Every winter, eager skiers and snowboarders converge on Colorado. While après-ski activities are always popular, many people don’t wait until late afternoon to consume alcohol or cannabis.
And while no studies have officially examined skiing under the influence, some experts think that alcohol could be the riskier choice.
“We don’t know much about the use of alcohol and cannabis while people are skiing,” says Angela Bryan, a psychology and neuroscience professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who’s working on CU’s Physical Activity and Cannabis Effects study, which analyzes athletes before and after cannabis use.
“What we do know something about is the impact on our ability to drive, and we know that the impact of alcohol is a lot more detrimental to driving than the impact of cannabis. I wouldn’t recommend driving under the influence of either, to be clear. But alcohol is definitely more dangerous, so I would expect that the same would be true about a sport like skiing,” Bryan adds.
Even so, alcohol is also widely accepted within snow-sports culture, though the Colorado Ski Safety Act makes it illegal for people to ride a lift or go down a slope while impaired by alcohol or another controlled substance.
“There’s a huge stigma around cannabis use, which is ironic, because at the same time, it’s perfectly fine to advertise alcohol use,” Bryan says. In fact, SPACE struggled to publicize the study on a local radio station that prohibits cannabis-use announcements but permits those covering alcohol-related topics.
“I can’t help but notice that alcohol is a huge part of resorts,” says Dr. Ashley Brooks-Russell, director of the Injury & Violence Prevention Center located on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Her current research focuses on cannabis-related impairment, specifically while driving.
“If alcohol consumption and skiing is considered acceptable and appropriate on the slopes, then there’s not much reason to think cannabis would be different,” she says. “I wouldn’t think it’s more risky.”
At the same time, she adds, “It’s all about how people use it.” Many factors affect behavior after consumption, including a person’s tolerance level: Both cannabis and alcohol can reduce coordination.
“If people are using a lot, obviously that’s going to increase the risk,” she notes. “If they’re not as familiar with the effects, I think that’s a big factor, and people who are experienced with knowing how cannabis affects them are probably going to mitigate some risk.”