Millions of Chinese winter sports enthusiasts are hurtling down the snowy slopes, fueled by a passion for the once niche activities of the Beijing Winter Olympics. But researchers and doctors say its growing popularity has also contributed to a rise in sports-related injuries in recent years, and especially months.
In popular but smaller ski destinations, such as those in the northeastern province of Jilin, where each resort receives some 1,500 daily visitors, doctors say the growing number of injuries has put a strain on medical resources. A local hospital in Tonghua City has treated at least three to five skiers and snowboarders a day this winter.
“We’ve never seen this before,” an emergency doctor at Tonghua Central Hospital, just 14 kilometers from a new ski resort, told Sixth Tone. “Half of them suffered from broken bones. Our emergency services are under pressure – as most of them are not locals, they go to the emergency room first and then choose to return to their home town for surgery.
When Beijing won its bid to host the 2015 Winter Olympics, Chinese authorities pledged to motivate some 300 million people to practice ice and snow sports. Mountain slopes and indoor ski venues have since seen a business boom, with the number of ski trips hitting a record 20.76 million during the 2020-2021 winter season, according to the white paper on the country’s ski industry.
In Chongli, home to several popular ski resorts in the northern province of Hebei – which co-hosts the Winter Games – the sport’s popularity has led to accidents in past winters. To research published in the Journal of Peking University (Health Sciences) last year revealed that 753 skiers and snowboarders were injured in the two winters between 2017 and 2019, a daily average of about 4.5 injuries per 1000 people.
The majority of injuries were sustained by men, according to the document, which did not include data prior to 2017. Injuries were primarily caused to the head and neck from falls, followed respectively by injuries to the knee, wrist and fingers.
Winter sports injuries received a lot of attention last week after a user of the Weibo microblogging platform, who identified himself as a surgeon in the northern city of Urumqi – west of the country, share that seven of his nine surgeries on February 9 were due to skiing and skating-related accidents. A related hashtag on the subject quickly went viral, while another trending topic on relevant security measures took off this week.
Xiao Shuangshuang, who has been skiing in southwest Chongqing Municipality since 2019, said winter sports are risky even for the experienced. She told Sixth Tone that crowded venues mean safe distances cannot be guaranteed between visitors.
“Coming downhill involves some height and speed – loss of control can lead to danger,” she said. “Also, the equipment can be old and worn out. You need to take precautions and hire a coach to guide you.
A ski coach named Wang at Beijing Nanshan Ski Resort told Sixth Tone that most of his students are tourists who know not only winter sports but also snow. He added that many are in a rush to learn, which can be risky.
“I have at least three students (per day) who want to learn basic snow skills as quickly as possible and spend the rest of the day skiing on their own,” he said. “If you don’t exceed your abilities and keep your protective gear and helmet on, you won’t put yourself in danger.”
Meanwhile, as winter sports fever continues, ski enthusiasts have banded together online to discuss the ups and downs of their newfound passion, according to screenshots circulating online. A group on the WeChat messaging app – called “The 18-22 Snow Season Skiers in Despair Patients Group” – had more than 300 members, with individuals using their name, location and specific injuries as chat aliases.
“Xiaobai – too many injuries to start with,” read one.
Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Skiers at Beijing Nanshan Ski Resort, Beijing, January 8, 2022. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone)