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The popularity of snowboarding has been growing rapidly throughout the world. To date, however, the risk of head injury associated with this relatively new winter sport, especially in comparison with alpine skiing, has not been well analyzed. This study was conducted to assess the risk of head injury in snowboarding and to elucidate its features in comparison with skiing head injury.We prospectively analyzed 301 cases of head injuries related to snowboarding or skiing experienced from December of 1995 to May of 1997 at our institution, which is located close to the most popular skiing areas in Japan. Of those injuries, 143 cases were snowboard related and 158 cases were ski related. In addition to appropriate medical evaluation and medical care, detailed examination was performed on every patient to determine various factors, including sex, age, skill level, cause and mechanism of the accident, and the side of impact to the head. The data are statistically analyzed to elucidate unique features of snowboard head injury.During the study period, 2.2 million snowboarders and 4.2 million skiers visited the five skiing facilities that are covered by our hospital. Thus, the incidence of head injury was 6.5 per 100,000 visits for snowboarders and 3.8 per 100,000 visits for skiers. Beginning snowboarders more frequently sustained head injuries compared with beginning skiers (60 of 142 vs. 48 of 154, p = 0.022). Likewise, frequent causes of snowboarding head injuries were fall during jumping (43 of 139 vs. 2 of 147, p < 0.0001), falling backward (67 of 127 vs. 49 of 144, p = 0.001), and occipital impact (67 of 126 vs. 49 of 147). More importantly, there were nine major head injury cases (6.3%) in snowboard head injuries in contrast to only two such cases found in skiing head injuries (1.3%). Of 11 major head injury cases, 10 were caused by occipital impact.These results indicate that snowboarders, particularly beginners, are at higher risk for head injury, frequently involving occipital impact, and could lead to more major head injuries. We propose that measures should be taken to protect the head, especially the occiput, in snowboarding.