Michael Schumacher Injury: What is Off-piste Skiing & How Dangerous is It?

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By Riza Ornos | December 31, 2013 10:33 AM EST

Former World Champion Formula One racer Michael Schumacher is the latest high profile accident when skiing off-piste in the midst of winter in the French Alps. Now the German athlete is still in a coma and fighting for his life in the University Hospital at Grenoble, France.

But the million dollar question is: What is off-piste and how dangerous is it? According to Dr. Mike Langran, the man behind the website ski-injury.com, skiing is a lot safer than cycling or swimming, and the risk is "in the order of 2-4 injuries per 1000 days spent on the slopes."

But what is dangerous is venturing off-piste, and according to experts there is no inclusive statistics as its impossible to know how many people are skiing at one time. The sheer volume of snow and low temperatures during the winter would mean an extra precaution for those who want to venture off-piste.

Also called backcountry skiing or hors piste, off-piste skiing is skiing in the backcountry on ungroomed and unmarked slopes of pistes and these areas are usually unpatrolled inside or outside the ski resort's boundaries. Off-piste is simply dangerous since the land and the snow pack are not patrolled, maintained and monitored, and could be deadly because of avalanche, exhaustion, cliffs, weather and frequent rock falls.

There have been 25 avalanche-related deaths in the U.S for the past ten years while doing off-piste skiing. Although regulations may vary in ski resorts in the U.S. and many resorts out rightly prohibits it while some only post some warning signs, but in Europe and Canada it is generally permitted.

Based on BBC's post, there are seven people have died in the Alps from avalanches in the past two days. According to Ski Club of Great Britain's safety adviser Nigel Shepherd, there are between 24 to 26 people die each winter in France from avalanches.

Schumacher's accident only probes how dangerous off-piste skiing could be. Natasha Richardson died in 2009 after skiing on a beginner's piste and she was not wearing a helmet, and since then skiers have been using helmets for safety.

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