When I started skiing in 1990, helmets were rarely seen on the slopes, if ever. As the years passed, helmets became more and more common, though they were still seen on young kids just beginning the ski – often assumed to be the work of overprotective parents. A little more than two decades later, helmets are commonplace; it is rare that an experienced skier hits the mountain without protective headgear.
High-profile injuries to celebrities have pushed the movement forward. Bobby Kennedy’s son Michael, died in 1997 after colliding with a tree. Pop-star-turned-congressman Sonny Bono was killed in 1998, also after colliding with a tree. Actress Natasha Richardson was killed in 2009 after a head injury. Just a few weeks ago, Formula One racing legend Michael Schumacher suffered a life-threatening (though not fatal) head injury while skiing in France. But there is one major difference between these cases-- Schumacher may be clinging to his life due to the fact that he was wearing a helmet.
According to a report from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospitals, doctors and clinics treat roughly 350,000 winter sports injuries annually. Of those injuries, 14 percent were head injuries; 22 percent of head injuries were suffered by those under the age of 15. Of the roughly 40 deaths caused by ski and snowboard accidents each year, 80 percent occurred when the athlete was not wearing a helmet.
Helmets can prevent both major injury and death. Whereas helmets were once associated with a reckless beginner skier, now helmets are part of the standard apparel. A 2002 Canadian study found that the risk of head injury more than doubled if the skier failed to wear a helmet. A 2010 study published in The Journal of Trauma found that helmets could reduce the incidence of head injury by as much as 60 percent. Helmets were found to reduce traumatic brain injury by as much as 35 percent, according to a study from the University of Calgary.
In 2001, helmets were worn by roughly 12 percent of skiers; in 2013, some estimates have that figure at 70 percent. Most mountains will rent helmets along with ski or snowboard equipment, and helmets are available for purchase at nearly all snow sport vendors in the country. The reasons not to wear a helmet are dwindling.
However, despite the benefits of helmet use and the increasing use of safety equipment, there is a disturbing trend in the United States. Despite the increased use of helmets, there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sports-related fatalities or brain injuries in the country. According to the National Ski Areas Association, the number of skiers and snowboarders engaging in risky behaviors has increased dramatically. Even with a helmet, many are skiing faster, jumping higher and going off-trail in their adventures. Experts point to the death of X-Games gold medalist Sarah Burke as proof that even with a helmet, hitting your head after flying through the air in a half pipe can prove fatal. Of course, this is not indicative of the ineffectiveness of the helmet, necessarily, but instead is a behavioral concern.
The bottom line: When you hit the slopes, wear a helmet. It could save your life.
AFP. (December 30, 2013). “Previous skiing accidents involving celebrities.” Yahoo! News. Retrieved from http://news.yahoo.com/previous-skiing-accidents-involving-celebrities-150923603--f1.html.
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (September 2010). “Winter Sports Safety and Helmet Use.” AAOS Position Statement. Retrieved from http://www.aaos.org/about/papers/position/1152.asp.
Buller, D., Andersen, P., Walkosz, B., Scott, M., Cutter, G., Dignan, M., Voeks, J. (November 2003). “The prevalence and predictors of helmet use by skiers and snowboards at ski areas in western North America in 2001.” The Journal of Trauma. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14608169.
Cundy, T., Systermans, B., Cundy, W., Cundy, P., Briggs, N., Robinson, J. (December 2010). “Helmets for snow sports: prevalence, trends, predictors and attitudes to use.” The Journal of Trauma. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21150527.
Macnab, A., Smith, T., Gagnon, F., Macnab, M. (2002). “Effect of helmet wear on the incidence of head/face and cervical spine injuries in young skiers and snowboarders.” Injury Prevention. Retrieved from http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/8/4/324.abstract.
McMillan, K. (December 31, 2013). “Ski helmet use isn’t reducing brain injuries.” The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/sports/on-slopes-rise-in-helmet-use-but-no-decline-in-brain-injuries.html.
Russel, K., Christie, J., Hagel, B. (February 1, 2010). “The effect of helmets on the risk of head and neck injuries among skiers and snowboarders: a meta-analysis.” Canadian Medical Association Journal. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/177815.php.
Published On: February 11, 2014