Taking the sting out of snow spills
BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (Los Angeles Times) My first snowboarding lesson, undertaken just a couple months ago at Bear Mountain near Big Bear Lake, Calif., taught me one thing – how to fall. That was a good thing, too, because I did that early and often. The seat of my pants saw more snow than the bottom of my board.Later, while nursing my aches and bruises, I heard that a Los Angeles company had just launched the sale of a padded snowboarding suit. The prospect of snowboarding again sounded painful but, armed with a $590 polyurethane armored suit, I was willing to give it another try.Falls in the snow, even minor tumbles, can result in serious injuries – as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger well knows. He broke a femur during a recent ski trip in Idaho. In fact, last year was one of the deadliest snow seasons in memory, with 39 snow-sports fatalities and 57 serious injuries in the United States, according to the National Ski Areas Association.Although snow sports are relatively safe, medical experts say the types of injuries reported on the slopes recently have become more severe because of the growing popularity of snowboarding. The number of snowboarders has jumped nearly 250 percent in the past 15 years to almost 7 million enthusiasts nationwide, while the number of skiers has dropped by one-third, according to a 2005 survey by the Outdoor Industry Association.Compared with injuries resulting from traditional alpine skiing, snowboarding injuries occur more frequently in the upper extremities and more often result in fractures, concussions and dislocations, according to a 1999 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.Because snowboarders stand with their feet fixed to the board and their arms outstretched for balance, more than half of the snowboarding injuries occur when the riders take the brunt of a fall on their wrists, hands and elbows. A smaller percentage of snowboarding injuries, about 12 percent, occur when snowboarders fall backward and hit their heads.Despite such numbers, fewer than 5 percent of snowboarders wore helmets, and about 6 percent wore wrist guards, according to a 1999 Consumer Products Safety Commission report.
Skier and snowboarder David Dobkin has endured his share of minor scrapes and bruises working as a ski instructor for several seasons in Mammoth Mountain, Calif., and Breckenridge. Three years ago, he took a nasty tumble while skiing down Mammoth Mountain – one of his skis hit a buried rock, sending him cartwheeling down the mountain. He suffered a separated shoulder and several cracked ribs but came away with the idea for a new type of protective snow-sports outfit.During his recovery, Dobkin, a biomedical engineer, designed a jacket and pantsuit with built-in polyurethane pads to protect the shoulders, ribs, lower spine, elbows, thighs, tailbone and knees during a fall. The idea launched Los Angeles-based Aegix Performance Apparel. The outfit, with patent pending, hit the market in November and is available in retail stores throughout the United States.The idea isn’t entirely new. For years, sporting-goods manufacturers have marketed padded pants and vests to skateboarders, mountain bikers and snowboarders. Such pants and vests are worn against the skin, covered by an outer garment.But Dobkin says the advantage of his outfit is that the protective armor is sewn into the waterproof clothing and is not strapped tightly to the body, giving the wearer greater freedom of movement.He also says his integrated snowsuit is cheaper than a padded vest and pants and a conventional snowboarding suit sold separately. (The suggested retail price for an Aegix outfit is $590. Sold separately, a snowboarding outfit, plus a padded vest and pants, can range from $625 to more than $1,000.) Studies on the effectiveness of padded snow gear are hard to find. But several medical experts said it does little to reduce the chances of serious injuries, such as broken bones, separated joints or a sprained neck.Dr. Tom Hackett, a specialist at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic for sports medicine in Vail and the orthopedic surgeon for the U.S. Snowboarding Team, said padded snowboarding gear is effective at protecting against bruises and scrapes, but he warns beginning snowboarders not to let the pads become a substitute for common sense.”It’s OK to pad up,” he said, “but know your limitations.”
I took that advice to heart when I put on the 10-pound snowboarding suit and got on a lift at Mountain High Ski Resort in Wrightwood, Calif.The bruises from the Bear Mountain experience were still fresh when I strapped on a snowboard. I had covered only about 10 yards on the beginner slope before I put the pads to my new snowsuit to use.The crash went like this: I gained speed, dug the edge of the board into the snow, hurdled forward and crashed onto the elbow pads, the shoulder pads and the tailbone pad, in that order. The padded suit lessened the sting of the fall but not the embarrassment. “Hey, I’m testing a suit here!” I felt like hollering to the snickering onlookers.Later, while making my way down an intermediate run, I took a nasty backward spill, taking the brunt of the impact on my posterior, followed by a blow to my head. The strike to my tailbone was softened by a half-inch-thick padding in the suit and the wallop to my head was blunted by my helmet.Although it wasn’t quite my first time snowboarding, my gained experience didn’t prevent me from performing some ugly falls. The padding over my tailbone, elbows and knees got some use – a lot of use. The rest of the padding, around my ribs, shoulders and thighs seemed a bit excessive; they might be more essential for an experienced snowboarder who launches off rails and boxes.At a price of nearly $600, the suit seemed rather pricey for a beginner like me. For that money, I could afford to get plenty of snowboarding lessons to keep the seat of my pants off the snow. But if I do get on a snowboard again, it will be with a good helmet, wrist guards and a bottle of aspirin in my pocket.After I pulled off the suit at the end of the day, I felt tired and sore. Sitting was painful for a few days. But I felt less beaten than I did after my previous, unprotected snowboarding venture. That’s when I got a brainstorm: How about a padded business-casual outfit for clumsy reporters?