Snow Sports Injury Epidemiology
For more than 41 years, a University of Vermont team of orthopaedists and engineers from the Larner College of Medicine has been prospectively studying injuries related to downhill skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports by bringing scientific methods directly to the ski slope. The research team has prospectively studied more than 21,000 injuries and published over 100 papers concerning many factors of winter sports epidemiology, such as trends of injury incidence, the effects of winter sports equipment on injuries and their prevention, as well as in-depth studies of specific injuries commonly suffered by winter sports participants. We have primarily used a case-controlled study design for most of these investigations. We have compared the demographics, skill and experience and the results of detailed ski boot binding testing for both injured alpine skiers and a carefully derived, at-risk (control) population.
Our early work demonstrated that appropriately functioning ski equipment can and has significantly reduced the incidence of lower leg and ankle injuries, but not all knee ligament injuries. Many of these investigations have been used to support the development of national and international standards for alpine skiing equipment design, installation, function and maintenance. We have monitored the alarming rate of injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee. Current efforts have led to a program that has reduced the incidence of ACL injuries in ski patrollers and skin instructors by 62% at 20 ski areas around the United States. These efforts are also being applied to new developments in alpine binding design and function, as well as education of the at-risk population, all of which have the potential to decrease the risk of ACL injuries even more.