Perhaps the first rule of thumb when talking about safe snowboarding is don’t do too much too soon. Learning the sport is relatively easy and safe. But many people get a few basics under their belts and suddenly they want to do it all, go out and rip down a mountain or over an obstacle course. That’s where the trouble can start.
Snowboarding is so easy it’s pathetic, but it becomes a lot more difficult when you get better simply because there are endless numbers of things you can do.
And therein lies an immediate danger. If an inexperienced snowboarder takes to an out-of-bounds obstacle course, he may suddenly find himself in trouble. What if he comes upon a sharp drop-off and picks up speed? He may not have the turning skills to avoid that onrushing tree at high speed. Or he may try to duplicate a freestyler he saw jump over a rock, slide down a log, or try to grab the board in midair. These are all basic freestyling maneuvers, but not for the beginner.
So while you may find snowboarding easy to learn, don’t be fooled. Bring your level of skill up one step at a time. Try new things gradually and just ride and practice, practice, practice.
Also, know where you are riding. Remember to observe all mountain rules. Each one is a bit different. Know the posted signs, the out-of-bounds markers and don’t go where you are not supposed to go.
In many areas today, snowboarders and skiers share the slopes. This can sometimes pose a problem since skiers still tend to go top to bottom along the fall line of the hill, while snowboarders often carve side-to-side in looping, S-shaped curves. Because snowboarders also are strapped to their boards at an angle, they have something of a blind spot as they carve. A rider is either facing one side of the slope or the other. On his toe side he can see people coming down the hill. But on the heel side, or the backside, he can’t see anyone behind him. A reckless snowboarder making a sharp heel-side turn can easily collide with a skier coming straight down the hill. So be extra careful when sharing the slopes with skiers.
Some other general rules for safe snowboarding: If you are coming up behind or are about to pass another rider—snowboarder or skier—try to let them know you are there. You can do this by simply shouting, “Coming up on your right!” or “Coming up on your left!” This will often stop them from making a sudden turn and hitting you.
Don’t be a wiseguy and cut closely across the path of another rider, figuring you can just make it. Sometimes you won’t. Don’t ever block a narrow trail or path that is used regularly. If you stop for any reason, get off the trail quickly. Should you fall, try to get up and out of the way as fast as you can.
Also, never stop just below the crest of a hill. Oncoming riders approaching the crest will not see you there. Don’t try new, reckless, or dangerous stunts in heavy-traffic areas, especially if the slope is shared by both skiers and fellow snowboarders. Never bump, push, or clown around with another rider who might not be expecting it. There is a place for that kind of roughhouse riding. It’s called boarder-cross.
Many people ask about the chance of injury in snowboarding. A logical question is whether the sport is more or less dangerous than skiing; everyone who watches Alpine events has seen some bad falls. The consensus seems to be that snowboarding is the safer sport, though that doesn’t mean a rider can’t suffer an injury.
In snowboarding, your feet are strapped into one element. I’ve seen skis pop off and hit someone right in the face. This rarely happens with a snowboard. Just carving downhill or racing the slalom, snowboarders are less likely to suffer leg or knee injuries than are skiers. So I think snowboarding is a little safer unless you’re riding the halfpipe. That’s a different story.
Snowboarders are not as vulnerable to leg and knee injuries as skiers, but feels the upper body is more likely to be injured on the single board.
I’ve known people who have broken wrists, elbows, and shoulders. I’ve dislocated my shoulder, in fact, on a big jump. I just kind of fell forward and dug my arm in the snow and my body rolled over it. I think because your feet are tied onto the same board you can’t really kick a leg out when you start to fall. That leaves the upper body exposed. Skiers tend to kick a leg out and it’s the leg that gets hurt.
Because snowboarding is still a relatively new sport in terms of large numbers of participants, there really hasn’t been enough time for a complete study of injuries and the likelihood of their occurrence. But as with any sport that involves speed, maneuverability, races, obstacles, and stunts, there is always the chance of injury.