Is Snowboarding Safer for Your Knees Than Skiing?

Snowboarding carries less risk of knee injury than skiing

Snowboarders chatting

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Knee injuries, especially damage to the ACL, have long been synonymous with the sport of skiing. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries typically occur during twisting falls where the ski binding fails to release. For many skiers, especially older skiers, this injury often means an end to their skiing days. Fortunately, snowboarding has proved to be much kinder to the knee joint, with a significantly smaller number of knee injuries having been recorded over the years. Read on to find out why snowboarding is easier on the knees than skiing—and why it just might be time to make a change if you're an oft-injured skier.

Fewer Knee Injuries

According to a study published in the "Western Journal of Medicine," snowboarders are less likely to sustain knee injuries than skiers—17 percent of snowboarders vs. 39 percent of skiers. Furthermore, those knee injuries that are sustained by snowboarders are more likely to result from impact than torsional (twisting) forces. Because the snowboarder's lower legs remain in the same plane during falls due to non-releasing bindings, major knee injuries are not nearly the concern they are for skiers.

The Chester Knee Clinic in Great Brittain agrees:

"In snowboarding, both feet are strapped onto the same board and always point the same direction. This relatively protects the knee from twisting."

But the clinic, which specializes in knee repair for skiers and snowboarders, also warns that upper-extremity injuries are quite common for snowboarders—more so than for skiers—particularly for those just beginning to take part in the sport.

Injuries Differ

Calling it the battle between "one and two plankers," "Ski" magazine notes that the type of injuries suffered by snowboarders and skiers differ. Snowboarders do, indeed, suffer fewer knee injuries, but they also fall victim to many more wrist, shoulder and ankle injuries.

A study of nearly 11,000 snowboarders and skiers between 1988 and 2006 by the "American Journal of Sports Medicine" found that snowboarders suffer more upper-body and ankle injuries, while knee ligament injuries (including ACL and MCL tears) take out the lion’s share of skiers.

Beginners Should Take Lessons

Despite the findings of the studies, snowboarders must still take the proper precautions to ensure a safe experience. Whereas 18 percent of beginning skiers sustained injuries, in the "Western Journal of Medicine" study, nearly 49 percent of beginning snowboarders were injured. This disparity in injuries to beginners likely stems from the lower number of beginning snowboarders who take lessons. Having both feet locked into the board means snowboarding is more difficult to learn at first when compared to skiing, so proper instruction and the use of safety equipment are imperative.

Bottom line: Snowboard lessons are a must, and the best way to ensure you'll be getting quality instruction is to request a teacher who has been certified by the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. Indeed, whether you snowboard or ski, AASI gives these reasons why you should take lessons, especially when first beginning in the sport:

  1. To stay friends with your friends (friends don’t let friends teach friends).
  2. To graduate from beginner runs.
  3. To make winter more fun.
  4. To be your best by learning from the best.
  5. To ski and ride to your fullest potential.