile of the fatally injured remained unchanged from previous research.