I swapped my cosy ski cap (with fold down earflaps) for a ski helmet about four years ago for fear of being hit by another skier or boarder on the piste. These days, it’s unusual to see skiers or boarders not wearing a helmet.
That’s a huge change in slope safety mindset from just a few years ago: studies show that in some US and European resorts, 70% of us now habitually wear a ski helmet. They are not compulsory, although some resorts and ski schools do insist that infants and children wear a helmet on the piste.
In Canada, helmets are mandatory for those learning to snowboard, as well as for those teaching boarders and skiers.
Few parents would disagree that helmets for child skiers are essential, but should you wear one yourself?
Accidents involving high-profile skiers like Michael Schumacher and Natasha Richardson have helped convince many to swap beanies for helmets, although Schumacher was wearing a helmet when he sustained his injuries. Actress Natasha Richardson died from bleeding on the brain after she fell and hit her head while skiing (no helmet).
Benefits of wearing a helmet
As a chilly skier, I was pleased to find that a helmet is much cosier than a hat, it’s less likely to fall off (obviously), doesn’t itch and means you can keep your goggles on your helmet rather than have them taking up valuable pocket space. And as for those helmets that incorporate visors? Swoon!
Vents mean your head doesn’t overheat when you’re tackling a gnarly slope or the sun comes out, so for me my helmet is definitely a keeper.
The only question is how long can I go before buying a new one? There are some seriously desirable styles out there.
Ski helmets and injury
From the point of view of protection from injury, does wearing a helmet make a difference?
The NHS advises that the chances of sustaining serious injury when skiing are low. But if you are unlucky enough to have an accident, research published in June 2018 concludes (unsurprisingly) that wearing a helmet does help protect from head injuries. (btw, the publication Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Journal, where this research is published, has a fascinating contents page namechecking everything from wild boar to venomous snake bites via fire ants and ultraendurance nutrition.)
Scientists who have studied the effects of helmet use by skiers and snowboarders advise wearing a helmet in order to reduce the risk of a potentially serious head injury.
However, many ski helmets are not made of materials that will prevent brain injury if a so-called rotational injury occurs whereby (as explained in a very informative article in the Telegraph here), the brain rotates inside the skull following a collision.
Keep a look out for changes in helmet design and technology that offer increased protection from this kind of injury. (Good excuse for a headwear refresh!)
Find out more:
A factsheet from the charity Headway lists the symptoms of concussion and what to do if you suffer a blow to the head