One question you may face from contemporaries who know you are taking up snowboarding is this: “Isn’t snowboarding dangerous?”
Let’s start to answer that question with two quick thoughts.
One, everything in life, including sliding down a mountain, or getting out of your bath tub, has risks. You can’t eliminate risks, but you can minimize them.
This brings us to the second point: yes, snowboarding can be dangerous, especially if you aren’t prepared or just act stupidly. But as an adult learner, you’re not going to be stupid, right?
Snowboarding has had a reputation for danger because a large number of snowboarders have been reckless, wild, devil-may-care teenage males.
Fortunately, as a responsible adult snowboarder, you can change that reputation, and use your experience for an enjoyable snowboarding experience.
- You’re more sensible now than you were as a kid; you know that you’re not immortal. That in itself goes a long way to keep you safe.
- After “weekend warrior” projects around the house, you’ve learned how to respect your limits.
- You have learned (from experience or observation) that alcohol abuse can cause more trouble than its worth. Don’t drink and ride.
In short, if you’ve lived this long, you’ve probably acquired the attitudes required for safe riding.
When you’re fully equipped, you may have gear from head to toe–and be in a better position to ride safely, with confidence.
You’ve learned to use a helmet while traveling on a motorcycle, or even a bicycle. So use a helmet when you’re on a snowboard, too. That’s the #1 rule for safety gear. Get one and use it, especially (though not only) if you are riding on hardpacked snow or ice.
The most common injury in snowboarding is to the wrist (fractures or sprains). So wrist guards–cousins of what you may use while rollerblading–can help prevent injuries. But a word of caution: even when you wear wrist guards, resist the temptation to stop a fall by using your hands. In some circumstances, that will only make things worse.
Consider impact shorts to protect your hips and backside during those falls, which are (sorry to say) an inevitable part of learning. Some companies shorts designed for women.
You might also benefit from wearing knee pads as well. You can use soft pads that are sold to volleyball players, or you can find some, combining cloth and plastic, that are marketed as snowboarding gear. Either way, you might find that the easiest way into a fall just might be onto your knees–IF they have adequate padding. Some people report that knee pads also keep the knees warm, a useful quality to some of the Grays on Trays crew.
Proper Behavior: the Responsibility Code
The Responsibility Code, previously known as the Skier’s Responsibility Code, provides a summary of the minimum of good behavior (that is, safety-promoting behavior) on the slopes. You will find it at most ski areas. Here’s one version of it:
- Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
- People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
- You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
- Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
- Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
- Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
When you aren’t using proper techniques, you’re more likely to get hurt. For one thing, you may put stress on some parts of the body that aren’t suitable for the task at hand. For another, a rider with poor technique is more likely to tire out earlier.
Talk show host and snowboarder Montel Williams sums the case for lessons nicely: “I don’t know why so many people think it’s so easy to strap one of these boards on. I have friends who say they don’t want to spend the time or the money on lessons. It’s ridiculous. Spend $200 on a lesson for you and your kids [ed: they don’t have to cost that much, even] and avoid spending thousands on a trip to the emergency room because you didn’t know how to turn or how to fall properly.”
Another key: quit while you are ahead. Follow the adage from the ski patrol: When do most injuries occur? On the last run of the day. When you’re too tired to go on, call it a day. It’s a better alternative than having an injury end the day for you.
Use your head, wear the gear, and learn how to use proper technique. Ride on!
For More Reading
For some citations of medical literature relating to snowboarding safety, see the page on avoiding snowboarding injuries.
If you would like to read more about snowboarding safety, one useful web site is Ski-Injury.com, the personal web site of Dr. Mike Langran, a physician in Scotland. It answers questions such as “Why don’t snowboards have releasable bindings?”