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Head Injuries on the Slopes

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 27 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Head Injury Snow Sports Snowboarding

The chances of suffering a serious head injury out on the slopes are a lot less common than the possibility of injuring another part of your body. Safety awareness, knowing your limitations and ability, common sense and, perhaps most importantly, wearing an approved safety helmet thankfully means that serious head injuries are rare. However, they do occur occasionally and, along with spinal injuries, are the most serious situations for a snow sports enthusiast.

Head injuries out on the slopes tend to fall into three main categories – collisions, impacts with snow and ice and lift accidents.


Collisions are, without doubt, the most potentially serious head injury you can encounter when participating in snow sports. They can be with another person or with a rock, a tree, a fence, a pylon or some other fixed, rigid object. Considering that even intermediate skiers are travelling in the region of 30 to 40 mph, you can imagine the damage that can be caused by colliding with a fixed object and trees are often the biggest culprits. Obviously, you should only ski at a speed which is suitable for your ability and wear a helmet.

Impact Falls With Snow and Ice

Impact falls onto compressed snow or ice are obviously more dangerous when landing from a great height which is why ski-jumpers and snowboarders are even more at risk. Snowboarders, in particular, bear an even greater risk given the nature of the sport where participants are always pushing the boundaries looking for even more spectacular jumps, twists and turns. To become a highly proficient snowboarder takes a lot of time and practice so beginners should never tackle manoeuvres beyond their capabilities. It’s even more important in snowboarding to wear an approved safety helmet.

Lift Accidents

T-bars on ski lifts and lift chairs have been known to knock people out cold and cause head lacerations and other minor bumps if you’re not concentrating on what you’re doing and are not paying attention to what’s going on around you. Therefore, it’s important to follow the instructions of the staff member who is operating the ski lifts and any signs that you see and to stay aware.

Serious Head Injuries Treatment

If one of your party suffers a serious head injury then, whilst waiting for medical help to arrive, it’s important that you follow the recommended safety procedure, especially if the casualty is unconscious.

  • Ensure the safety of the scene, of the rescuer and of the casualty him/herself so that no one can come crashing into the area
  • Check the casualty’s airway and that they are breathing, ensuring that you don’t move their spine which could be damaged too. Give CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if necessary
  • Control the flow of any bleeding
  • Keep the casualty warm until help arrives

Other Instances When You Should Seek Medical Attention

For those who may have had an impact or collision affecting their head but who have walked away from it, it may still be necessary to seek medical attention. Head injuries do not always appear serious, yet quite often, far more may be going on than meets the eye. Therefore, if you encounter any of the following situations, be sure to seek medical advice:

  • Any child should always be seen after a head injury
  • Any incident where the casualty does not remember what happened, seems confused, has a severe headache or is vomiting
  • Any incident of poor co-ordination, slurred speech, or trouble responding to communication
  • Any cut which won’t stop bleeding after 5 minutes or one which is gaping and visually in need of stitching
  • Any bleeding from the ears
  • Any leaking of clear or yellowish coloured fluid from either the ears or nose
Don’t use the above, however, as a definitive check list. If you’re in doubt, seek medical attention quickly.

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