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Ski injuries and knowledge of fatalities: an intimate link.

Although the number of ski injuries in recent years has fallen (partly because of equipment improvements) the number of fatalities has actually increased from 1980 through 1990. It has been reported that while the injury rate per 1,000 skiing experiences has dropped from 3.33 in 1980 to 2.95 in 1990, the fatality rate has tripled since 1985 (Shealy & Williams, 1991). Attempts to alter risky skiing behavior (such as with the use of safety reminder messages and signs) have not been shown to have any appreciable effect (Pless & Arsenault, 1987).

In a very recent report (Levine & Gorman, 1994), it was shown that skiers who are aware of fatalities claim that they take fewer risks while skiing and rate skiing as more dangerous than those who are aware of injuries of a lesser magnitude or those who have not heard of any ski-related injuries at all. In addition to demonstrating that knowledge of fatalities at least produces self-reports of increased safety and increased risk assessment, the study indicated that this specific knowledge is less widely disseminated among younger skiers.

It was thus concluded that lack of knowledge of fatalities, in particular among younger skiers, may be a crucial factor in their higher injury rates. Alternative explanations, including the "adolescent invulnerability hypothesis" (Blum & Resnick, 1982; Cvetkovich, Grote, Bjorseth, & Sarkissian, 1975) have recently been found to be lacking support (Quadrel, Fishoff, & Davis, 1993). This finding is consistent with the Levine and Gorman (1994) results. However, the Levine and Gorman study examined only self-reports and left open the question of whether this translates behaviorally, in terms of fewer injuries actually occurring among those possessing knowledge of fatalities.

The present study was an attempt to expand the earlier findings by comparing skiers who have actually been injured with a group of noninjured skiers in regard to their knowledge of skiing injuries and deaths. It was hypothesized that skiers with less information about the serious risks involved in skiing (i.e., those who are unaware of ski-related deaths) should perceive this sport as less dangerous and therefore have an increased likelihood of sustaining injuries caused by increased risk taking. If the assumptions of the initial self-report study had behavioral validity, it was hypothesized that skiers who had recently been injured would possess less knowledge of skiing injuries in general and skiing deaths in particular, than noninjured skiers. However, it was also hypothesized that ratings of dangerousness would be higher among the injured skiers, as they had just been exposed to the painful and potentially lethal side of skiing.



Two hundred and twenty-five randomly selected skiers were surveyed at the base lodges of Mount Snow Resort and Stratton Mountain Resort (both in Vermont) during the last week in December 1992 and the third week in February 1993. The only persons excluded were those under the age of 10 years. An additional 225 skiers were surveyed during the same period at the first-aid stations of both ski areas. These 225 skiers had been injured while skiing to a sufficient degree as to require medical examination and/or treatment. Those under age 10 were also excluded from the sample.


A survey form was developed (see Levine & Gorman, 1994) which included demographic data such as age, sex, and experience level. Subjects were asked to rate the "dangerousness" of skiing on an 11-point scale (with 5 being the midpoint) and to indicate whether they had ever heard of a skiing accident and, if so, how serious it was. Subjects surveyed at the base lodges were also asked, if they had heard about an accident, the degree to which this knowledge resulted in their taking fewer risks while skiing. Subjects surveyed at first-aid stations were also given ratings by the station medical personnel as to the seriousness of their skiing injury.


Scorable surveys were obtained from 204 noninjured skiers from base lodges at both mountains. Their mean age was 27.9 years. Forty percent were females and 60% were males. Data was also collected from an additional 196 injured skiers at first-aid stations at both mountains. Their mean age was 29.5 years. Forty-five percent were females and 55% were males. None of these differences were significant.

However, when comparisons were made of the groups' ratings of the "dangerousness" of skiing, the injured skiers rated skiing as less dangerous (mean of 5.6) than noninjured skiers (mean of 5.0). This difference was significant, t(398) = 2.29, p [less than] .05. Whereas only 46% of injured skiers had knowledge of any type of skiing injury, 80% of uninjured skiers reported knowledge of a ski-related injury. This difference was highly significant, t(397) = 7.59, p [less than] .0001.

Earlier research (Levine & Gorman, 1994) showed that among a general population of skiers (surveyed at a base lodge), those who had heard about a ski-related death reported taking significantly fewer risks and rated skiing as being more dangerous than skiers who did not know about any ski-related deaths. That research admittedly was simply self-report data and left unanswered the question of whether this translates behaviorally. Results of the present study show that although only 12% of the injured skiers were aware of a fatality, fully 42% of the noninjured skiers reported being aware of a ski-related death. This difference was significant, t(251) = 4.26, p [less than] .0001.

Thus, in regard to the question of behavioral differences, those skiers actually involved in skiing accidents are indeed much less knowledgeable about accidents in general and fatalities in particular.

Of some additional interest was the finding that although the injured and noninjured groups did not differ in regard to their actual number of years of skiing experience (10.6 years vs. 10.9 years), the injured skiers tended to view themselves as possessing more skill than the noninjured skiers, t(398) = 1.98, p [less than] .05.

Given the report that 3 out of 5 serious skiing accidents involve those under the age of 25 ("Ski-injury Rate," 1992), an analysis of variance was computed for the ratings of danger, comparing the variables of age (under 25 vs. 26 and older) and group (injured skiers at first-aid stations vs. uninjured skiers at base lodges). The main effects of age, F(1,2) = 6.63, p [less than] .01, and group, F(1, 2) = 5.92, p [less than] .02, were both significant. Examination of the data shows that younger skiers rate skiing as less dangerous than do older skiers. In addition, injured skiers rate skiing as less dangerous than noninjured skiers do. There was also a significant, F(1, 2) = 13.04, p [less than] .0001, interaction between age and group. Examination of this data shows that among uninjured skiers, those under the age of 25 rate skiing as much less dangerous (mean of 4.88) than those 26 and older (mean of 6.25). However, among the injured group, there is no significant difference based upon age. Thus, age influences ratings of danger, but only among those not actually injured. Injured skiers, as reported above, view skiing as less dangerous in general and age does not have a differential effect among this group.

Age differences were found in regard to the question of knowledge of fatalities. For all 400 subjects in the study, 202 knew about a ski-related death. However, among those 25 years of age or younger, only 48 knew about a death, whereas 154 of those 26 or older knew about a death. This difference was significant, t(201) = 6.79, p [less than] .0001.

In order to determine whether injury rate was different for younger skiers, chi squares were computed comparing age (over and under age 25) by group (injured vs. noninjured). Results were nonsignificant, indicating that younger skiers did not make up a disportionately large percentage of those injured (among injured skiers 47% were under 25 and among noninjured skiers 51% were under age 25). Chi-square analysis also failed to indicate any sex differences (females made up 45% of the injured group and 40% of the uninjured group) or any differences in medical personnel ratings of seriousness of injury based upon age.


The main purpose of this study was to expand earlier findings in which it was reported that skiers with knowledge of ski-related fatalities (as compared with those who knew only about nonfatal accidents) report that such knowledge causes them to ski in a safer manner. Despite this self-report study, no behavioral data presently exists to support the theory that knowledge of fatalities per se actually causes a reduction in risk-taking behavior. In this study, we compared the knowledge of fatalities and knowledge of nonfatal accidents among samples of uninjured and injured skiers. It was predicted that, if the self-reported differences in risk taking found by Levine & Gorman (1994) were accurate, injured skiers should possess less knowledge of ski-related fatalities and view skiing as less dangerous than their uninjured peers.

As predicted, results show clearly that injured skiers possess less knowledge of skiing injuries in general and of ski-related deaths in particular. Injured skiers, somewhat surprisingly, still view skiing as less dangerous than noninjured skiers. They appear, as a group, uninformed of the actual dangers inherent in the sport and, despite having themselves been injured, continue to have a naive view of the risks involved. It appears that, with the behavioral evidence now accumulated, one viable tactic for combating skiing accidents is the dissemination of information about skiing accidents and especially, about skiing fatalities.

The "adolescent invulnerability hypothesis" would predict that such knowledge would have little effect and that the high percentage of accidents involving younger skiers is caused by this feeling of "invulnerability," not to a lack of knowledge. However, the present data are not consistent with this hypothesis and suggest instead that risk-taking (even in adolescents) can be reduced when subjects are aware of actual risks, because among those who knew about a ski-related death, only 24% were those 25 years of age or younger. Younger skiers are involved in more accidents and have significantly less knowledge of ski-related fatalities. They also rate skiing as significantly less dangerous. These results support a recent study by Quadrel et al. (1993) questioning the validity of the "invulnerability" hypothesis. Relatively high rates of ski-related deaths among younger skiers may be best explained as a function of the relative ignorance of injuries and deaths on the part of younger participants.

This research provides behavioral support for the hypothesis that knowledge of skiing injuries and especially of ski-related fatalities is essential if injury rates are to be significantly reduced. The present findings argue for the wider dissemination of information about skiing fatalities among skiers and especially among younger skiers, who are both the most common victims of skiing fatalities and the least well informed about such events.

Future research should examine the role of fatality awareness in other sports involving relatively high levels of risk.


BLUM, R., & RESNICK, M. (1982). Adolescent sexual decision making: Contraception, pregnancy, abortion and motherhood. Pediatric Annals, 11, 797-805.

CVETKOVICH, G, GROTE, B., BJORSETH, A., & SARKISSIAN, J. (1975). On the psychology of adolescents' use of contraceptives. Journal of Sex Research, 11, 256-270.

LEVINE, R. L., & GORMAN, B. (1994). Skiers' perceptions of danger as a function of awareness of fatalities. Journal of Sport Behavior, 17, 1-7.

PLESS, I. B., & ARSENAULT, L. (1987). The role of health education in the prevention of injuries to children. Journal of Social Issues, 43, 87-104.

QUADREL, M. J., FISCHOFF, B., & DAVIS, W. (1993). Adolescent. (In)vulnerability. American Psychologist, 48, 102-116.

SHEALY, J., & WILLIAMS, R. (1991, June 16-20). Preliminary analysis of 1988-1990 ski injury data. Paper presented at the Ninth World Congress Symposium on Ski Injury Research. International Society for Skiing Safety, Thredbo, Australia.

SKI INJURY RATE falls, serious accidents rise. (1992, July/August). Snow Country, p. 111.
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Author:Levine, Reed L.
Publication:The Psychological Record
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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