Do helmets make an impact on the slopes?
February 16, 2013
Nine people died in skiing accidents in Summit County in 2012. Six of them were wearing helmets.
Experts say helmets don’t necessarily save skier and snowboarder’s lives, but they can help prevent serious head injuries on the mountain.
Helmets only protect the wearers head, and most are only effective up to speeds of 12-14 mph. In fatal crashes, skiers and snowboarders are often traveling at higher speeds or suffer severe injuries to other parts of the body.
“We don’t want them to give you a false sense of protection,” National Ski Areas Association director of risk Dave Byrd said. “It’s not just putting a helmet on and thinking you can speed. It’s putting a helmet on and following the responsibility codes. We say wear a helmet, but ski or snowboard as if you’re not wearing one.”
But many experts say helmets can be counted on to do more good than harm.
The use of safety helmets was shown to reduce the risk and severity of head injuries on the slopes, but contrary to popular belief, was not linked to an increase the wearer’s participation in risky behaviors. In one study, individuals who were wearing helmets on the slope did not self-report skiing or riding at faster speeds, trying more difficult terrain or attempting more jumps.
“There is really a great case to be made for wearing helmets,” stated Adil Haider, an associate professor of surgery and leader of a well-publicized study on helmet use, in a recent release from Johns Hopkins Medicine. “By increasing awareness and giving people scientific proof, we hope changes in behavior will follow.”
Helmets aren’t required on the slopes under Colorado law, but data show behaviors may be changing. More than 65 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets during the 2011-12 season, breaking an industry record, according to the National Ski Areas Association. Numbers were higher among younger athletes, topping out at 91 percent of children ages 9 and younger.
“Helmet usage is higher out here (in Colorado) than it is around the country,” Byrd said.
Which might account for the uptick in helmeted skiers killed on the slopes in Summit County in recent years – the number jumped from zero in 2009, to one in 2010, two in 2011 and six last year.
The majority of skiers killed on the slopes last year died from injuries caused when they hit inanimate objects, including trees, a stump and a shed. Two skiers were killed in falls.
Skiers consistently die in far greater numbers than snowboarders in Summit County.