I got into a 'discussion' with the vice principal of the school I work at. He was worried about the dangers inherent in our fairly extensive outdoor program.

I pointed out to him that an analysis of the previous year's infirmary logbook showed that we had far more lost school days from basketball than we did from snowshoeing despite that the entire school snowshoes, and only about 1/3 have anything to do with basketball.

"Prove it"

And there I got stuck.

(Edit in response to comment: My VP considers the outdoor program far more lethal -- chance of dying. So comparing injuries in the infirmary log struck him as specious. Yet this is not borne out. Kids die playing hockey and football. Not many. Kids die in avalanches in school outings. Not many. I'd like to get a handle on the relative risks.)

(Edit 2: Charlie, below has some interesting articles, and some of these are similar to the ones I found in my groveling. The problem is that few take into account the number of practicianers. One article comments that falls are the leading cause of ER room outdoor pursuits treatments. And if you dig further you find that more hikers were injured or killed than mountaineers. But there are a lot more hikers, so if there was equal hazard you would expect more incidents. )

I found tantalizing tidbits:

  • For the young teen male, there is about 1 fatality per 5 million downhill ski days.
  • The most dangerous sport is high school foot ball: Much more dangerous than either college or pro ball. (This made sense to me: High school kids are growing, clumsy; high school coaches aren't as well trained, fewer assistants.) Hockey came close.
  • I found a lightning strike density map for Alberta. The highest density strike zone runs 4 strikes/km2/year

Anyway: Some insurance company I'm sure has collected these stats:

Someone has written a report on the relative risks of various outdoor pursuits:

E.g: In absolute numbers more people die in climbing accidents than are killed by lightning in the mountains. But overall there are a lot more hiking days than there are climbing days.

How many people drown per million canoeing days?

What are your chances of coming to a sticky end cross country skiing?

Avalanche deaths per million days back country skiing?

For each individual activity there are mitigations: E.g. Don't be on ridge tops during lighting storms. Take an avalanche safety course, carry the radio thingies, and practice using them. Learn how to right your sailboat. Know the signs and treatment for incipient hypothermia.

OTOH What is the relative risk between the pass and the peak on either side for lightning? In another question and the reading it caused me to do, it isn't safe to cross a pass. Certainly more dangerous than crossing the street, but compare to crossing the Bakersfield freeway (8 lanes each way) How risky is it?

But I figure that insurance companies that underwrite various flavours of adventure companies have some more concrete numbers than this. What do they use?

Does anyone know of either a stats heavy report on various outdoor pursuits, or a more general book on risk management in the outdoors?

  • 2
    "Prove it" If he had said that to me I would have made him one more statistic proving that admin meetings were more dangerous than outdoor activities. When's the last time you saw someone get into a fight snowshoeing?
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 4:23
  • 1
    When I was in elementary school, the teachers carried shotguns on our outdoor education excursions. They never would have said, "Sorry, no outdoor Ed backpacking trip because bears are dangerous." Instead they taught us what the risks were and how to avoid getting in trouble.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 4:37
  • Is the question about how insurance companies ascertain risks for different outdoor activities? I got lost in the question :) Sorry. Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 6:32
  • 1
    Good Q!. Any discussion about the risks of X for someone over 16 should include the risks of driving.
    – ab2
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 12:27
  • Yeah, gotta avoid all these dangerous activities. Play it safe - sit on the couch with your chips and soda watching tv all day. :) Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 13:27

1 Answer 1


There is some data on this but mostly it's the really broad type that aren't particularly useful, and its scattered all over the place.

It also depends on what type of data you look at, rock climbing has a lower rate of injuries per hour spend climbing than Nordic skiing, but a higher fatality rate per participant. Source

It also depends on the participant, being young and male leads to a way higher injury and fatality rate. Source

Here are the resources I have found so far,


  • Off the Wall, Death in Yosemite
  • Over the Edge, Death in the Grand Canyon

There is also how organized outdoor adventures have less risk, more requirements for medical training (Wilderness First Responder certifications are pretty standard), instructor training, safety assessments, and generally being much more risk averse.


I think the VP is also missing the point of the outdoors. The point of taking people who have never been rappelling or rock climbing or hiking in experiential education is not to keep them from any and all harm but to teach them, and risk is a part of that.

Stoves and boiling water are a definite cause of injury in the backcountry, but you still need to let the participants cook for themselves in order for them to learn how.

If you deny people the ability to experience risk (even with all of the necessary precautions) you stunt their growth as a person.



  • 1
    You might want to look into WHO (World Health Org) there are ICD10 codes for tracking things like Snow-ski accident (V00.32) & Activity, basketball (Y93.67) I googled around a bit but did not find anything ready made to answer the question. Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 15:41
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    aee.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/wrmc_poster_2008_final.pdf has Association of Experiential Education data, split between backcountry and facility/frontcountry activities. Biggest take away is snowboarding is much more dangerous than downhill skiing, and either is way more dangerous than any backcountry activity listed. Additional info at nols.edu/en/filer/public/1485484523/1226
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 20:52

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