There were 37 “catastrophic incidents” in ski areas during the 2017-18-ski season, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). That number represents a 15 percent increase in catastrophic incidents from the previous season. The majority of skiing incidents with catastrophic results are due to collisions with other skiers or stationary objects.
Head Trauma and Neurological Injuries
The following are common catastrophic injuries, which include neurological trauma, head trauma, spinal-cord injuries (full or partial paralysis) or the loss of a limb.
While head and neurological injuries are due to the fewest number of ski-related accidents, they are the leading cause of disability or death in ski and snowboarding accidents. Head injuries that occur while skiing account for 3 to 5 percent of all skiing-related injuries, while spinal injuries reportedly account for a lesser percentage.
Skiers colliding with trees are the most common cause. The NSAA reports that 70 percent of skiers who experienced a catastrophic injury in the 2017-18-ski season were wearing helmets, which can reduce the severity of a head injury in accidents
Unfortunately, however, neurological injuries are increasing with the advancement of technology. Skiers progress to a level of skill that allows them to ski faster sooner than they did years ago, before the performance capability of ski equipment and slope maintenance could catch up.
Catastrophic injuries aren’t as common to skiing as you might suppose. Though they are common enough to be recorded, a skier still has a one in a million chance of experiencing a catastrophic injury.
Of course, injuries not considered catastrophic also occur while snow skiing. Broken legs are among the most common ski-related injury.
Skiing places extreme pressure on the legs due to the speed with which skiers fly downhill, combined with quick turns and sudden stops.
Skiing also causes the knees to react unnaturally. The knee’s design allows for only certain types of movement. Too far to one side or the other and the knee can buckle or give out.
The worst-case scenario is that the force of skiing and falling down will result in a break of the leg. There are four bones in the leg: the femur, patella, tibia, and fibula. All are susceptible to breaks during even a simple fall while skiing. The impact of a fall is influenced by a skier’s speed.
The good news is that releasable bindings are reducing the number of leg fractures during skiing.
Tears of the tissue that help to stabilize the knee also occur frequently while skiing. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are both especially susceptible to injury.
Beginning skiers are more vulnerable to MCL tears. Learning to stop, the skier turns the points of the skis toward one another. An inexperienced skier may easily fall while in this position and the result can be a tear to his or her MCL.
ACL tears are more common among experienced skiers. When attempting to stick a proper landing, they may miss their mark, improperly shifting the weight on the knees and suffer an ACL tear.
As with other ski injuries, a dislocated shoulder can occur in a split second, with a simple fall. The impact of the fall is exacerbated by skiing speed. It occurs when a skier lands on the shoulder, and the upper arm bone dislodges from the socket of the shoulder blade. The injury is immediately evident and quite painful.
Breakaway ski bindings are helping to lessen the prevalence of ligament sprains – especially in the ankle. However, bindings sometimes don’t give way, resulting in undue strain on the ankles and feet. The strain causes trauma to the area and may result in a severe ankle or foot sprain.
Contact the orthopaedic urgent care and sports medicine clinic at Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence to find out what your treatment options are after a skiing injury. Call us at (719) 394-4800 or use our request an appointment form.