Gliding down a ski slope at 60 mph, taking a ramp that lifts you up in the air with a heavy board attached to your feet and just snow below, or racing against others while doing both. These three activities are all part of the winter routine for individuals who enjoy the extreme sports of freestyle skiing, snowboarding or snowcross. Extreme sports are, by definition, dangerous. A Google search of snowboarding, for example, found two pages of articles related to snowboarding deaths and accidents this year alone.
First coming into existence either in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, depending on which source you reference, extreme sports tap into a person’s sense of adventure. Head and neck injuries due to winter extreme sports are common, when compared to other sports, partly because, “many extreme sports take place in environments where medical care may not be readily available.”
Throughout the years, extreme sports have become more popular, perhaps as the opportunity for adventure and physical risk of everyday life goes down and mental stress goes up. Head and neck injuries due to winter extreme sports have also significantly increased through the years. There is a cost to these injuries, both emotionally for the individual and monetarily for both the individual and the government through evacuation costs, rehabilitation costs and community costs in the future. This month, the government pays more attention to these risks, as well as the needed research, as January is National Winter Sports Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month.
Although finding new means to treat traumatic brain injury in extreme winter sports is very important, “prevention is the top priority”. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reminds people to always wear a helmet and to make sure to watch your surroundings by staying in the boundaries in ski slopes and watching for obstacles and hazards on your path. Just as importantly, “make sure medical care is close.” Additionally, Dr. Pickett of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence reminds people that, “It’s important to consider how weather conditions… increase the risk for these injuries.” While equipment is now safer and access to medical care has improved, prevention should always come first. If you enjoy the thrill of extreme winter sports, I hope you enjoy it this winter, but know and use all available information to make it safe.