Growing up on the Jersey Shore, I was totally freaked out by the movie Jaws. So I did what any self-respecting coward would do: I didn’t see it until I moved away. I loved swimming in the ocean, and I was afraid the Great White in the movie would scare me enough to keep me out of the water.*
I know, it’s a movie, with very little science to back it up. Because the science reveals that really, I had very little to fear. According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, our chances of being attacked by a shark are just one in 11.5 million. The odds are more likely you’ll be killed by a dog (one in 69,000), by sunstroke (one in 6,368) or even by choking on food (one in 2,745).*
All this made me think about risk, and how much we’re prepared to take on to do something we love.
Yes, there are accidents in sports. And yes, it is possible to lose your life — which is also something you risk every time you get in your car (the odds of dying in a car wreck are 1 in 101). The best you can do is make sure to take the proper safety precautions. For skiing, that means wearing a helmet, keeping your bindings and equipment adjusted properly and in good working order, being aware of your surroundings, skiing in control, and skiing in terrain appropriate to your ability.
This infographic from BestHealthDegrees.com is a few years old and the statistics change, but it gives us some perspective of the chances of dying rated by sport.
To bring it a bit more in perspective, the National Ski Areas Association reports that there were 42 fatal accidents at ski resorts in the 2019-2020 season. Most of these were caused by collisions. And interestingly, 83% of the fatalities were male.
Here’s a chart for that, too:
10-Year Fatal Incident Rate Per Million Participants
|Season||Fatalities||Skier Days (In Millions)||Rate(Per Million)|
|2019 – 2020||42||51.3||0.81|
|2018 – 2019||42||59.3||0.71|
|2017 – 2018||37||53.3||0.69|
|2016 – 2017||43||54.8||0.78|
|2015 – 2016||39||52.8||0.74|
|2014 – 2015||35||53.6||0.65|
|2013 – 2014||32||56.5||0.57|
|2012 – 2013||27||56.9||0.47|
|2011 – 2012||46||51.0||0.90|
|2010 – 2011||47||60.5||0.78|
|10 year Average||39||55||0.71|
Let’s not forget the backcountry. According to Statista Research, there were 37 deaths from avalanches in the US in 2020. Over the last ten winters, there were an average of 25 avalanche deaths per year.
Eye opening, isn’t it?
The bottom line is this: you can live your life wrapped in cotton and never do anything at all, or you can get out there, have fun, and do what you can to keep yourself safe.
Oh, and if you’re worried about sharks, here’s some recommended reading from the NY Times: Should swimmers worry about sharks?
* Jaws has since become My Favorite Movie of All Time.
*These statistics are from the National Safety Council.