Ski Helmets- Turns Out They Don't Make You Invincible. // Ski Industry News
This past week, two articles popped onto our radar that raised questions about the overall safety of skiing.
The first article we picked up on was a startling writeup from the New York Times, simply titled, “Ski Helmet Use Isn’t Reducing Brain Injuries.” As the title would suggest, this article reveals research that argues that ski helmets have been ineffective in reducing the number of brain injuries, despite their growth in popularity. In essence, the argument here is that while ski helmets are effective at preventing minor head injuries in low speed collisions or by avoiding lacerations, they are ultimately ineffective in the falls that matter the most. One expert in the field, Jasper Shealy, believes this is, “because those injuries typically involve a rotational component that today’s helmets cannot mitigate.”
Now, before we speak our piece about this, let’s take a look at the second article that we came across this week.
This past week, Sugarloaf brought even more excellent news to the public. For the first time ever, skiers at Sugarloaf will be able to legally access a section of expert level terrain on the backside of the mountain. The new terrain has been known for years by locals as "Ball and Chain," "Adrenaline," and "Hell's Gate." This section of the mountain features several chutes, mandatory cliff drops, and some of the most challenging above treeline terrain available on the East Coast. Due to the extreme nature of the new terrain, Sugarloaf plans on only allowing access to the area after going through a backcountry access gate, similar to what you might see at a western ski resort.
Article number two was written by the Associated Press, and is titled, “IOC Official: Slopestyle Injuries ‘Unacceptable’.” In short, this article brings to light that Olympic officials are disappointed in the amount of injuries resulting from the Slope style events at this Winter’s Sochi Games. Now, it should be noted that this article isn’t limited to head injuries. Still, it subtly speaks to the other side of the issue at hand: maybe we’ve set the bar too high?
For most skiers and snowboarders who follow freestyle events, the Olympic slope style course did seem to be significantly larger and more consequential than other slope style courses. Still, it was largely agreed that for the Olympics, this degree of difficulty was acceptable, and that it would truly bring out the world champion for each sport. Of course, this news does show the event in a different light in retrospect.
So what do we have to say about all of this? Well, naturally the first instinct for a lot of you will be to put your ski helmet on a shelf and forget about it. I mean, if it doesn’t prevent serious brain injuries, then why wear it, right?
Well, we say wrong. See, the thing about helmets is that they still protect you to a certain extent. While you can still get seriously injured wearing one, chances are it’ll happen mostly in high-speed, out of control situations. If you’re skiing within your means, or are run into by someone else on the hill, a helmet is still going to provide you with an element of protection against “smaller” collisions. In fact, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve bumped my head after catching an edge or falling in the terrain park while wearing a helmet. Of course I’ve been fine after each one, but had I not been wearing my helmet things might’ve been different.
The bottom line here?
Wear a helmet, and know your limits. A big part of the trend towards more brain injuries is the result of our equipment and ambitions allowing us to push the sport of skiing even further. Whether it’s in racing, backcountry, aerials, or the terrain park, the goal of skiers has always been to push their limits to the next level. In our opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. A lot of skiers are thrill seekers and if they want to put themselves in situations that could result in serious injury, then that’s the choice they’ve made.
The important thing to keep in mind as you push your limits though, is that at a certain point, a helmet’s not going to save you. Don’t fall into the mindset of thinking that you’re invincible simply because you’re wearing a helmet. If you want to push you’re limits, then by all means do it. There’s nothing wrong with that, just don’t go blaming your head injuries on insufficient helmets.