Snowboarding: Healthy Form of Exercise or Dangerously Toxic? 

By: Eta Goldstein  |  February 13, 2022

By Eta Goldstein                       

Paving through the crystal snow up at the peak of the mountain sparksone’s competitive instinct to be the first one to get down the trail. The proper mindset is equally as crucial as a snowboard prepped with wax to winning the race. Snowboarding, a fun form of physical activity which developed within the last hundred years, can possibly cause more harm than one might think. 

Although it is not the typical day on the beach where many roast in the sun yearning for that golden skin tone, a day on the slopes is proven to be a danger in terms of ultraviolet (UV) radiation as well.  The radiation given off from the sun and then amplified by the snow can be deemed genotoxic. Research by the World Health Organization shows that snow reflects up to eighty percent of UV radiation. This compares with the average emission from the sun on most surfaces, which is as low as ten percent. On top of the reflection off the snow, UV radiation increases by ten percent for every one thousand foot increase in elevation. 

The UV rays emanating from the sun are not strong enough to emit more than one percent of solar energy, yet the rays induce adverse effects. One effect of exposure to UV radiation is malfunctions caused by damage to proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids in the body. To test this hypothesis, cells were exposed to high levels of UV radiation and then the DNA was extracted. The DNA was found to contain breaks which can lead to the potential growth of skin cancer. 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers were found to be associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. A study conducted found that women in their teenage years spend much time in the sun. A correlation was found between these women, specifically those under the age of twenty, and the diagnosis of lower limb melanoma. This is probably due to those women opting for overexposure to the sun, which would have otherwise been preventable for excessive periods of time. 

Furthermore, when participating in competitive boarding, there is often an audience of onlookers, coaches, and judges who are experiencing extended UV radiation exposure as well, both from the direct sun, as well as from the reflection of the snow, who also are at risk to these genotoxic effects. 

If limited sun exposure is unlikely, studies suggest that in order to sustain from significant radiation avoid skin exposure to the sun. Additionally, darker colors of clothing are found to absorb more rays, which  prevent the harmful radiation  from reaching the surface of the skin, compared with that of lighter colored garments. Sunscreen should also be applied to reduce the risk of skin damage. 

Another potential negative outcome involved in snowboarding is that competition may cause competitors to reach high-stress levels and some turn towards the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED), many of which are labeled as toxic. In one survey, 98% of elite athletes reported that they would use performance enhancing drugs if they knew they would not get caught. With the caveat that the athlete would die within 5 years, 61% still reported they would use the PED. Steroids, however, can be composed of artificial elements, and studies prove this leads to carcinogenic effects

Although not illegal like steroids, marijuana was also found to emanate genotoxicity. In snowboarding culture, it is not uncommon to smoke marijuana. The substance helps to both focus on internal and external aspects of riding down the mountain. Internal experiences are characterized by physicality and perceptiveness in the body: a heightened self-consciousness. External states of mind are classified as the immersion in the immediate terrain: a loss of self-consciousness, and intuitive creativity in moving downslope. These experiences are united by a sense of presentness and are thus the reason it is not uncommon for a snowboarder to be found to be in possession or intoxicated with marijuana. Even Ross Rebagliati, an Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding, was found to have been previously using marijuana in practices when it was not deemed an illegal substance. However, in more mutagenic ways than one, marijuana has been found to be genotoxic. Genetic damage and cytotoxicity in oral and peripheral blood cells were induced by marijuana use. Marijuana was also found to stop the normal cell-death cycle of damaged cells which leads to pulmonary toxicity by inducing genotoxic effects

The final aspect analyzed of genotoxic mutagens related to snowboarding is attributed to the wax used to smooth the bottom of the snowboard to improve speed, momentum, and control. Perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, commonly used in large quantities as the sealing material, has been the culprit causing much health concern in recent years including neurotoxicity, nephrotoxicity, epigenetic toxicity, immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, and hepatotoxicity. With the increased understanding of the dangers of perfluorooctanoic acid, it has become banned in competitions. Many companies have therefore created alternate forms of wax for boards that are much safer to use. 

Snowboarding is a thrilling, adventurous, and fun sport which makes for a great experience. However, many activities throughout daily life pose the risk of causing more genotoxic effects than realized when exposed in high quantities for large durations of time. By studying the different aspects that can be harmful, and by carefully reading warning labels, one can apply these concepts and take precautions in other genotoxic situations. Steroid and marijuana usage can be eliminated altogether, while UV radiation can be limited in exposure, and laws can be enforced against harmful chemical agents, such as perfluorooctanoic acid. By being aware and precautious of the world around you, you can continue to enjoy the many different forms of physical activity, including snowboarding. 

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