How Dangerous?

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How dangerous is skiing? It’s a difficult subject to discuss when statistics and anecdotes clash.

by RYAN STUART in the December 2017 issue

The Globe and Mail reported in October that Alberta and Ontario skiers and snowboarders have less than a 1/20th chance of ending up in the E.R. with a brain injury than hockey players, or 1/12th that of rugby and football players. We like those odds. But when we followed up on the research, their quoted source didn’t know where the numbers came from. Hmm…

B.C. Injury Research and Prevention Unit, on the other hand, says we have the highest “rates” of hospitalization, but we pored over their data and found in creating “rates,” there’s an assumption that 100 per cent of the population skis.

An extensive Ontario coroner’s report on the 35 male and 10 female winter sports deaths between 1991 and 2012 collected reams of data (lumping tobogganing with skiing and snowboarding) and produced many curious results. For instance, six people died on a toboggan, five on a snowboard and, not surprisingly given our numbers, 34 on skis over those 21 years. Even more curious, while one terrain park user died in that time period, five cross-country skiers met their doom. Unfortunately, the biggest question was never addressed: How did head injury rates change as helmet use compliance went from 0-98 per cent over the 21 years?

Canadian ski resorts had 16.5-million skier-visits in 2015-16, 1,707 of whom ended up in hospital, reports the Canadian Ski Council and the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Always morbidly curious about injuries and deaths in our sport and how it compares to other sports, we found as many questions as answers in the data.

While some of the hard numbers make sense, how they relate to each other is as clear as a whiteout in the alpine. For example, the studies compare different sports and activities but don’t break them down by total participants or perhaps, more important, hours spent doing the activities. (Think about it, we ski for six hours on an average ski day, but who toboggans that length of time or gets more than an hour of ice time playing hockey?)

Here are some numbers to spout at après-ski or chat about on your next chairlift ride, but we recommend reading them like you would a Facebook post from some guy named Vladimir, i.e. with a bit of skepticism.


National Hospital Visits*:

Falls on ice  6,625

Cycling  4,513

ATV  3,046

Playground  2,101

Skiing/snowboarding  1,707

Animal riding  1,057

Hockey  787

Skating  720

Snowmobile  942

*Source: CIHI

Of the injured skiers:

1/3 female

2/3 male


B.C. Leading ways to die skiing or snowboarding*:

41% avalanche

26% collision with ground, tree or person

17% fall from height

12% suffocation in tree well or snowdrift

*B.C. Coroner Service


All Winter Sport Fatalities in Ontario, 1991-2012*:

Head injury, 53%

Multiple injuries, 24%

Thoracic injuries, 16%

Other and unknown, 6%

*Ontario Coroner’s Service


Ontario Helmet use:

Coroner determined that had victims been wearing a helmet:

16% could possibly have survived

24% could probably have survived

36% would have survived

16% wouldn’t have survived

8% undetermined

*Ontario Coroner’s Service

Ryan Stuart
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