Many people that have not tried the sport ask the question, is snowboarding dangerous? The root of the question usually comes from horror stories and videos of snowboarders crashing hard from massive jumps.
Snowboarding obviously has its dangers, but we cannot do much in life without an element of risk. We face risk every day, whether we are crossing the road or doing some simple exercise, and risk doesn’t stop us from doing these things.
When we take up any sport, our risk of injury increases. But, some sports come with a higher risk than others due to their nature, and snowboarding is one of them.
Even with this increased risk, it doesn’t mean we should not shred the mountain. Here, we will highlight the dangers of snowboarding and how to manage the risks.
- The Dangers Of Snowboarding
- Managing The Risk
- Get The Right Safety Equipment
- Get Proper Instruction
- General Safety Tips
- Final Thoughts
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In theory, the more experienced a snowboarder is, the less dangerous it is. You should become more aware of how your body reacts to certain situations.
The snow and weather conditions are less likely to catch you out when it matters. In addition to this, you will know your limits and the environment you put yourself in, so you know when to call it a day to stay out of trouble.
However, in reality, a more experienced snowboarder will take more risks. They will try more advanced tricks, ride steeper terrain, and ride faster.
Therefore, advanced snowboarders often risk more than a broken wrist or a bruised coccyx.
There are a few aspects of the mountain environment different snowboarders find themselves in.
Most recreational snowboarders will stick to the groomed slopes of the resort. These are the safest areas of the mountain, as they are looked after, patrolled, and natural dangers are managed to keep you safe.
On these slopes, the main dangers are other people and lack of skill. Therefore, with some due diligence, you can stay safe while on the slopes.
The next place that snowboarders like to frequent is the snowpark. The snowpark is full of jumps, rails, and other features to practice your freestyle tricks on.
There is a high percentage of snowpark riders who are taken down the mountain on a stretcher. This is because riders are experimenting with their limits, which is a good thing, as you don’t get better without trying new stuff. But, pushing the boundaries comes with consequences.
The final place snowboarders like to go is into the backcountry. The backcountry is the unpatrolled area of the mountain, where you have to look after yourself and the people with you.
The backcountry attracts skiers and snowboarders that want to ride untouched powder. The feeling you get from doing this is like no other, which makes backcountry riding very addictive.
However, the backcountry is filled with hazards that are potentially fatal if you don’t know what you are doing.
In the various areas of the mountain, we can keep ourselves as safe as possible by managing the risk. Most of it boils down to having some common sense and getting educated on the dangers.
When you are riding around the resort, the first thing you need to know is where to go with regard to your ability. The slopes are graded by color to indicate how difficult they are to ride.
Green – Very easy slopes for beginners
Blue – Moderately easy for beginners and intermediates
Red (Black Diamond in the USA) – Difficult slope for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders
Black (Double Black Diamond in the USA) – For advanced skiers and snowboarders only
By knowing these gradings, you can plot a route that won’t get you into trouble by trying to ride something beyond your ability. All the slopes will be shown on the resort map, so you can stay within your limits.
One of the most important things is to snowboard within your limits. There are times when you need to push those limits to progress, but this should only be done once you have developed the basic skills.
When riding in a new place for the first time, it is best to start off with something easy, so you can get a feel for how the resort’s slopes have been graded. You will find that one resort’s idea of a blue slope is very different from another.
The snowpark is where you really need to be realistic about what you can do. The jumps and features are graded in the same way as the slopes, so you can get an idea of their difficulty and size.
When riding a park for the first time, it is worth riding through without hitting any jumps. Have a look at the take-offs and landings to get an idea of what they might feel like. This is one of the ways snowboarding and skateboarding are similar.
Start with small jumps and features before going big. You will be able to get a good feel for the transitions and landings while warming your legs up.
Snowparks can get quite busy, so one of the biggest things about park riding is park etiquette. There is not that much to it, but at the very least, you should check behind you before dropping in, never cut anyone up, and respect what the person below is doing.
One of the biggest causes of injury in the snowpark is people not clearing the landings after a fall. If you fall on the landing, get up as soon as possible, there is a line of skiers and snowboarders coming to land on you.
As we said before, the backcountry is littered with real dangers that can kill you. Many skiers and snowboarders go into the backcountry blissfully unaware of the risks, and they get into trouble.
Please note, that if you are a beginner snowboarder or one that sticks to the groomers, you will not have to worry about any of this. We will come to more ways to look after yourself later.
The avalanche risk in the backcountry should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind before you even go beyond the boundaries. The only way to do this is to buy the proper avalanche rescue equipment and get educated on how to use it.
You need an avalanche transceiver and probe to find your buried friends and a shovel to dig them out. These are pretty expensive, but you can rent the equipment in good ski shops.
There are a few different techniques used in avalanche rescue, but the equipment used is the same. The techniques are designed to find and dig out avalanche victims as quickly as possible.
But it is best to recognize the dangers, so you don’t get into trouble in the first place. By taking an avalanche awareness course, you will be able to spot the good and bad places to ride.
These courses are potentially life-saving, but they are actually terrific fun too. Your instructor will take you to some epic places on the mountain and point out real-world dangers. You will also get to learn about new and fun places to go when the conditions are right.
If you are at a skill level where you can competently ride powder, book one of these courses, or get a one-on-one lesson with an instructor to get more out of your session.
Another piece of equipment that backcountry skiers and snowboarders often use is an avalanche airbag backpack. In the event of getting caught in an avalanche, the rider pulls a trigger to inflate two airbags from their pack.
The primary purpose of the airbags is to increase your buoyancy to keep you on top of the snow, or closer to the surface if you get buried.
The secondary purpose of an airbag is to help prevent head and neck trauma. These systems increase your likelihood of survival dramatically.
Airbags are very expensive, so if it comes down to buying one or going on some avalanche awareness courses, pay for the courses.
Crevasses are deep, wedge-shaped openings in a glacier. Most ski areas don’t have crevasses unless they have high-altitude glaciers.
If you see a warning sign for crevasses, stay well away from the area. You cannot always see them, as the opening can be covered in snow.
An unaware skier or snowboarder can ride across this weak layer of snow, causing it to collapse. Some crevasses have been measured at 20 meters wide and 45 meters deep.
If you are riding in backcountry areas with glaciers, you should book a guide. Guides often live in the area all year round, so they know where the crevasses are, or at least how to spot where they are.
Tree wells are not an obvious hazard to novice skiers and snowboarders. A tree well is the space around a tree under its branches. This area gets less snow than the surrounding space, which creates a hazard.
The hazard is that the snow around the base of the tree is loose and collapses when someone’s weight disrupts it. The unfortunate victim falls into the void under the tree, often too deep to climb out of before they get buried.
People that fall into tree wells often fall in head first, making the whole situation more dangerous. They often receive head injuries and get their airways blocked with snow much quicker.
In areas with very heavy snowfall, it is best to not get too close to trees to avoid the danger of falling into a tree well.
We will leave the advanced backcountry stuff for now, but there are a few pieces of safety equipment regarded as essential and nice to have for every snowboarder.
No matter how good you are at snowboarding, you should always wear a helmet. You never know what will happen. Even great snowboarders can catch an edge on an easy slope, or someone crashes into them, causing them to fall.
Snowboard helmets won’t protect you from every kind of crash, but they will look after you in the majority of situations.
A good snowboard helmet must fit correctly. If your helmet is too small, it won’t provide enough coverage. But if it is too large, it will move and not protect your head.
Some snowboard helmets are packed with features to make them more comfortable and to enhance your riding experience. For example, some have built-in speakers or allow you to fit them into your ear pads, so you can listen to your favorite tunes.
There are now snowboard helmets that have adopted technology from mountain bike helmets to make them safer. If you see a helmet equipped with MIPS, it has a system that reduces the turning forces on your head from a crash.
Wrist guards are something that beginner snowboarders like to wear. When you are learning, you tend to put your hands down to break your fall quite often.
Wrist guards give you an element of protection from the stresses of falling. But, your falls can be more dramatic when you are more advanced, and wrist guards just move the force further up your arm.
They are an excellent idea for novice riders, but you should wean yourself off them as soon as you master carving.
Impact shorts are worn by riders of all levels. These are shorts with protective pads strategically placed around them.
The pads absorb the shock from impacts when you fall on your bum. These shorts are excellent for protecting your coccyx, which takes a battering when you learn to snowboard.
You will notice an added advantage of wearing impact shorts when you have snowboard lessons. During a snowboard lesson, you can spend lots of time sitting in the snow, and the extra layer of insulation makes it much more comfortable.
Some expert snowboarders like to wear impact shorts when riding in the backcountry. They provide a little protection from rocks when you need to “butt check” to control your speed after dropping a cliff.
You can buy body armor that protects both your chest and back while riding. There are different types, but they mainly come from other sports, such as mountain biking.
Body armor is rarely worn when snowboarding, as it restricts your movement. The riders that do wear body armor tend to do so to protect vulnerable areas from previous injuries.
The most common type of body armor worn is a back protector. These are slim fitting and can be worn under your chosen layers for the day.
As a beginner snowboarder, you will be working up a sweat. You will constantly be getting back on your feet after falls and while concentrating on your technique.
Unless you have an underlying issue to protect, wearing body armor is not a great idea. Your movement will be hampered, and you will get very hot, which will drain your energy.
If you are a beginner snowboarder and want to protect yourself, a helmet is 100% necessary, and a pair of impact shorts may benefit you and are nice to have. Wrist guards are not essential, but you may like to wear them as an extra precaution.
One of the most dangerous things you can do as a beginner snowboarder is not getting the proper instruction. Some people just rent the equipment and give it a try, while others will rely on a more experienced friend to teach them.
Trying to teach yourself to snowboard is a painful way of getting into the sport. You will have no idea how to start, which can be dangerous when using trial and error.
If a friend tries to teach you, even if they are a good rider, they may not be a good teacher. They may overestimate your abilities and take you somewhere you should not be.
A proper instructor will take you to the most appropriate slope, talk you through the basics, and use various techniques that will get you riding properly. By following their instructions, there is less chance that you will pick up bad habits later on.
The things that keep you safe when riding the slopes may seem self-explanatory. But, when the excitement hits, or you are concentrating on your technique, something may slip your mind.
Here are some general safety tips for snowboarding:
If something happens to you, you’ll be thankful for having a buddy with you. But, more importantly, riding with someone is way more fun.
We touched on this earlier, but you need to ride within your limits. Make sure you are comfortable with specific techniques before you advance to the black run or the bigger jump.
Also, don’t go into the backcountry if you don’t know what you are doing. That fresh untouched powder looks very tempting, but how confident are you that it won’t avalanche?
The ski patrol put signs up everywhere to keep you safe. If a slope has a closed sign over it, it is there for a reason. Slopes can be closed for maintenance, avalanche control, or there may not be enough snow coverage to ride it safely.
The skier or snowboarder below you has the right of way, as they don’t know you are coming up behind them. Give them space and manage your speed to avoid crashing into them; this is very common.
However, if you are the downhill rider, ride responsibly. If you are riding slowly, leave space so faster people can pass you safely; try not to take up the whole slope.
There is a good chance that someone is on the move behind you. Always look up the hill before setting off to make sure you don’t cause an accident.
Don’t just stop in the middle of the slope. Find a safe place off to the side to stop, where people coming down the mountain can see you.
This also goes for crests of hills and jump landings. The oncoming skier or snowboarder will not see you until it is too late, so be aware of what is above you when you stop.
As a snowboarder, you have a blind side as you stand sideways on your board. Before you make a sharp turn, look over your shoulder to make sure nobody is behind you.
All of this may seem a bit negative, but the nature of snowboarding comes with risks. You are traveling at speed with nothing but a couple of metal edges to slow you down and turn.
But, the element of risk is what makes sports like snowboarding fun; it is why we do them. If they were 100% safe, they wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun or exciting.
As we have highlighted, snowboarding is made safer with common sense and some education. Using these simple things we all have or can obtain, you can enjoy one of the most thrilling sports in the world.
There are different aspects of snowboarding, so it is as dangerous as you make it. Stick to the blue runs all day before heading in for a few après drinks.
You don’t have to head into avalanche territory or send it off massive jumps. But, if you do, build up the skills and knowledge to ensure you are as safe as possible.
Images were taken from Unsplash.com