Wanna bet the 'pencil pushers' of public safety policy jump on this one real soon too:
Hurtling down Whistler mountainside fraught with danger for cyclists: study
Downhill cycling, in which riders navigate down rough, seriously steep slopes, is a risky pursuit at the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
A study by four B.C. and American researchers showed 898 riders suffered nearly 2,000 injuries in a single, five-month cycling season when riders can load their bikes on chairlifts and then ride down the gnarly terrain.
More than 12 per cent of the injuries were potentially threatening to life and/or limb. Broken bones, concussions, internal bleeding, organ damage, and even a case of quadriplegia, were some of the more serious injuries during the 2009 season at the resort.
Most of the injured were men with a median age of 26. Most were hurt when they lost control and fell off their bikes, usually over the handlebars. Collisions with other riders were unusual.
The incidence of injuries among all riders couldn’t be determined because mountain operators didn’t share the total number of cyclists. But of the 898 injured over a 149-day period, 8.5 per cent were serious enough to require helicopter or ground ambulance transport to hospitals in Squamish or Metro Vancouver. The Whistler Health Care Centre treats about 19,000 patients a year, so the 898 bike park cases represent nearly five per cent of all cases.
The study reviewed the charts of injured riders who went to the health centre between May 16 and Oct. 12, 2009. (This year, the bike park is open May 18 to Oct. 8). One of the authors, Zachary Ashwell, proposed the study because he was an enthusiastic mountain biker at Whistler as well as being a medical student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The study, published in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, says the number of injuries they counted is probably an underestimate since seriously injured riders bypass the Whistler clinic so their records were not included in the analysis.
Laura Gallant, a media relations spokeswoman for Whistler Blackcomb Mountain, said she couldn’t comment on the study because “we haven’t finalized our messaging yet. It’s a sensitive topic for us because it involves the guest experience.”
Dr. Annie Gareau, an emergency room specialist at the Whistler clinic and co-author of the study, said a general rule of thumb is that one in 1,000 skiers is injured, one in 100 snowboarders, and one in 10 downhill cyclists. That makes downhill mountain biking far more dangerous than skiing and highlights the need for more research on safety equipment and risk avoidance measures, she said.
August is the peak month for both cyclists and injuries, so the clinic is adding more nurses and doctors for part of the month.
“It might be a good idea to compel inexperienced riders to take instruction,” she said, noting that although women account for about 25 per cent of downhill cyclists, 86 per cent of the injured were men.
“That’s probably because women take fewer risks but they also take lessons before they go out there. Males, on the other hand, go out there with bravado and when they end up at the clinic, they even want to take pictures of their gory injuries, so they can share them on Facebook,” she said.
Gareau, who helps patrol the mountain to stabilize and transport the injured, credits the mountain operators with compiling data, monitoring injuries and changing the terrain when particular spots are associated with more injuries.
But while the resort strongly recommends new riders take lessons — and in fact offers instruction for only a minor fee in addition to the lift ticket — many riders decline such instruction, she said.
Park riders are required to wear helmets but full face shields, helmets and additional body armour are merely “strongly encouraged.” Although body armour was once a distinctive trademark of downhill riding, Gareau said a newly emerging and disturbing trend is not wearing guards. The study data showed 382 riders had 420 fractures, mainly to upper extremities, such as ribs, wrists and shoulders.
“Riders think it’s not cool to be wearing the pads now. They see their heroes in YouTube videos wearing nothing but T-shirts and jeans and these are their role models,” Gareau said.
While the current study design couldn’t assess whether body armour protected against injuries, since hospital charts didn’t have that information, Gareau said armour does help prevent serious cuts and bruises.
One of the most intriguing findings of the study was that afternoon hours are the worst for injuries; Gareau thinks that has to do with riders being hungry, dehydrated and fatigued.
The Whistler Mountain Bike Park website states up front that injuries are a “common and expected” part of mountain biking. Full face helmets, full-length gloves, biking armour and a full suspension bike are all recommended as is one functioning brake per wheel.
Sun Health Issues Reporter: email@example.com
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