Fatal accidents can happen when skiing, but only in rare cases. The dramatic nature of ski accidents and deaths is the reason why they tend to attract more attention.
You might have heard about the occasional deaths that happen in the runs when skiing or trekking on the snow goes wrong.
Don’t be terrified, though. Skiing is one of the most exciting winter sports, but of course, it does have some dangers, just like any other sport.
The good thing is that there are lots of things you can do to stay safe on the mountain and protect other slope users.
You may be a very cautious skier, but it’s important to keep in mind that other people are using the slopes as well, and not all of them are as careful as you are.
So, collisions on the slopes happen now and then due to the negligent behavior of some skiers and snowboarders.
But exactly how can skiing make you die? And how many people die on the slopes every year?
According to NSAA Fatality Fact Sheet for Skiier/Snowboarder fatality incidents:
- There were 42 reported fatal incidents during the 2019/2020 season
- The majority of fatal incidents resulted due to collisions
- In 2019/2020, males represented over 83% of all skiier/snowboarder fatalities
- The majority of incidents occurred on more or most difficult terrain
The total of 42 fatalities reported during the 2019/20 season is higher than the 10-year industry average of 39 fatalities per season (see chart). Based on 51.3 million total skier/snowboarder visits during the 2019/20 season, the fatality rate converts to less than one fatality per 1 million skier visits (or 0.81 fatalities per 1 million skier visits during the 2019/20 season).
|Season||Fatalities||Skiier Days (in Millions)||Rate (Per Million)|
|10 Year Average||39||55||0.71|
In this section, we’ll provide some serious facts about skiing-related deaths and show you everything you need to know about skiing accidents.
Can You Die Skiing?
Yes, you can die skiing. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone who hits the slopes will die on their skis.
It’s just like what happens when driving a car or riding a bicycle, and these are even more dangerous activities than skiing. Many people die from car and bike accidents every year in the US.
Most people who die skiing are male, and some are even highly experienced skiers. They tend to lose control on the slopes and collide with hard objects leading to fatal injuries.
People who ski and trek in the backcountry may also die in the avalanches. But all these are extremely rare happenings.
Skiers are always advised to wear helmets when hitting the slopes to be on the safe side when collisions happen.
Nonetheless, a skiing helmet can only protect you from head injuries when riding at a moderate speed. Skiers who use extremely high speeds may not benefit from helmets when accidents happen.
Ski Related Deaths
Both professional and recreational skiers have died on the slopes. Here are some of the worst ski-related deaths:
1#. Cavalese Cable Car Accident in Italy
This cable car crash happened in a Cavalese ski resort in Italy. It was in March 1976 when a cable car descending from Mount Cermis plunged to the ground.
The cable car was carrying 44 passengers, and 43 people died in this accident due to suffocation and the hard fall of about 60 meters. Only a 14-year-old Milanese girl survived the fall.
This accident happened after a steel supporting cable broke, causing the car to thrush to the ground within seconds.
2#. Galtur Avalanche in Austria
This was a fatal accident that happened towards the end of February 1998. It occurred when a huge avalanche broke away and collapsed toward a ski resort in Galtur, Austria.
The main cause of the avalanche was a series of bad weather whereby three strong Atlantic storms moved through, dumping about four meters of snow.
Consequently, the ice-thawing conditions ruined the existing snowpack, and when wind followed, the weak base of the snow broke away. About 170,000 tons of snow rolled down the mountain.
The huge pack of snow (about 50 meters high) slammed the village, destroying buildings and cars and laying to rest 57 people.
When the rescue team came to the village, the snow volume was still very large and fatal, resulting in the death of 31 people.
3#. Groomed Runs Deaths
While groomed runs are carefully designed and assessed to reduce dangerous injuries, they still cause more than a few accidents yearly.
While the likelihood of death is negligible compared to the number of skiers and snowboarders who ride on groomed runs, even one person’s death can intensely affect their family.
In the season of 2020/2021, the National Ski Area Association recorded 54 deaths of skiers and snowboarders out of the 51 million people who participated in the sport.
The number of fatal injuries rose this season because many people were free due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Most of these fatal injuries happened on groomed runs where some skiers were experienced and even wore helmets.
The protection offered by the helmet is usually limited when the skier rides at extremely high speeds.
Injuries in groomed ski areas mainly occur when the skier loses control on the run and collides with a tree or a rock.
4#. Backcountry Skiing and Snowshoeing Deaths
Another leading cause of fatal injuries in ski areas is backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.
While groomed ski areas still have a risk of injuries, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing are becoming more common sports even though the terrain is dangerous.
Skiers, boarders, and snowshoers find the experience to be authentic and tranquil as they get to ride away from crowded ski areas.
Skiing and snowboarding injuries that happen on rough terrain are mainly related to human mistakes. Even experienced skiers can be injured when riding in uninspected areas.
Without inspecting the terrain, a skier or snowboarder may not see a snowpack collapsing. Avalanches usually result in serious physical injuries to skiers and snowboarders.
Mistakes also happen when the skier feels they are already familiar with the terrain and fail to conduct a ski patrol before riding.
Ski Accident Statistics
Over the past few decades, ski deaths have continued to drop in the major ski countries, including European countries, the US, and Canada.
This is mainly attributed to the widespread use of appropriate safety gear when skiing, especially helmets.
Most ski resorts have also fostered awareness and promoted better education to skiers to ensure they behave appropriately while on the slopes.
In addition, organizations like the National Ski Areas Association play a vital role in minimizing injuries. They promote campaign programs that help in preventing ski injuries.
Ski accident statistics reveal that there has been a 50% decrease in skiing injury rates since the 1970s. Today, the injury rate in skiing is only one per 1000 ski days.
In the US, there are about 37 ski accidents every ski season, with about 31 severe injuries. Some of the most common injuries are falling on snow, ripping tendons, and tibia fractures.
One could argue that the US has luck when it comes to ski accidents, as only a few people are injured out of the millions of skiers and snowboarders who crowd ski resorts every winter.
The most common injuries resulting from skiing include:
Ligament Ruptures and Other Knee-Related Injuries
The most affected joint when injuries happen in the mountain is the knee. In every four ski injuries, one involves the knee.
Ligaments that join your thigh bone to the tibia within the knee joint are the most vulnerable. These damages usually happen when the bindings connecting boots and skis fail to release.
This way, your weight and acceleration build a lot of energy on the ski’s tip, causing your knees to twist and potentially damaging the ligaments.
When you are about to fall on the mountain, the pressure makes you put your arms forward to prevent the plunge.
However, this is a dangerous response as the fall creates a severe impact that leaves your shoulders injured.
Shoulder injuries range from dislocation, bone fracture, and a twisted shoulder.
Wrist and Thumb Injuries
The instant response to fall also puts your wrist and fingers in danger, as they are often the first to feel the impact.
When you fall on the hard snow while holding ski poles in your hands, you might end up having a skier’s thumb.
Different types of skiing put you to a risk of head injury. Some of the most common head injuries that result from skiing include concussions and whiplash.
Luckily, you can limit the risk of serious head injuries by wearing a helmet specifically designed for skiing.
What Are the Main Causes of Ski Injuries?
While fatal injuries can happen to anyone when skiing, the risk of accidents is higher in skiers who haven’t received adequate professional training.
Along with that leading cause, here are a few more common causes of ski injuries:
- Hitting the slopes while unfit and not warming up well enough.
- Wearing ski outfits and skis that do not fit you properly or damaged ones.
- Not paying attention to skiing safety rules on the slopes and ski lifts.
- Errors and poor decision-making on the slopes.
- Colliding with other skiers or obstacles like trees or rocks.
- Going off-piste and being less cautious.
- Negligent behavior of other skiers.
What To Do When Injured in a Skiing Accident
Injuries can happen anytime, whether you love alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, or ski touring on the mountain. Here are a few essential things to do if you are injured:
Alert Other Skiers
The first thing you need to do is alert other approaching skiers, so they don’t ride over you. The best way to do this is by asking someone to plant skis to form an X above the collision spot.
Many skiers and snowboarders will recognize this signal and steer clear of the spot or slow down to offer support if needed.
Call the Ski Patrol
If you feel injured, don’t continue with your ride down the mountain. Instead, call the patrol team, who can come and help you.
As you wait for the rescuers, you can talk to the other injured skier if you were involved in a collision with a person. Don’t let them leave the collision scene, as this will be a crime.
Gather Evidence and Get a Witness
The next thing you want to do when a ski injury happens is to gather adequate evidence. You can take some photos of the scene, damaged gear, and any apparent injuries or bruises.
Then get a witness who can help tell the ski patrol how the collision happened.
Find an Experienced Attorney
Finally, you can call an attorney to help you with your case. The good thing is that most attorneys provide free case evaluation, so you don’t have to worry about huge costs.
How Can I Prevent Ski Injuries on the Slope?
While being wary of your conduct on the slopes doesn’t guarantee 100% safety, there are a few things you can do to prevent skiing accidents.
Here are a few tips to keep you safe when skiing:
- Always maintain control of your speed on the slope.
- Ride within your ski ability level.
- Watch out for skiers and other slope users to prevent a collision.
- Be aware of adverse weather and changing snow conditions.
- Observe signs and warnings and stick to safe areas.
- Wear the appropriate protective equipment and warm clothes to prevent heart disease and frostbite.
- Inspect the slope well when riding out of the terrain park.
- Perform some exercises and warm your body up before hitting the slope.
Q: How Likely Are You to Die Skiing?
A: Ski death chances are very low. There are only two to three deaths in one million skiers.
Skiing is considered one of the safest sports since you are likely to have only one accident after hitting the slope 1000 times.
Q: How Common Are Serious Ski Accidents?
A: Serious ski accidents are not very common. On average, there are about 31 serious ski injuries every ski season.
Most ski injuries result from collisions, falling in tree wells, hitting a tree, or any other obstacle on the slope. Chairlifts and cable cars are also leading causes of the worst injuries and deaths.
Q: How Many Skiers Die Each Year?
A: Between 2009 and 2019, about 38 people died each ski season across the world. Most people who die skiing are usually male skiers on intermediate terrain, and the accidents result from hitting obstacles or colliding with other skiers.
Q: How Can You Die from Ski Accident?
A: You can die from skiing when you sustain a serious injury. Catastrophic head injuries happen when a skier collides with other slope users or hits obstacles at high speed. Such injuries can lead to death.
Q: Is Skiing a Hazardous Sport?
A: No, skiing is not really a hazardous sport. It’s considered to be a fairly safe sport even though there are some risks involved.
Overall, the chance of becoming injured skiing is less than 45%. This is a lower fatality rate compared to other sports like football and basketball, which have an injury risk higher than 65%.
The best way to prevent injuries when skiing is by riding at a moderate and reasonable speed, especially on shared slopes where collisions happen so often.
To sum up, skiing is not really dangerous, but you can die on the slope, and there are many causes of such tragedies, as explained above.
While there are some risks in skiing, deaths are very rare. A serious injury can happen when a skier hits a rock, falls on a tree well, or collides with another skier.
If you want to stay safe, you can always use the tips provided in this article when hitting the slope.