Journal Published Online: 08 June 2005
Volume 2, Issue 7

How Fast Do Winter Sports Participants Travel on Alpine Slopes?



This study was developed to empirically determine the impact of the following variables on the speeds of skiers and snowboarders: activity [skiing versus snowboarding], visibility [clear and sunny sky versus cloudy, overcast conditions], type of resort [day, destination, or combination], and helmets [use or not of helmet]. The study also evaluated differences in speed between males and females and the ability of subjects to estimate their speed.

The authors measured the speed of some 650 individuals at three different ski resorts in the U.S. during the winter of 2002/2003. One resort was primarily a destination resort in Utah, one was a day area in New York, and the third resort in Vermont had a combination of destination and day skiers. The speeds were determined by means of a calibrated radar speed gun. Speeds were gathered on consecutive skiers and snowboarders as they were observed from an uphill, looking downhill position. The speed recorded was the highest speed observed during a several second interval while the observed person went through several turns as the skiers and snowboarders moved away from the observer. All observations were made on wide, straight, well-groomed ‘blue square’ (more difficult) trails. The slopes ranged from 16–20° in steepness.

The average speed for all observations was 43.0 km/h (26.7 mph), with a standard deviation of 11.2 km/h (7.0 mph). The average speed for skiers of 44.5 km/h (27.6 mph) was significantly higher than that for snowboarders at 38.9 km/h (24.1 mph). The average speed under good visibility of 46.7 km/h (29.0 mph) was significantly higher than for poor visibility conditions at 38.3 km/h (23.7 mph). The average speed for helmet users of 45.8 km/h (28.4 mph) was significantly higher than those not using a helmet at 41.0 km/h (25.4 mph). Males ski and snowboard significantly faster than females. Skiers and snowboarders are fair at estimating their speed (r = 0.56), but they tend to underestimate their speeds the faster they go; for example, at an actual 48 km/h (30 mph), they estimate that they are traveling at 37 km/h (23 mph).

The observed speeds are well above the speeds (22.6 km/h, or 14.0 mph) used for ASTM F 2040 helmet testing protocols for recreational snow sports helmets.

Author Information

Shealy, JE
Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, USA
Ettlinger, CF
Vermont Safety Research, Underhill Center, VT, USA
Johnson, RJ
McClure Musculoskeletal Research Center, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, VT, USA
Pages: 8
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Stock #: JAI12092
ISSN: 1546-962X
DOI: 10.1520/JAI12092