The debate regarding the question over ski helmets and skiing has been going on for many years. Recently, the news headlines have brought this subject to the public’s attention with the sad death of the actress Natasha Richardson.
There is debate and conflicting opinions regarding the effectiveness of helmets when skiing. Would Natasha Richardson still be alive if she was wearing a helmet? I cannot answer that question, but clearly a helmet can protect certain head collisions from causing more injury than if a helmet was not being worn.
The vast majority of skiers do not wear helmets and certainly throughout the history of skiing this has been the case. Downhill skiers have worn helmets for many years, although racers in other disciplines, such as slalom, giant slalom and freestyle have only more recently started to wear them. This transformation started in the 1980’s when lighter helmets became more available and professional skiers started to choose to wear them. If a slalom pole hits you in the head when travelling at speed it can do some damage. Now, it is compulsory to wear ski helmets in any organised ski competition.
Skiing, like many sports, has a certain amount of risk associated with it. But this is a risk that can be easily rationalised. Driving a car is risky but most of us choose to do it regularly as the trade off between not doing it, against the risk involved, is a rational one. Jumping off cliffs and buildings with a parachute (base jumping) is a sport that some choose to participate in, although this is not rational in my opinion as the fatality rate is not in your favour, therefore not many people choose to participate in this sport. I enjoy the sport of mountain biking and would not go riding without a helmet. But if I fall the likelihood is that it will be on very hard ground or rocks, this rarely happens on skis.
Skiing is a sport that most people will see as a rational choice and an enjoyable experience that carries very little risk in comparison with similar pastimes. If we stopped skiing, then we might as well stop a bunch of other things we do as well.
The big question comes down to choice and education.
My personal choice when skiing when it comes to ski helmets is to look at the risk involved and choose accordingly. Situations where I will wear a ski helmet are; Ski Racing, Off Piste Skiing, skiing at high speeds. There are other times I would choose not to wear a helmet, for example, skiing with recreational skiers, teaching recreational skiers on piste, taking it easy on a sunny spring day. To some this might seem irrational as another person could collide with me, or I might still have a bad fall in all of the situations where I choose not to wear a helmet. But that’s the risk I am prepared to take.
Some resorts are now making it compulsory for children under the age of 16 to wear ski helmets. In my opinion, this is the right thing to do. Children’s heads are less developed than adults, and a head injury could be more severe. Also, they tend to fall more often and collide with objects as they do not understand the consequences of their actions yet, depending on their age of course. Once a child reaches adulthood, then they can make a choice. Maybe if they are now used to wearing ski helmets, as children, it will just become more natural to continue to wear them as adults and we will see this increase the numbers of helmet wearers considerably.
The possible downsides to this?
Well, to start with, wearing a ski helmet could make people feel more invincible, putting them under a false sense of security. Also it doesn’t mean that other serious injuries are unavoidable. A very good friend of mine fell over at high speed last year and broke his neck and his back. Fortunately he made a full recovery. He was wearing a ski helmet and always does so. He is a professional skier. If someone hits you at high speed and they are wearing a helmet and you aren’t, who will come off worse? I have personally seen skiers wearing helmets that suddenly think they are downhill racers and ski far too quickly for their abilities.
What’s the answer?
Ski within your abilities, make your children wear ski helmets and make your own choice about if you should wear a ski helmet or not. Just remember that a ski helmet will only prevent certain injuries from occurring.
Daily Telegraph article: ‘Ski safety: should helmets be mandatory?’ by ski safety expert Dr Mike Langran
Chelston Direct offers a great range of ski helmets.