Ski Helmets

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.

Further Reading:

Daily Telegraph article: ‘Ski safety: should helmets be mandatory?’ by ski safety expert Dr Mike Langran

Recommended Retailer:

Chelston Direct offers a great range of ski helmets.

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Robert Stewart

Ski Editor at Snow.Guide

Robert has extensive knowledge and experience of winter sports and has been qualified to instruct and teach Alpine Skiing for over 20 years. He is also an experienced off-piste and backcountry skier and has competed in freestyle and freeride events around the world. Now a full-time ski writer and Director of Ski Press, Robert is Snow.Guide’s Ski Editor and contributes to many other snowsports, national and lifestyle publications.

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2 thoughts on “Ski Helmets”

  1. A good well balanced piece of writing. Personally, I only started wearing a helmet in February 2011. I noticed when skiing in the alps in January 2011, that I was in a very small minority who weren’t wearing helmets. Then in February 2011 I skied in the US (Salt Lake) and someone lent me a helmet. I had a nasty fall in poor visibility and was grateful for the helmet. After that I bought my own helmet and have always worn once since. It’s also difficult to tell your children that they must wear a helmet if you are not wearing one yourself.

  2. About 2 weeks I was heading down a nice gentle blue and I was taken out by a skier going very fast. We were both wearing helmets but he hit my head with his at full force and sent me flying. It was extremely painful and took me a few minutes to get up, he came over to help me and the first thing he asked was how my head was – I think he was relieved to see that I had a helmet on.
    There’s a dent on that helmet now and I had a serious headache for a couple of days but without it I think I would be in pretty bad shape.

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