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People come to the snow fields either to ski or to enjoy the snow-covered environment. The latter group includes people who toboggan.
In Australia, many people have either never seen snow or are at the beginner's stage of skiing. However, this is changing as cheap package bus tours to ski resorts now put snowrelated sports within the economic grasp of more people. Many of these newcomers view tobogganing as a safer introduction to snow sports. Although it is easier and cheaper, it may not be safer.
We collected detailed data on 77 tobogganing injuries from the 1985 season. This data included basic epidemiological information on the Australian tobogganist including determination of the mechanism of injury. The average age of the injured tobogganist was 18.2 (range 4 to 62), 49% were male, 50% were injured within 1 h of this activity, most (84%) had never snow skied, and 65% were unaware of the hazards of tobogganing.
Of the 77 injuries, 24 (31.2%) were to the lower spine and pelvis and, except for one, were only soft tissue injuries with no neurological signs. One was an acetabular fracture of the pelvis; 21 (27%) injured their lower limbs; 9 were contusions, 1 was a tibial plateau fracture, 7 were fractured ankles, 3 were ankle sprains and 1 minor fracture; 20 (26%) suffered head and face injuries; and 4 suffered a fractured nose and 16 had lacerations/contusions. Ten (13%) injured their upper limb, two (3%) were fractures, and two (3%) had soft tissue injuries of their cervical spine. No serious head or spinal injuries were seen (that is, no neurological signs).
Adverse snow and weather conditions appeared to play a minimal role in the causation of injuries (5%); 65% of injuries were due to loss of control, while 19.5% were due to natural hazards such as rocks or ditches. Of injuries, 10.5% were tobogganists hit by tobogganists as they walked back up the slope dragging their toboggan.
Tobogganing in Australia is not the sophisticated Northern hemispheric equivalent seen at the Winter Olympics. The vehicle available here is a cheap, plastic shell, square and shallow (measuring 80 by 38 by 63 cm) with an attached rope to pull it up the slope but with no steering or braking controls. Tobogganists mostly sit with their spine flexed and their feet either within or extending outside the toboggan. On contested slopes, collisions may occur with the ground, rocks, flora, other tobogganists, and pedestrians. The operator uses his legs to brake, curls his hands out over the side of the vehicle to secure himself, and his pelvis rests flat against the hard toboggan surface.
We conclude that tobogganing is a perilous introduction to snow-related sports, and it is not as safe as skiing. There is a need to provide a more controllable vehicle and tobogganist education with regard to the possible dangers.
tobogganing, injuries, snow activities, ski injuries, Australia
Orthopaedic Registrar, Prince of Wales Hospital, KensingtonGordon, SydneyNSW
Final year medical student, University of New South Wales, Kensington, NSW