Emergencies overwhelmed by injured skiers

Emergencies overwhelmed by injured skiers

and François-David Rouleau MISE À DAY

The many injured skiers since the beginning of winter are putting a lot of pressure on hospital emergency rooms, a situation amplified by the busy school break.  

“The equation of many people, many young people, many inexperienced people equals more injured people in the infirmary”, notes Dr Nicolas Bernard, emergency physician at the Enfant-Jésus hospital (CHUQ) and patroller at Mont -Sainte-Anne. 

“We are sometimes downright overwhelmed,” admits Dr. Michèle Lucey, head of emergency at the Brome-Missisquoi-Perkins hospital in Cowansville. Sometimes the ER fills up completely. »  

Traffic has returned to pre-pandemic normal in Quebec ski resorts, with an average of about six million visitors per year. 

Excessive speed, recklessness in the parks in snow, inexperience: many athletes of all ages see their day take a turn towards the hospital. No one is immune, beginner to expert.  

“Beginner skiers and snowboarders are more at risk than experts since they have a higher injury rate,” warns Claude Goulet, vice-dean at the Faculty of Education Sciences at Laval University and researcher emeritus in the injury prevention in sports. But expert skiers and snowboarders injure themselves more severely due to, among other things, speed. »  


While the majority of injured people are discharged from hospital quickly, many riders require treatment to trauma or operated on for various fractures (see below).

Dr. Lucey sees more dangerous accidents in recent years.

“Speed ​​does not forgive, you are not armored like in a vehicle […] In the jumps , some don't always have the experience. They follow the friends, but it's big falls of 10 to 12 feet [high] when they fall on ice, ”she recalls. 

In the small emergency of Cowansville (16 stretchers), the injured flock every day during the winter. Some evenings, 10 or more patients come from the mountains of Bromont or Sutton.  

“For patients, it's the accident of their lives to break their tibia-fibula, but sometimes, we have two or three in the same day, ”explains Dr. Simon-Pierre Landry, emergency physician at Laurentian Hospital (Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts), which serves Mont Tremblant, in the Laurentians. 

12,000 per year

Hospitals do not keep recent statistics on skiing and snowboarding injuries. At the Ministère du Sport, du Loisir et du Plein air du Québec, it is estimated that there are approximately 12,000 injuries per year, a rate which has however fallen slightly since then (see other text).  

Since 2010, 23 deaths have occurred on the slopes of Quebec, according to the Bureau du coroner. Two more have been added since the start of 2023.  

As for the Paraxion ambulance company, which serves the Mont-Tremblant region, half of the calls come from the mountains during winter weekends.  

According to doctors, the accidents mostly occur in the late afternoon or evening, due to darkness and fatigue. 

Emergencies overwhelmed by injured skiers

Photo Pierre-Paul Poulin Dr Simon-Pierre Landry
Emergency physician

“The classic is between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. in the afternoon, it is the arrival of the ambulances from the ski slopes! emphasizes Dr. Landry. For us, it's routine. »  

Older people are also more at risk of injury, since their muscles and ligaments are weaker.  

No zero risk  

Despite everything, emergency physicians encourage people to practice this sport, but to remain cautious by reducing speed and wearing a helmet. 

“As in cars, there are accidents. But we're not going to stop people from skiing, says Dr. Landry. It is a sport with a certain level of risk, but it is a very beautiful sport. Accidents happen, and we have to be able to reduce the risks as much as possible. » 


The proportion of ski accidents on the slopes has fallen slightly in recent years, analyzes an expert in the field.

“From 2000 to 2018, we saw decreases in injury rates,” notes researcher Claude Goulet, from Laval University. 

According to his data, Quebec went from 2.1 1.9 injuries per “1000 ski days”, between 2001 and 2018. 

The common denominator of “1000 ski days” is used to establish a representative rate. A “ski day” is equivalent to a visit to the mountains. For example, if there are 5,000 riders on the slopes in a single day, there would be 9.5 injuries, using the 2018 rate.

The decrease in injuries is more significant among snowboarders. The proportion went from 3.6 to 1.3 injured per “1,000 ski days”, while alpine skiing remained stable at 1.5.

Note that men and those aged 12-24 years are at greater risk of injury, according to studies published in 2015 and 2019.  

Hospitals near ski resorts in the red

Cowansville Hospital 194%

Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts Hospital 144%

Child Jesus Hospital (CHUQ) 125%

Sacred Heart Hospital 96%

*Emergency stretcher occupancy rate, March 3, 2022

Source: MSSS 

A dangerous cocktail on the slopes  

Alcohol or drugs can be a dangerous cocktail for athletes who hit the slopes while intoxicated, say experts.

Les urgences dé lined by injured skiers

Jean Côté
Ski Patrol

“It's not uncommon to see people taking a seat in a chairlift with a beer in hand or for the smells of Saint-Jean to emanate from the chairs in front,” notes Jean Côté, director of communications for the Canadian Patrol. ski area.  

Consumption prohibited 

For safety reasons, the consumption of alcohol or drugs is prohibited on the slopes, says the Association des stations de ski du Québec (ASSQ) on its website.

But the reality is quite different: several athletes present themselves intoxicated, note the patrollers and doctors.  

“We do not drive our car while being intoxicated, I do not see why we would go down a slope at 30 km/h intoxicated”, reacts Dr. Simon-Pierre Landry, emergency physician at the hospital of Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts.   

The problem has existed for decades, but the legalization of cannabis brings its share of challenges for prevention. Despite the ban, there would be more in circulation. It would also be more common among young people, reports Mr. Côté.  

Ticket revoked

No available statistics show that the substances cause more accidents, but doctors are unanimous: it's a dangerous mix.  

When caught intoxicated, offenders generally expose themselves to the revocation of their ticket. 

However, the Penal Code provides for various sanctions, which can go as far as a prison sentence if an intoxicated individual causes serious injury or the death of another user, indicates the ASSQ website.  < /p>

The most frequent injuries

  • Cranial and cervical trauma
  • Concussion cerebral
  • Column and vertebra fracture
  • Clavicle fracture
  • Wrist injuries
  • Torn knee ligaments
  • Tibia-fibula fracture

The tragic fate of a ski enthusiast on the eve of a deserved retirement

Richard Hétu passed away at Val Saint-Côme resort, in Lanaudière, on April 3, 2022.

A true ski enthusiast met a tragic end on the slopes last year when he hit a tree following a heart attack. 

At the end of the line, a bereaved woman recounts the last moments of her lover, Richard Hétu, 53, who left too soon, giving himself fully to his passion.< /p>

“Richard, he loved to laugh and make people laugh. He liked to be surrounded by his friends,” says his lover Annie Gauthier during a touching interview about the circumstances of his death. 

“Skiing was his passion. He was tripping. When he retired, he wanted to stay in his cabin, be with his two children and live peacefully without the stress of work. I saw him happy in his head and I heard him see his luck, ”she continues.

The chalet he had built in the countryside gave him a feeling of freedom. And hurtling down the slopes gave him a feeling of absolute happiness.

Life decided otherwise, however

On the morning of April 3, as he was hurtling down the mountain of Val Saint -Come at the edge of the track, the 53-year-old man would have suffered a heart attack. He would have fallen, before hitting a tree. His head and neck stuck, he found himself in cardio-respiratory arrest.

In the infirmary

Despite their maneuvers, the rescuers were unable to resuscitate him. They found him dead in the infirmary, at the foot of the slopes.  

“I was able to have a moment with him in the 'cabin',” says Ms. Gauthier with determination. I saw him with a smile, his face serene. This image allows me to go through the mourning a little better, because I know that he left happy.

“But it's sad, because he was not able to enjoy everything he had planned after a professional life marked by stress and demanding work on the body. »

The coroner concluded in his inquest that he died of positional asphyxia following his skiing accident, which may have been caused by heart failure. 

Missing Equipment

To make matters worse, Mr. Hétu's family never found his equipment.

Despite intensive searches, the family never recovered the helmet , glasses and boots. The woman struggles to explain how this equipment could have disappeared, she who could only recover the watch of the deceased. The loss is all the greater because his son would have liked to keep the boots, in memory of his father. 

The family filed a complaint with the Québec Ombudsman, who however found no error of the public authorities.

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