In the afternoon of my first day of snowboarding, I started to get a little cocky.
“It’s time to start hitting some jumps,” went through my 10-year-old brain.
I saw a little kicker along the edge of the trail and headed toward it. A speed check at the last second slowed me down so much I barely had enough speed to make it to the lip of the jump. From there, I fell face first into the snow, but my board’s momentum carried through until it hit the back of my head.
Luckily, the ski patrol didn’t have to escort me off the mountain to the nearest hospital, but there was a massive bump emerging from my skull and I had a pounding headache.
Snowboarding and other snow sports are dangerous activities that cause many injuries every winter.
Chris Boyer, a wilderness Emergency Medical Technician on the Ski Patrol at Sierra Summit, said he sees a lot of inexperienced skiers who try to ski outside their abilities. “This brings a lot of injuries down the hill,” he said.
The most common injury Boyer said he sees occurs when, “People fall with an extended arm, causing their shoulder to dislocate,” he said. “We see a lot of fractures, broken collar bones, wrist injuries – especially snowboarders in the terrain park; and knee injuries.”
A completely fractured wrist is the worst injury Boyer said he has seen. “The ulna and the radius, which are the bones in the forearm, were protruding out of the skin. This guy had a compound fracture on the underside of his wrist,” he said.
“We also had a young girl who was skiing out of control and had accident,” Boyer added. “The snow mobile cut her forehead and you could see a piece of her forehead. That was pretty nasty.”
“One of the busiest days we had all season was on a real icy day, and it was sunny, so it was hard to see the ice,” Boyer said. “We saw about 30-plus incidents go on that day. That’s usually the maximum number we’ll have on a busy day. The average is any where from 10 to 15.”
At Clovis Medical Center, the closest hospital to Sierra Summit, patient representative Eduardo Navarro said he sees around 10 injuries a day when there are good conditions after a storm. However, he has seen up to seven people injured in only 20 minutes.
“The type of conditions you want to look out for include days where it’s super cloudy. What that does is makes it difficult to see the terrain and features,” Boyer said.
“You want to look out for the real sunny days in the afternoon where it gets slushy,” Boyer said. “We call it ‘snow snakes,’ where you’ll be skiing and then it’s like you get attacked out of the blue. Your skis stop, but your body keeps going. That causes a lot of knee injuries.”
Boyer also said to be cautious in icy conditions as well. “Ice is hard, it’s like hitting cement,” he said. “We get a lot of concussions on icy days.”
Snow sport activities are a lot of fun for many people and there are certainly ways to prevent injuries from occurring.
Some words of advice Boyer would give to beginners is to get a lesson and know the responsibility code on the back of the lift ticket. Specific things he said to be aware of are where to stop and to look out for skiers below you.
“Assume that there are dangerous people on the mountain because there are,” Boyer added. “You have to not only watch out own safety, but realize there are other people on the mountain.”
“That’s often the most dangerous hazard on the mountain,” he said. “Not the terrain, but other people. You get a lot of skiers and snowboarders getting in over their heads, and become out of control coming down the mountain. They’ll pose the biggest hazard to other people.”
Also, before heading to the mountain, Boyer suggests, “Know before you go. Know the weather, make sure your equipment is checked out, know the responsibility code,” he said. “Maybe having radios is good idea to stay in contact with the other people you go with at all times. Make meeting points and rendezvous points. Stay hydrated – and ski within your ability. Start off small, then go big.”