Scuba diving vs skiing and which is more dangerous

I’m not sure if you would necessarily choose between the two sports of skiing vs scuba diving. They are so diverse and different from one another. But many people ask this question. But you might be a keen skier and you’re contemplating scuba diving, or visa versa.

Is skiing more dangerous than scuba diving - What are the risks of dying

Partly because more people ski than scuba dive, there are more skiing accidents happen over a given period. Some of these accidents are very minor and some involve broken bones. But to answer the question 'is skiing more dangerous than scuba diving?', it turns out that scuba diving is statistically more dangerous than skiing and snowboarding when it comes to fatalities.


Is skiing more dangerous than scuba diving?

Before going into the question of whether skiing is more dangerous than scuba diving or not, there's a very important rule or scuba diving safety tip to understand if you're about to partake in both these sports.

The rule I'm referring to is to never go skiing straight after a scuba dive. Whilst there aren't many places in the world where this is possible, I wanted to highlight the risks associated with doing this.

How long should you wait to fly after skiing or snowboarding?

Going up a mountain to ski straight after scuba diving carries the same risks as flying after scuba diving does. You must not fly within 24 hours of your last dive. Therefore, you must not ski or snowboard within 24 hours after scuba diving.

More Reading: How long should you wait to fly after scuba diving? (What’s safe?)

Now that I have this important risk-factor explained and out of the way, let's take a look at the question in hand. Which is more dangerous, skiing or scuba diving?

But firstly, what are the risks associated with skiing or snowboarding.

What are the risks associated with skiing or snowboarding?

If you weren't already aware of 7-times winner of Formula One driver Michael Schumacher's skiing accident. His accident highlights the dangers associated with the sport.

When Schumacher fell and hit his head, he was in a critical condition after he suffered a serious head injury from the fall. Schumacher was skiing in the Méribel resort in France when the accident happened. As far as I know, Schumacher will never fully recover from this skiing accident!

Another high profile skiing accident was the death of Natasha Richardson. She was an actress and the wife of Liam Neeson. Natasha Richardson fell during a lesson on a beginners' trail at Mont Tremblant Ski Resort. Richardson died of a brain hemorrhage which was caused by “blunt impact.”

"An autopsy of the actress Natasha Richardson on Thursday indicated that she died of a brain hemorrhage caused by “blunt impact” to her head, the chief medical examiner for New York City said. Ms. Richardson, 45, died on Wednesday in a Manhattan hospital, two days after what appeared to be a minor fall on a beginner’s ski slope north of Montreal.”

The New York Times

In an article in The Guardian newspaper, snowboarding carries a higher risk of injury than skiing. This fact is according to Professor Michael Henrie at the University of Utah. He concluded that snowboarding has become the more dangerous sport of the two.

How many injuries do skiers suffer?

In the same article noted above in The Guardian newspaper of a separate study of skiers in Norway, a medical officer documented 883 injuries over 980,000 days. This means there was an injury rate of around 0.9 per 1,000 days.

Where skiing injuries get particularly dangerous is when it's a head injury (like with Schumacher and Richardson). The research shows that around 1 in 6 of all injuries were to the head from skiing accidents. But when the injury was as a result of a collision, the number of head injuries rose to 1 in 4 of all injuries.

In The Guardian article they include a graph where winter sports involving both skiing and snowboarding causes 16,948 head injuries every year.

Dangers of scuba diving vs skiing and snowboarding

Dangers of scuba diving vs skiing and snowboarding

Having taken a look at the risks associated with skiing and snowboarding, let's compare the dangers when compared to scuba diving.

According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), skiing and snowboarding fatalities during the past 10 years, 41.5 people have died per year on average.

In the same report, during the 2011/12 season, 54 fatalities occurred out of the 51 million skier/snowboarder days reported for the season. The important thing to note is that in 2011/12, of the 54 fatalities, 36 of the incidents were reported as the person injured wasn't wearing a helmet.

Skiing/Snowboarding fatality rate per participant per million:
  • Visits 2011/12 number of fatalities* = 54.
  • 2011 number of ski/snowboard participants** = 9.8 million.
  • Fatalities per million participants = 5.5.
  • Fatalities per days of participation rate (per million) = 1.06.

The above data was taken from NSAA. To read more and to understand the * and the ** above click here: NSAA Fact Sheet.

Compare skiing fatalities to scuba diving fatalities

If we now compare the above statistics of skiing and snowboarding fatalities to scuba diving fatalities, it would appear that scuba diving is more dangerous than skiing and snowboarding.

From the number of deaths each year from scuba diving, around 1 in 34,400 die each year from a scuba diving incident.

To put skiing, snowboarding and scuba diving safety into context and into perspective, the National Safety Council in the the 2017 "Lifetime odds of death" table for the USA includes the following odds:

  • 1 in 6 odd of dying from heart disease.
  • 1 in 7 from cancer.
  • From a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 103.
  • From a pedestrian incident it is 1 in 556.
  • Choking on food is 1 in 2,696.
  • 1 in 8,912 from sunstroke.

I must say that some of these seem very high. Like the 1 in 103 from a motor vehicle crash.

The truth behind the statistics on the risks associated with scuba diving and skiing or snowboarding

When we look at all the statistics in relation to the dangers associated with any sport (and in this case scuba diving, skiing and snowboarding), we must keep in mind the well known line from UK Prime minister Winston Churchill: “lies, damn lies, and statistics,”

Do statistics always tell the true story? The risks associated with diving, as they are with any outdoor sports, are on a sliding scale. The same can go for skiers and snowboarders too.

For example, downhill skiers can take various routes down the mountain. This could be on a busy piste or it could be through the trees. Or this could be on a gentle green slope on a resort where there aren't many skiers around. There's also the level of competence and what safety gear is worn.

The same is true of scuba divers. A diver can cruise around beautiful coral gardens on a shallow dive in a protected bay. Or they can do a deep dive as a technical diver taking on loads of nitrogen and spending a long time decompressing. Other divers might be oblivious to the risks associated with scuba diving alone or diving beyond their capabilities.

Therefore,depending on the level of risk of the type of skiing or scuba diving being done will impact on the associated level of risk and consequential dangers.

More Reading: Is scuba diving more dangerous than skydiving

I hope you enjoyed this article about is skiing more dangerous than scuba diving

I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkeling, in the comments below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof go-pro’s!

If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions either about snorkeling or scuba diving (or specifically about is skiing more dangerous than scuba diving), please comment below with your questions.

There will also be many more articles about scuba and scuba diving safety tips (and on snorkeling too) for you to read and learn about this fabulous sport.

Have fun and be safe!


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