Helmets for Skiers and Boarders

This archived article is from March 2006. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

Downhill skiing has evolved into a faster sport than it was in the past, and snowboarding has become increasingly popular in recent years. According to the Canadian Ski Council, in 2004 about 3.8 million Canadians aged 12 and over participated in skiing, (alpine or cross country), snowboarding or a combination of those sports. Skiboarding is also gaining popularity.

More and more skiers and boarders recognize the need to protect themselves by wearing a helmet. It is no longer as rare to see people wearing helmets on the slopes as it was in the 1990s. A Vermont survey found that about one-third of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets on the slopes in the 2004-2005 season.

A study of skiers treated for head injuries at a Colorado trauma centre in the October 2002 issue of The Journal of Trauma found that collisions with trees were the most common cause of fatal and severe injuries. Snowboarders were three times more likely to suffer a head injury than skiers.

Blows to the head are among the most devastating and lethal types of injury. Although head injuries are quite rare, an estimated 60 percent of skiing fatalities involve a head injury. Even if it is not fatal such an injury can have lifelong consequences.

A Norwegian study published in February 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that using a helmet was associated with a 60 percent reduction in the risk of a head injury.

Helmets for Young and Old

An un-helmeted five-year-old girl was killed when she skied into a tree at Aspen, Colorado in the spring of 2001. One month later, a helmeted five-year old boy had a similar crash in the same area survived with a dented helmet and a concussion.

The day after the second incident, the Aspen Highlands Skiing Company mandated that all children six and under at its ski school must wear helmets. In the 2002-2003 season the requirement was extended to age 12. In September 2002, the National Ski Areas Association launched its Lids On Kids Web site to promote ski helmets and slope safety education.

Downhill operators in Canada rent helmets, usually for around five or six dollars a day, and some require children to wear helmets for classes. Most require people entering the half-pipe to wear a helmet. The Canadian Ski Patrol strongly supports the use of helmets by children and by all snow sliders participating in competitive events.

Parents must teach by example. If they want their children to wear a helmet and ski or board safely, they should do the same. It's also important for professional skiers and boarders to set a good role model by wearing helmets.

While children are the most likely to wear a helmet, the recent surge in helmet use on Canadian ski hills is reflected in all age groups. Today's ski helmets are so light, comfortable and stylish that many skiers consider them not only a safety device but also a fashion accessory.

The older you get, the harder it is to recover from a concussion. Increasingly, research is discovering long-term effects from head injuries. For example, a study by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, published in the May 2003 issue of Neurology, linked head injuries to Parkinson's disease. Just one head injury can quadruple a person's risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Symptoms started an average of 20 years after the incident.

Helmets Don't Replace Personal Responsibility

Wearing a helmet can prevent or reduce the severity of a head injury. However, a helmet does not make a speeding skier or hotdogging boarder immune from disaster.

Never think you can take more risks because you are wearing a helmet. Always ski responsibly and within your ability. Even if you are a good skier, skill alone will not prevent a crash if the skier behind you loses control.