Winter Sports


Winter sports are those that are played on snow or ice. The most common winter sports are skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, and sledding.


The purposes of winter sports vary. People do some purely for fun and recreation. For example, they may ski or snowboard just to enjoy scenery and a trip to the mountains in the winter. They also may enjoy the exercise. Cross-country skiing, in particular, provides an excellent workout in the winter months, when people cannot get outside as often for exercise. Athletes may participate in some individual and team winter sports for competition. There are numerous ski and snowboard events that involve everything from downhill racing to jumping and aerial tricks. Ice hockey is a team sport, usually played indoors, that offers the chance for one team to score more goals with a puck than the opposing team. People compete in winter sports at the amateur and professional level, and many, such as ice skating, snowboarding, skiing, and even curling, are popular Olympic events. Likewise, most people sled for fun, but there also is a highly competitive Olympic event for sledding called luge.


Winter sports are enjoyed by people of all ages. For example, sledding and downhill skiing are favorite family activities. Physical Activity Council (in its 2014/2015 SIA Snow Sports Participation Report, where SIA stands for SnowSports Industries America), the following number of people six years of age and older participated in these winter sports (at last once) in the 2015–2016 season:

It is difficult to number how many people sled each year because it is a mostly informal activity, not an organized sport. There are reports of more than 700,000 injuries a year from sledding. U.S. Figure Skating reports more than 178,000 members and nearly 700 member clubs, as of May 2017. It also can be difficult to measure skiing and snowboarding participation because some ski resorts measure visits (and one skier may visit, or ski, several times a year or not at all). The average age of skiers and snowboarders is rising. It was about 36.6 years in the 2006–2007 season. As of the 2012–2013 season, the SIA Snow Sports Participant Study finds that 24% of snow sports participants are in the 25–34 year age group, while 18% are in the 35–44 year age group, 17% in the 18–24 year age group, 13% in the 6–12 year age group, 12% in the 45–54 year age group, 10% in the 13–17 year age group, 4% in the 55–64 year age group, and 2% in the 65–plus age group.

A skier shifts his body weight to change direction on the slopes. Alpine, or downhill, skiing is one of the most popular winter sports in the United States and is enjoyed by children and adults alike.

A skier shifts his body weight to change direction on the slopes. Alpine, or downhill, skiing is one of the most popular winter sports in the United States and is enjoyed by children and adults alike.


Skiing may have been around since 5,000 BCE, as shown in cave drawings in Norway, and parts of skis discovered in Switzerland. Swedish soldiers used two pieces of wood to help them reach remote towns in the 16th century. It became popular as a sport in the early 20th century when T-bars, tows, and eventually ski lifts, were added to take skiers back up hills. Skiing competitions probably started in the 1800s in Norway. The first cross-country skiing event in a Winter Olympic games was held in 1924. Legend says that the Vikings raced sleds with two runners in about 800 BC. This was an early form of luge, an event that today has singles and doubles events and is a crowd favorite at Olympic events, where competitors steer their sleds down icy courses. Snowboarding is a much newer sport; the first mass-produced snowboard, named a “snurfer,” appeared in 1965, and the first U.S. snowboarding championships were held in 1982. Ice hockey probably got its start as a winter version of field hockey. The first artificial ice rink was built in England in 1876. The National Hockey League officially began in 1917.


There are many winter sports, and some, such as figure skating and ice hockey, can be enjoyed yearround at indoor ice rinks. Others only can take place outdoors in winter conditions, and often at high altitudes or in rough terrain. For example, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing by nature involve trekking through snowy mountain backcountry. The major winter sports usually take place at special facilities, such as ski resorts, ice rinks, or sledding parks.


A little girl plays in the snow on her sled. Many winter sports can be enjoyed recreationally or competitively.

A little girl plays in the snow on her sled. Many winter sports can be enjoyed recreationally or competitively. While sledding is most often a fun winter activity for children, competitive sled races for teenagers and adults include the luge, toboggan, and bobsled.

Snowboarding is similar to slalom waterskiing in many ways because both feet can be placed on a wider board that resembles a skateboard without wheels. It takes place on downhill courses, although snowboarding competitions now involve freestyle, racing, and halfpipe events. Competition names are alpine, freestyle, and boardercross. Snowboard competition classes run from age 12 years and younger through age 50 years and older (named “Methusalah”). In downhill skiing, the skier shifts his or her weight from one side to side, but in snowboarding, the weight shift occurs from heels to toes to create edges on the board. The techniques resemble skateboarding or surfing more than skiing.


It might be called a toboggan or a sledge in another country, but in the United States, people call the sleek seat that rides on snow a sled. Usually made of plastic, a sled fits one or two people and is light enough to easily pull back up a hill. There are different types of sleds, and most cities and mountain areas in snowy climates have parks used just for sledding or tubing. Some runner sleds can be steered. Competitive sledding includes the luge, toboggan, and bobsled.

Ice hockey
Curling is a sport played on ice that involves players pushing granite stones across the ice toward a target area.
A mogul is a term forthe bumps on certain ski runs (paths) and for the type of freestyle skiing that skis over the bumps and often involves aerial or acrobatic tricks.


Winter sports require more equipment and preparation than many other sports because of cold temperatures and risk of injury. It is important that people preparing to participate in winter sports, especially skiing and snowboarding, begin conditioning before heading to the slopes. Running trails and jogging, mountain biking, and doing exercises that strengthen quadriceps and hamstrings (such as leg curls and leg lifts) can help prevent injury. It also is important to strengthen the body core, the calves, and shins. Anyone who is not used to living and exercising at high altitudes should take particular care to be in good physical condition and health before participating in winter sports at high altitude locations. Many competitive winter sports are high-intensity workouts. People who participate in them should advance with time to the appropriate levels. For example, a person should not head out to the ice rink to play hockey without learning how to ice skate, and a skier should not race before he or she has mastered the sport well enough to do so safely. Stretching and warming up before playing winter sports such as ice hockey can help prevent injuries. The following lists some of the specific equipment needs for common winter sports:


According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2015, more than 246,000 people were treated in hospitals and physician offices for winter sports-related injuries. Divided into specific types of winter sports-related injuries, the CPSC stated that approximately 88,000 injuries involved snow skiing, 61,000 from snowboarding, 50,000 from ice skating, and 47,000 from sledding, tobogganing, and snow tubing. Injuries to knee joints are common in winter sports, especially ice hockey, downhill skiing, and ski jumping. Ice hockey players also suffer neck and shoulder injuries and cuts from skate blades. Wrist and elbow injuries are common for people who snowboard because boarders tend to fall on outstretched hands. Emergency physicians say it is foolish to be pulled on sleds behind vehicles along icy streets, as this can lead to serious injuries. Finally, all snowboarders and downhill or freestyle skiers should wear helmets.


See also Calories ; Ice hockey ; Snowboarding .




Joffe, Alain. “Use a Helmet with Skis and Snowboards.” NEJM Journal Watch: Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (October 6, 2010).

“Orthopaedic Surgeons Offer Safety Tips for Winter Sports.” Health and Beauty Close-up (December 23, 2010).

Rushlow, Amy. “Burn Calories Like an Olympian.” Women's Health 7 (March 2010): 25.

“Sledding Source of Most Winter Sports Injuries: Report, More than 700,000 Injuries Linked to the Activity in U.S. Each Year, Surgeon Says.” Consumer Health News 7 (March 6, 2011): 25.

“Winter Activities that Can Land You in ER.” UPI News Track (February 25, 2011).

“Workouts for Skiers and Snowboarders.” USA Today 139 (October 2010): 10.


National Hockey League, 1185 6th Ave., New York, NY, 10036, (212) 789-2000,, .

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, 1 Victory Ln., Box 100, Park City, UT, 84060, (435) 649-9090, Fax: (435) 649-3613, .

USA Luge, 57 Church St., Lake Placid, NY, 12946, (518) 523-2071, Fax: (518) 523-4106,, .

Teresa G. Odle, BA ELS

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.