Artificial snow at Olympics may mean increased injury risk

Nearly all the snow at this month’s Winter Olympics in and around Beijing is artificial, according to a recent report. Manufactured snow is far more likely to affect competitors' safety, says a UW Medicine orthopedic surgeon.

“I think we might see more injuries than we normally do because of the course conditions,” said Dr. Mia Hagen of the Sports Medicine Center at Husky Stadium. Hagen explains that artificial snow tends to become icier and harder than natural snow.

“Potentially, some of those injuries may be even more serious than we would otherwise see because of the amount of speed that the athlete has when they take a fall,” she said.  Artificial snow also may not extend far beyond the course borders, so a skier who loses control at high speed would be at greater risk of landing in uncovered mountain terrain, she added.

Hagen says anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, in particular, are common in winter—and among skiers of all skill levels. She encourages people to be mindful of fundamentals as they hit the slopes.

“With the Winter Olympics upon us, I think there's a lot of excitement in the public to go out there and enjoy these winter sports. And we just need to remember to practice safe technique and try to avoid injury when we can,” she said.

In downloadable video, Dr. Mia Hagen provides a checklist to help skiers avoid injuries.

UW Medicine