By S. Jason Moore, Ph.D., P.A.

Historically, research on ski and snowboard injuries often directed attention to avalanches, skill levels of participants, and the differing injuries between skiers and snowboarders.

A recent Colorado study took a different approach. “Let it Snow: How snowfall and injury mechanism affect ski and snowboard injuries in Vail, Colorado, 2011-2012” focused on how new snow amounts affect injuries on the slopes. Recently published in the “Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery,” the study looked specifically at correlations between daily snowfall totals and the patterns and severity of injuries seen at a busy trauma hospital, the Vail Valley Medical Center.

More than 600 patients from multiple regional resorts were analyzed over the 2011 and 2012 ski seasons, and findings showed daily snowfall amounts did in fact influence injury severity. The data indicated that over 65 percent of injuries were sustained when it snowed less than 1 inch over the previous 24 hours. Additionally, a daily snowfall total of 1-2 inches more than tripled the odds of sustaining a severe or critical injury.

But as snow accumulated beyond 2 inches, the chances of sustaining a severe injury decreased. Translation: When it dumps, grab your boards.

Results also showed that snowboarders tend to sustain injuries to the abdomen and upper extremities, while skiers injure lower extremities as well as the spine, pelvis, chest, and head more frequently than do snowboarders.

Data indicated that people colliding on the hill tend to have more severe injuries than individual skier or snowboarder falls. Specific collision injuries included the chest, ribs, lungs, and kidneys. The odds that an injured snow rider was involved in a collision nearly doubled when recent snowfall totals were 1 inch or less. Translation: When there’s dust on crust, use increased caution.

It’s unclear exactly why snowfall appears to protect against severe injury. However, it’s reasonable to assume that fresh snowfall would provide a protective layer during a fall, while increased friction could decrease speeds of snow-sport enthusiasts.

Findings from this research could alter the diagnostic evaluation of patients and change resort safety initiatives. Either way, be careful out there.

Severe snow-sports injuries you really want to avoid

Compiled by Jesse Coil, D.O.

These are three of the most traumatic snow-sports injuries associated with high-speed falls or collisions. Ride smart and keep your head up (and make sure there’s a helmet on it).

Spine: Thoracic vertebrae burst fracture

-Frequency: 0.1 injuries / 10,000 skier days

-Cause: Crashing from height or high-speed impact

-Recovery time: Six to eight weeks, longer if surgery required

-Prevention: Keep boards on the ground, avoid big air

Head: Including skull fracture or intracranial hemorrhage

-Frequency: 0.3 injuries / 10,000 skier days

-Cause: Direct impact to head

-Recovery time: Six weeks to years depending on severity of brain injury

-Prevention: Helmet may reduce risk

Leg: Femur fracture

-Frequency: 0.1 injuries / 10,000 skier days

-Cause: Direct impact / high-speed crash

-Recovery time:Eight weeks, plus months of rehabilitation

-Prevention: Avoid high-speed falls and big jumps

If you or someone you’re riding with sustains any of these injuries, immediately seek professional care.

This story was first published in the winter 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.