Millions of Chinese winter sports enthusiasts are hitting the snowy slopes, fueled by a passion for the once niche activities by the Beijing Winter Olympics. But researchers and doctors say its surging popularity has also contributed to an uptick in sports-related injuries over the past years, and especially months.
In popular but smaller ski destinations, such as those in the northeast Jilin province, where each resort receives some 1,500 daily visitors, doctors say the increasing number of injuries have stretched medical resources. A local hospital in the city of Tonghua has treated at least three to five skiers and snowboarders daily this winter.
“We’ve never seen this before,” an emergency doctor at the Tonghua Central Hospital, just 14 kilometers away from a newly-built snow resort, told Sixth Tone. “Half of them suffered from bone fractures. Our emergency services are under pressure — since most of them are not locals, they visit the emergency first and then choose to return to their home cities for surgery.”
When Beijing won its bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2015, Chinese officials pledged to motivate some 300 million people into ice and snow sports. Mountain slopes and indoor skiing venues have since witnessed a boom in business, with the number of skiing trips hitting a record 20.76 million in the 2020-2021 winter season, according to the white paper on the country’s skiing industry.
In Chongli, home to several popular skiing resorts in the northern province of Hebei — which is co-hosting the Winter Games — the sport’s popularity has led to accidents over past winters. Research published in the Journal of Peking University (Health Sciences) last year found that 753 skiers and snowboarders were injured in the two winters between 2017 and 2019 — a daily average of around 4.5 injuries per 1,000 people.
The majority of injuries were sustained by men, according to the paper, which didn’t include data prior to 2017. The injuries were mostly caused to the head and neck by falls, followed by the knee, wrist, and finger injuries, respectively.
Winter sports-related injuries received wide attention last week after a user on microblogging platform Weibo, who identified himself as a surgeon in the northwestern city of Urumqi, shared that seven of his nine surgeries on Feb. 9 were due to skiing and skating-related accidents. A related hashtag on the topic soon went viral, while another trending topic on relevant safety measures took off this week.
Xiao Shuangshuang, who has been skiing in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing 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.
“Going down from the slope implies a certain height and speed — loss of control may lead to danger,” she said. “Also, the equipment might be old and worn. You need to take precautions and hire a coach to guide you.”
A ski coach surnamed Wang at the Beijing Nanshan Ski Resort told Sixth Tone that most of his students were tourists who were new to not just winter sports but also snow. He added that many are hasty to learn, which may prove risky.
“I have at least three students (a day) who want to grasp the basic skills on snow as quickly as possible and spend the rest of the day skiing by themselves,” he said. “If you don’t exceed your ability and keep your protective gear and helmet on, you will not put yourself in danger.”
Meanwhile, as the winter sports fever continues, skiing enthusiasts have banded together online to discuss the highs and lows of their newfound passion, according to screenshots circulating online. One group on messaging app WeChat — called “The 18-22 Snow Season Skiers in Despair Patients Group” — had over 300 members, with individuals using their name, location, and specific injuries as their chat aliases.
“Xiaobai — too many injuries to begin with,” read one of them.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Skiers at Beijing Nanshan Ski Resort, Beijing, Jan. 8, 2022. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone)