More injuries in summer than winter at WB

Young males more likely to get hurt during both seasons

Injury rates at Whistler Blackcomb (WB) during the summer months are double what they are in the winter.

But while the numbers are higher, the correlation can be made to the demographic of users getting in accidents as opposed to the type of use, according to WB officials.

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WB officials said the injury rate for its bike park is approximately five accidents per 1,000 rider days, with the majority involving a minor injury. The accident rate for skiing and snowboarding is approximately 2.4 accidents per 1,000 skier visits by comparison.

Rob McSkimming, WB's vice-president of business development, pointed out the two activities are completely different. However, those getting into accidents during both winter and summer months are more likely to be young males between the ages of 16 and 28.

McSkimming said the Whistler Mountain Bike Park is very popular with that demographic - young male riders who tend to take more risks.

A research paper published in an issue of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine looking at the nature of injuries in the bike park during the summer of 2009 had similar findings.

In that study, those injured were generally in their mid- to late 20s, which may mirror general ridership in the sport, but 86 per cent of the cases at the Whistler Health Care Centre involved males.

McSkimming said the same applies to the winter accident rates, where young men make up a smaller proportion of the overall skier and snowboarder population.

"They are a slice of that demographic in the ski market but they make up 50 per cent of our accidents in skiing," he said, adding the result is that the rates in summer and winter are not dissimilar.

Whether it is summer or winter, McSkimming said safety is a high priority for WB. In summer, he said, the team has created a three-pronged approach to safety at the bike park that includes education, rider responsibility and continuous analysis and improvement.

"I think it is kind of a constantly-evolving process," McSkimming said. "I think our approach is thorough, and at the same time we are open to ways to improve.

The approach to education, he said, is to work with riders to ensure they have access to safety information. Since the bike park was established in 1999, the development of the Internet has helped get that message to riders before they arrive. After they arrive, education includes a lot of signage and leads to the second prong, which is that riders understand their responsibility and that they are taking part in an activity where they can be injured.

Bike helmets are mandatory in B.C. WB does not require additional protective equipment, although it is highly recommended.

McSkimming said the issue is one that is discussed often but presents a challenge because riders have personal preferences.

"Forcing somebody to wear something they don't believe is making them safer is a difficult thing," he said. "That is why we take position to education people and encourage them.

"We believe it is in their interest to wear more, not less."

Protective equipment was also something that came up in the research paper, which suggested continued research into equipment and risk avoidance measures is needed.

McSkimming said the study did not recognize there is an abundance of gear out there to protect riders, "but whether people chose to wear it is another thing."

"I can't think of a body part that you couldn't protect if you wanted to."

The final area the park's safety policy is continuous analysis and improvement. That includes a wide range of areas, such as reviewing and adjusting trails, resurfacing trails, testing trail sections, signage and a weekly analysis of all accidents that have occurred.

"Every day and every week, our team meets and looks at what has happened in the park, assesses, analyzes and makes decisions from there on what we can improve or change," he said.

Finally, McSkimming noted the research paper had set out that it was possible it had missed injured bike park users that were taken directly to hospital. He said that does not happen and in fact all injured users are taken to the health care clinic.

Eliminating the inherent risks of downhill mountain biking is impossible, notes Whistler Blackcomb's bike park safety fact sheet, however the company is committed to providing a safe and well maintained environment.

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