Is Riding With Music Safe?

Collisions on the hill happen. Two skiers, two snowboarders, a skier and a snowboarder, it doesn’t matter – the collisions happen. Sometimes there is little consequence, but sometimes people get hurt. That can suck, especially if it’s not your fault.

It doesn’t have to be a collision – sometimes people just get in each others way. Cut the queue, drop in without looking, ride in a dangerous way. Maybe there’s contact, maybe some shouting, perhaps it’s just a few people tutting or being annoyed.

There are many factors that contribute to poor slope use – often times it’s a basic lack of knowledge, not being aware of the things to look out for, or to consider.

But is listening to music one of the snowboarder’s vices? A bad habit that we should avoid? Irresponsible. Or is it simply another way of enhancing the ride…

Is it frowned upon?

Lots of people ride with music playing. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do, but it is desirable for some. If it is a bad idea – there isn’t much push to sway snowboarders away from it.

Helmets have built-in audio. Perhaps the most critical piece of safety equipment for snowboarders can also be bought with audio baked in. Speakers in the ear pads making it super convenient to listen to your tunes. That can only support the listening of music, right?

And then there’s the marketing of headphones. Consider the collaboration between Philips and O’Neill, the Tested on Animals headphones. Seb Toots has “The Bend” model – clearly designed to be durable on the hill; the headband is made from the same tough material used for goggles…

Where does the snowboard world sit on this? Is there a safety message out there relating to music on the hill?

The basic fact: you can’t hear as well when the music is on

If you’ve got music playing in your ears – it’s harder to hear what’s going on around you. That makes you less aware.

Can you argue with that?

If someone shouts “move”, “watch out”, “stop” or in an extreme case, maybe something like “avalanche” – there’s a definite argument that you’re less likely to hear the warning, and therefore putting yourself/others at risk.

Consider this comment on the article about Snowboard Park Etiquette. Alf added the following:

“Couple of other things to think of… dropping in on another rider’s blindside can be dangerous, and, turn your “dope tunes” off. The combination of the above two resulted in two injured people a couple of weeks back – one of them a friend.” – Alf

Collisions are going to happen – sometimes it’s going to be because someone couldn’t hear.

Aware enough?

OK – even if you accept that the music is going to make it harder to hear, is it possible that you can still be aware enough? Much of the good practice when it comes to riding safe on the hill comes down to looking and thinking. Checking over your shoulder, looking up the hill, considering the actions of riders around you, anticipating, knowing when to check your own actions…

In the park, as well as shouting “dropping”, riders will also put their hand up when they’re going to drop. If there’s doubt, riders will/should look for eye contact, make it clear who will go. Don’t leave it to chance. We block a feature with a snowboard or skis if someone is ‘down’ in the landing area.

Much of the important communication and responsibility doesn’t rely on verbal messages.

It’s probably true that there are a load of snowboarders out there on the mountain, riding with music playing loud, and they’re more aware than the average slope users. Safer to those around them. More considerate. More aware.

Can you argue with that?

Related posts

If this is a topic that interests you, consider reading the article Being safe on the slopes: who has right of way? It uses some specific examples to address the issue of being safe on the slopes.

Have your say

So what do you think? Does is annoy you when you see riders with headphones on, thinking that they’re oblivious to what’s going on around them? Or do you think that rocking to tunes on the hill isn’t consequential – it’s still possible to be safe, and riding with music feels awesome?

Drop a comment…

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Comments
21 Responses to “Is Riding With Music Safe?”
  1. Alf says:

    heh, was gonna post, but seems I have already been quoted….

    I will add that I do sometimes ride with tunes, but usually only with one ear in, never riding in the park and sometimes on empty pistes

  2. Gavin says:

    Hey Alf,

    hope you don’t mind the quote ;) Thought it added to the article nicely. I must say that I do ride with music, and when doing so, go out of my way to be as aware as possible. I’d like to think that I’m still safe when riding like this, but I couldn’t argue that I’d be safer if I didn’t have the music on.

    Riding with just one ear bud in – that’s probably a good compromise. I might try that!

    Cheers,
    Gavin

  3. I listen at a reasonable volume and use earbud headphones that don’t completely block outside sounds.

    Often the sounds of carving (from myself and others) are louder than the music so I feel fairly safe. But the music is still loud enough to enjoy on the ride back up the lift.

    I think this is a good compromise between safety and musical enjoyment.

  4. Hanna says:

    I also tend to ride with just one ear bud in and try to be very aware of my surroundings. its worked for me.

  5. Gavin says:

    @Hanna and @Sam – interesting points. It seems that most of the people commenting (there’s a bit of a convo going on twitter too) tend towards being safety conscious, which is good. No one saying they ride with music as loud as possible and people just need to get out of the way ;)

    After one question – I did do a quick look to see if deaf/hearing impaired people are prevented from driving cars. It seems they’re not (I thought that was the case – but kinda shocked I wasn’t sure of the answer!)… I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that they tend to have fewer accidents. I’m supposing the argument/reason there is that they tend to be more alert with their other senses…

  6. Jim says:

    I very rarely ride without music, but most of the time its only with one bud in; always my left one (I’m regular, so right ear is generally pointing back up the slope, so I can hear folks coming up behind me.. I got the smarts see?!)
    Only real exceptions to this are if the slopes are quiet and I’m riding with people I know well, then its both buds in, but not so loud I cant hear myself think; and if I’m riding indoors, then its no tunes at all, there’s far to many beginners and not much space!

  7. Gavin says:

    Hey Jim,

    it seems that the one bud approach is fairly common – and you do have the smarts keeping the rear one out ;) But what happens when you ride switch? JK :)

    Indoor slopes do get busy. I’ve been shredding with the beats the last few weeks and not had any problems. Having said that, with or without music, if I see anyone that looks like they might ride in the direction of the landing, I just wait. Seen too many people turn and ride right past the end of a rail just as someone is getting onto the rail. Not cool.

    Similarly, if I’ve come off a feature and I’m waiting for the next one – if it’s anywhere close to the run off zone from up the hill – I just shimmy to the side and keep an eye out…

    Cheers,
    Gavin

  8. James says:

    I grew up skateboarding and never listened to tunes whilst skating for 2 reasons, firstly a discman really isn’t that practical to stash in your back pocket, and secondly, it totally killed my concentration not being able to hear the board or what was going on around me.

    I guess this mentality has carried over into snowboarding, I find it pretty difficult to focus in the park if I have music playing (not a problem if its over a tannoy at all, this has a somewhat opposite effect).

    Also having been the victim of a boarder/skier collision that left me with a dislocated shoulder, its a risk i’d rather not run.

    One of the nicest thing for me when out in resort is the silence….Just you and the sound of a board cutting through the snow.

    I guess the “one bud” approach has a lot of validity, it would be good if on the helmet audio inserts, you could switch between one pad being active or both….

  9. Dejra says:

    Music for me is a spiritual thing and I don’t mean religion. I listen to inspiring tunes anyway. Just got that old hippie spirit in the new millennium. But you definitely gotta have it low enough to hear what’s happening.
    Don’t board anymore gotten “too old and fragile” say my sons.
    But I love my music in most cases.

    However, i agree with this statement By James.

    “One of the nicest thing for me when out in resort is the silenceā€¦.Just you and the sound of a board cutting through the snow.”

    Have a website started on Avalanche Transcievers. If you get a chance. Dejra

  10. Bo says:

    I would feel insecure using noiseblocking headphones to ride since I need to hear what’s going on around me to have a comfy ride. I got In-Ears,which are not completely noiseblocking, but especially when i ride with friends I think it’s annoying not hearing them properly and I just put one in.

    A friend once pranked me by just moving his mouth while I had my earphones (both) in and after taking off my gloves and unplugging one bud he just continued moving his mouth and laughed his ass off …

    therefore “one bud” is my solution as well.

  11. Stu says:

    Hey, firstly just wanted to say I’ve been reading the blog for a while and am enjoying it.
    I agree with what most people have said – I really like riding with my tunes on and find it really amps me up and helps me enjoy my riding, especially if I’m riding on my own, but I try to be sensible and pay extra attention as I’m aware that it is restricting what I can hear.

    I have a headband with headphones in it that I can wear under my helmet, so they don’t block outside sounds and I never have my iPod above half volume, so I can still hear what’s going on – especially the tell tale scrape of someone out of control coming in from behind you! It’s pretty quiet on a mountain generally so you don’t need to have the tunes on loud anyway.

    If it’s busy I have them even quieter, but I would also agree that general awareness is more important – especially on indoor parks where it’s more common for someone to cut you up or obliviously wander across the landing of a jump just because they don’t know what they’re doing. In that situation it doesn’t make a difference if you have your music on or not, you still need to pay extra attention to what’s going on, so I think if you have pretty good slope awareness and are riding considerately then music isn’t an issue.

    I’ve also been snaked plenty of times in the park by arrogant douche bags who push in front of anyone and they do often have big headphones on loud – but then they aren’t riding considerately anyway, so chances are they’d be just as big a douche bag without music! I think general awareness and consideration for other people is the most important thing.

  12. Gavin says:

    @James I actually like to skate with music on too – although that’s probably a hang over from liking to ride with music. It’s an interesting idea to be able to control the ear pads in helmets individually, would give people the option to ride with just one playing. But there’s another point – some of the ear pads for helmets _really_ muffle sound, without and speakers in there. Thick pads, drown the sound out…

    @Derja there are defo times on the mountain when you just want to sit back and take it all in. Early morning on a peak where there’s no one around. It’s hard to beat that. Music still has a place on the mountain for me. I’ll check out that site – got an interest in beepers…

    @Bo ;) nice. Yeah, I wouldn’t deliberately use noise canceling stuff, and I don’t ride with music when I’m with my friends, it’s too annoying having to try and get the buds out and stuff. That was something that I was hoping to deal with by getting a helmet with audio – some of them have the volume access on the outside of the ear pad – but I ended up with something different.

    @Stu thanks! The music amps me up, that’s why I like it. I also agree that general awareness is more important. I do drive with headphones in from time to time, and when I do, I feel more alert. I’m making sure I know what’s going on. In your story, a douche bag is a douche bag ;) They’d still snake!

    Cheers

  13. Howard says:

    When I worked at a resort in the states one of my colleagues rode safely was severely hearing impaired or as she put it deaf and I have skateboarded with deaf people as well who do so well and safely.

    I have had a few situations where people of a nervous disposition have complained that snowboarding made too much noise.

    It’s better to see potential hazards and act on them. Many times people on the slopes have different languages, abilities and cultural back grounds so the benefit of shouting “oi, oi mate no no danger stop” and them hearing it is lost on most people and dangerously distratcing.

    So listen to music, afterall you could avoid averbal rant like this or at the very least keep your headphones on the lift so no one talks to you.

  14. Gavin says:

    Hey Howard,

    good points. There is definitely a split in the opinion here; some thinking that riding with music isn’t safe in some situations, others that favour something like a single ear-bud leaving one hear open, and others that defer to awareness from other senses.

    I’m definitely closer to the latter – after all I do ride with music on and it’s in both ears. I might consider a single earbud approach, but I do think that I can achieve a good level of awareness with music on…

    Cheers

  15. Dan says:

    Hey Gavin, good post. I’m guilty of riding with music a lot, especially since I purchased my Smith Holt helmet with built in speakers. However the helmet uses a small volume controller with a pause button you can clip right up next to your collar for easy adjustment when necessary.

    Regardless of the volume clip I very rarely ride with music so loud I cannot hear other surroundings. I guess mainly because I generally ride with people and enjoy being sociable, but also because it’s a bit strange to ride without hearing your own board or the wind friction against you.

    So I guess while I do ride with music more often than not, for the most part the volume is so low it’s more background music than anything. Occasionally I will pump up the volume on a good song. When I think about it.. the music is usually a lot louder in my car while driving and I think the risk of injury is equally as high in a car :)

  16. Gavin says:

    Hey Dan,

    the comparison with driving is interesting; safe driving requires people to be alert, to be aware of their surroundings, what other drivers are doing, checking behind etc.

    Similar to using the slopes – and being safe.

    I think with the car situation, the emphasis is definitely on looking more than hearing. Not that hearing can’t be useful at times – I just think the emphasis is on being visually aware.

    Should it be any different on the mountain? Howard’s comments above about different languages and people being able to interpret sounds/commands/whatever are interesting.

    I ride with music. Sometimes it’s louder than others. When ever I’m on the slope thought, headphones or no – I try to be as aware as possible ;)

    Cheers,
    Gavin

  17. Phill says:

    Hey guys,

    Interesting reading.

    I’m quite a lot like Dan, I’ve been riding for a while with a helmet and inbuilt ear speakers but on one side of the helmet is a large volume control which you can easily adjust even with a gloved hand, and on the other there is a huge mute button, again suitable for gloves.

    I really like this set up and find I adjust the volume a lot depending on the conditions – Nice open runs on my own I’ll crank up the music, busy piste crossing you can dial the volume down low and mute if you need to hear people talking. It’s not like you can hear people when you’re powering down the mountain anyway.

    I previously found earbuds a hassle because one would keep pulling out and I really can’t stand one in/one out, I’m sure that’s not good for my ears!

    Phill

  18. Gavin says:

    Hey Phill,

    yeah I really like the approach of having volume and mute buttons on the helmet ear pads. Like you said, it’s quick a easy access to the volume when you’re on the hill.

    I replaced my helmet recently and was looking for that… but the Bern Baker was the best fit, and although it had an audio option, it was just an in-line volume control. Quite small and would sit inside the jacket…
    http://www.afterbang.co.uk/blog/2011/11/30/bern-baker-snowboard-helmet-review/

    In the end I opted for no audio, so I’ll continue to use earbuds…

    A good thing here is that the earpads on the Bern seem to work well with the buds – no problems with the coming out, which I used to get with the previous lid (RED something). And – recently tried the one bud in one out, and it wasn’t so bad. Could hear enough to talk to someone without having to faff around, and still get some music. Not sure if it’s good/bad for the ears though! ;)

  19. SOTR says:

    Good questions, I think it depends on the person and the skill level as well.

  20. I’d love for my headphones to become a regular part of my ski wear, but with most places so busy throughout the year, it just isn’t safe enough. Just listen when having a break.

  21. Greg says:

    I got some openback neckphones for this, openback leak noise like crazy (not great on public transport ;) ), so people trying to catch your attention are going to realise, but most important, as it leaks out, it also doesn’t block any external noise either… don’t have them full blast, can hear everything else as normal and enjoy your music = win!