Skiers and snowboarders who wear helmets don’t take more risks or increase their speed on the slopes – but they do decrease their risk of traumatic head injury. Despite evidence of the ski helmet’s protective qualities, usage rates are not increasing fast enough with the number of new people taking up skiing at top ski resorts such as the French Ski resort Val D’isere, who unfortunately decide to keep their heads uncovered.
A 2009 study out of the Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Surgery and the Colorado Emergency Medicine Research Center, University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine showed that even ski patrollers are reluctant to wear helmets, saying it interferes with hearing and causes discomfort. Most ski patrollers believe they are safety role models, but reason that wearing helmets, and encouraging amateurs to wear them, could create a false sense of security, promote recklessness, and increase risk of injury.
In 2010, researchers from the Department of Sport Science, University of Innsbruck, Austria, evaluated 453 recreational skiers and 74 snowboarders to determine if wearing a helmet had any influence on their behaviour on the slopes. Participants were asked to self-evaluate their risk-taking behavior and skill levels.
Using a radar speed gun and factoring in gender, age, nationality, height, weight, and safety gear, researchers concluded that risk-taking behavior is associated with younger age, higher skill level, male gender, lower BMI, and higher speeds. Helmet use was not associated with a change in risk-taking behaviour.
More recently, University of Innsbruck researchers investigated the claim that ski helmets affect reaction time to peripheral stimuli and concluded that they do not, although goggles have a slight effect. Perhaps this will help wipe out that excuse and increase helmet use among skiers and snowboarders.
In fact, quality goggles may also play an important role for winter sports. Not only do they protect your face from cold and potential snow glare, but they also help shield you from potential hazards and UV radiation, which can be very high on the slopes, amplified by reflection from the snow and ice. So in addition to picking the right helmet, picking the right goggles (which you can read more about here) is also important, and can make all the difference for winter sports.
The Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma, a nonprofit organization made up of licensed physicians active in the field of treating traumatic injuries, reports that, “Traumatic head injuries from skiing and snowboarding crashes are an especially important cause of hospitalization, fatality and long term disability and also contribute significantly to healthcare expenditures.”
“All recreational skiers and snowboarders should wear safety helmets to reduce the incidence and severity of head injury during these sports.”
In January, Icelandic snowboarder Halldor Helgason was wearing a helmet when he crashed and hit his head following a triple backflip gone wrong. He was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion, but escaped a skull fracture.
The fact is, helmet usage is higher among more experienced skiers than among those new to the sport. That should tell you something.
- Evans B, Gervais JT, Heard K, Valley M, Lowenstein SR. Ski patrollers: reluctant role models for helmet use. Int J Inj Contr Saf Promot. 2009 Mar;16(1):9-14. doi: 10.1080/17457300902732045
- Ruedl G, Pocecco E, Sommersacher R, Gatterer H, Kopp M, Nachbauer W, Burtscher M. Factors associated with self-reported risk-taking behaviour on ski slopes. Br J Sports Med. 2010 Feb;44(3):204-6. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2009.066779
- Ruedl G, Herzog S, Schöpf S, Anewanter P, Geiger A, Burtscher M, Kopp M. Do ski helmets affect reaction time to peripheral stimuli? WildernessEnviron Med. 2011 Jun;22(2):148-50. doi: 10.1016/j.wem.2010.12.010. Epub 2010 Dec 25