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Are current back protectors suitable to prevent spinal injury in recreational snowboarders?
  1. Kai-Uwe Schmitt1,2,
  2. Bendicht Liechti1,
  3. Frank I Michel3,
  4. Rolf Stämpfli4,
  5. Paul A Brühwiler
  1. 1University and ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
  2. 2AGU Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
  3. 3bfu—Swiss Council for Accident Prevention, Berne, Switzerland
  4. 4EMPA Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Testing and Research, St Gallen, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kai-Uwe Schmitt, Institute for Biomedical Engineering, University and ETH Zürich, Gloriastrasse 35, Zürich 8092, Switzerland; schmitt{at}


Objective Back protectors for snowboarders were analysed with respect to their potential to prevent spinal injury.

Design In 20 Swiss skiing resorts, athletes were interviewed on the slope. In addition, an online survey was conducted. The performance of 12 commercially available back protectors was investigated by means of mechanical testing. A currently used drop test according to standard EN1621 (motorcycle protectors), testing energy damping was supplemented by penetration tests according to standard EN1077, which reflects snowsport safety concerns.

Results 6 out of 12 back protectors fulfilled the higher safety level defined in EN1621. Protectors making use of energy-absorbing layers performed particularly well. In contrast, hard shell protectors exhibited a higher potential to withstand the penetration test. The surveys confirmed that approximately 40–50% of snowboarders use a back protector. A large majority of users expect protection from severe spinal injury such as vertebral fractures or spinal cord injury.

Conclusions The currently used test standards are fulfilled by many back protectors. Users, however, expect protectors to be efficient in impact scenarios that result in spinal injury, which are more severe than impacts as addressed in the current standards. This study highlights that there is a mismatch between the capabilities of current back protectors to prevent spinal injury in snowboarding and the expectations users have of these protectors.

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  • Funding Each of the institutions involved funded their efforts using general resources.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.