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Winter on Winter: Risky But Not Stupid

Winter on Winter: Risky But Not Stupid

[ July 30, 2010 - 12:09pm ]
Shane McConkey laid out.
Is skiing worth the risk? Our columnist Tom Winter looks at the benefits of the sport and why pushing yourself just might be good for you.

One of the saddest things I’ve seen lately was an interview on a Seattle television station with Steve Backstrom, Arne Backstrom’s father, a day or two after Arne fell to his death on Pisco Mountain in South America. The tragedy of Arne’s well-publicized accident in Peru and his untimely death is one that has been repeated all too often over the past 12 months: Shane McConkey, C.R. Johnson, Mark “Big Wally” Wolling (a patroller at Jackson), and even actress Natasha Richardson, who hit her head in a freak fall at Mont Tremblant and died from the accident later.

For the casual observer, the stories of these people can lead to only one conclusion: skiing is dangerous. Very dangerous, indeed.

Well, maybe. And maybe not. Sure, both Backstrom and McConkey were engaged in high-risk activities: Ski BASE jumping and extreme ski mountaineering descents on 50-degree slopes are a bit more intense than crossing the street into traffic, even in New York City. But both of these athletes had trained for these activities and were well attuned to the nature of what they were doing. The other accidents were, well, accidents. They could happen to anyone at any time.

So, is skiing more risky, more dangerous, and more life threatening than other pursuits? Let’s look at the facts: The average risk of you being murdered in the next 12 months is 1 in 11,000. Your chances of dying in a car accident are 1 in 18,585. And your chances of dying from an accidental drowning are 1 in 79,065. But your chances of dying in a skiing accident are a mere 1 in 1,556,757.

Of course, I don’t mean to trivialize any death, particularly Arne’s. Dying young, with so much promise as an athlete and a person is beyond sad. But it’s important to remember that while this last year was a difficult one, with some of the giants of the sport leaving us well before their time, that skiing isn’t dangerous. In fact, given that your chances of dying from heart disease are 1 in 3, and your chances of having a stroke are 1 in 6, perhaps the health benefits of being outside, exercising and skiing outweigh the risks of injury and death associated with the sport. And this isn’t even taking into consideration the psychological benefits of skiing, and how those benefits can impact your overall mental and physical health.

So, if you’re considering giving up the sport for something “safer”, I’m here to tell you to keep strapping on the boards. After all, Arne, Shane and Big Wally wouldn’t want it any other way.

For more from Tom Winter, check out

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