Skiing or Snowboarding For the longer version, click here.

  Which one is safer? Which one is for you? Data was analyzed from 384 articles published in well-known medical journals. Overall the injury rates were equal between skiers and snowboarders in the earlier studies. Later studies show that snowboarding injuries may be on the rise solely because of larger numbers of boarders in terrain parks.

Mechanisms of injury

  The mechanisms of injury are different in skiers and snowboarders. Snowboarding accidents were typically less severe and less likely to require a hospital admission than skiing accidents. Beginners with less than one week on the snow accounted for 60 percent of the injuries overall for snowboarding. 20 to 36% of the injuries occur the very first day on the snow. 50 percent of these injuries in the first week were wrist injuries particularly wrist fractures. Falling backward after losing balance is the most common mechanism for the wrist fracture in beginners. The incidence of head injuries is higher than skiers but the injury is much less severe, usually minor. Beginners had a higher incidence of head injuries, usually from falling backwards and hitting the back of their heads. The higher incidence of spine injuries is related to jumping. 2.6% of snowboarding accidents are caused by snowboarders running into other snowboarders.
  There is a higher incidence of severe abdominal and chest injuries in skiers. There is a lower incidence of spine injuries. There is a lower incidence of head injuries but skiers are five times more likely to suffer a fatal head injury. Knee injuries are more common. Injuries are distributed evenly between all abilities. The skiers comprised an older age group, with male skiers more likely to get injured than female skiers. Release mechanisms on ski bindings are too slow to prevent most knee injuries. Skiers had a higher incidence of frontal head injuries and more severe facial injuries. Skiers are more likely to hit a snowboarder than are boarders to hit a skier. Only 1% of all ski injuries are caused by collisions with snowboarders, but 7.7% are the result of skiers running into other skiers.

How to prevent injuries in skiing and snowboarding:

  For snowboarders, wrist guards work. All beginners should wear wrist guards. Several studies showed a zero percent incidence of wrist injuries in boarders who wore wrist guards. In beginners helmets would help enormously because beginners so often fall backwards. Helmets would also be helpful in those boarders who like to catch air. It is better to learn in powder or wet snow and not on hard pack or ice. Equipment makes a difference. Learning how to fall correctly goes a long way towards preventing injuries.
  Helmets can prevent injuries in skiers. As release mechanisms on bindings improve injuries to the knee should decrease. Contrary to snowboarding it is better to not learn initially on powder. It is better to learn on groomed slopes with packed powder. Learning how to fall correctly goes a long way towards preventing injuries. Proper conditioning is important in both sports.

So which sport is safer?

  Analysis of the data clearly shows the earlier rates of injuries were the same but with the advent of more terrain parks snowboarder injury rates may be on the rise. If we could eliminate the first week of injuries, it would make snowboarding twice as safe. We can do this by having all beginners for the very first week use wrist guards and helmets. It is not possible to make the same injury rate reductions in beginner skiers unfortunately. When we compare similar age groups and demographics snowboarders are younger and take more risks. If we eliminated this statistically from the data and compared similar age groups, it would make snowboarding even more statistically safer than skiing. If you eliminate terrain parks, you reduce injury rates by as much as an additional three times.

How can we come up with these conclusions?

  Understanding that snowboarders have a lower incidence of severe injuries is easy when you compare the stance of a snowboarder to a skier. A snowboarder typically is in a fighter stance, a stance that one would be in for sports such as boxing or martial arts. Since the snowboarder does not have to worry about ski poles and because he is already in a tucked sideways position it is easier for a snowboarder to achieve a safer crash position than a skier. When a skier hits an object the skier tends to hit face first because that is the way the skier is going down the mountain. It puts the skier in a much more vulnerable position for head, facial, chest and abdominal injuries which can be quite severe. A boxer would never stand face first with his arms out to the sides unable to achieve an adequate defense. It may be that snowboarding is easier to learn because there is only one edge on a snowboard and it is a much wider surface and there are no poles. It makes it an easier sport to learn because once you learn how to turn a snowboard you're automatically making parallel turns.
  Have fun, whatever you decide to do.

  Dr. Mark Hopkins is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in sports medicine. For more articles on injury prevention in outdoor sports check out his web site at

Mark Hopkins, M.D.
Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon
4315 Wild Elk Trail
Flagstaff, Arizona 86004


Product Comparison Form











Knee injury





Ankle injury



Riskier, however boot modifications can lower this risk, also if only one ankle is weak put it in the rear position 80% forward foot stat.


Judo or similar martial arts experience


Somewhat helpful

Extremely helpful


Wrist problems



Riskier, however wrist guards would reduce risk


Cervical Spine Problems





Thoracic, Lumbar Spine Injuries



Safer, except for impact loading in beginners, can be reduced almost completely by learning in powder


Hx of gamekeepers thumb


Riskier, can be modified by pole grip changes



Skateboarding or Surfing Experience


Of no help

Makes sport easier to learn


Icy conditions





Powder conditions


Riskier, harder to learn and more risky to learn

Safer, easier to learn and less risk of an injury


Taebo or kickboxing


Very helpful



Excellent physical condition


Very helpful

Very helpful


Access to a trampolene


Somewhat helpful

Very helpful


Ability to balance


Needed, kickboxing and Taebo help, Balance can be a learned

Needed, kickboxing and Taebo help, Balance can be learned


Learning Curve





Only one week per year? vacationer


Rarely progress in sport

Likely to progress in sport

Like Powder



Skiing harder and more work

Snowboarding easier and less work, a more efficient way to get down the mountain