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New Moves to Make Ski Helmets and Snowboarding Helmets Mandatory

Updated on December 9, 2015
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John uses scientific skills (PhD) and 30 years experience as a home gardener to develop reviews & advice about gardening, organic methods

There is a growing push for mandatory use of ski helmets and snowboard helmets on the ski slopes.

Helmets have been shown in various studies to reduce the number and severity of major head injuries.

The move has been triggered by the death of various well known people in skiing accidents.

Actress Natasha Richardson died while skiing in Canada in 2009 after a fall on a beginner's ski run that cause a fatal head injury.

The 45 year old Richardson, who has won a Tony award and was the wife of actor Liam Neeson and mother to their two teenage sons.

She fell while skiing on a beginner's slope at a Quebec resort and died in a New York hospital, surrounded by her family, including her mother Vanessa Redgrave, and her sister Joely Richardson.

The tragic death of many skiers, many of them beginners who collide with trees and other objects has led to an increase in voluntary use, especially for children.

High velocity collisions with trees in 1998 led to the deaths of Sonny Bono on January 5, 1998, and Michael Kennedy.

Also in 2009 a mother of four children was killed on an Austrian ski run, when she had a tragic collision with a politician from German. The politician survived - he was wearing a ski helmet. The woman, who unfortunately was not wearing a helmet, suffered a fatal brain injury and died.

The tragic death of Michael Meagher, a prominent Sydney journalist and Public Relations expert, at Guthega last year, and several deaths of members of the public, has again prompted calls for mandatory use of ski helmets on Australian Ski slopes.

The tragic deaths of two teenage girls in the Snowy Mountains Australia, also highlighted the dangers of skiing, and that helmets don't always save lives. Hannah Taylor, 16, was killed when she hit a tree at Thredbo in early August, 2009. Another teenager, Amelia McGuiness, 16, died after colliding with a tree at the bottom of Rock Garden at Blue Cow.

Both teenagers were wearing protective helmets at the time of the collisions. In 2008, three men lost their lives on the same day – two at Perisher, in the Snowy Mountains when, they collided trees and the third in an avalanche at Blue Lake, in the back-country.

The situation is very similar to the reluctance of professional bicycle riders to allow mandatory helmets in bike race being suddenly reversed by the tragic death of Kazakh Andrei Kivilevin, a professional bike rider in a race in March 2003. Kivilev hit the ground after a collision and died from a serious skull fracture. The new compulsory helmet laws for bike races were implemented on May 5, 2003.

Major Causes of Head Injuries
Major Causes of Head Injuries

Statistics and Research

Statistics from countries all over the world show that head injuries represent about 10 to 20 per cent of reported injuries on the ski slopes, and neck injuries account for an additional 1-4 percent.

Helmet use is encouraged in Canada but has not been mandatory, although helmets are mandatory for children under 12 who are enrolled in programs at many of the resorts.

Voluntary helmet use is growing with about 60 per cent of skier and snowboards using then at some locations. Why not make them mandatory?

Officials at the 'Resorts of Canadian Rockies' - which runs Nakiska in Alberta and Kimberley and Fernie in British Columbia - have required mandatory helmet for their learn to ski programs. Many other skiers and snowboarders on these slopes wear helmets voluntarily. About 90 per cent of the resort staff wear helmets all the time. At Calgary's Canada Olympic Park, helmets use is mandatory in the challenging and more difficult and dangerous areas such as 'terrain park' and the 'half pipe'. Other skiing locations have a similar policy, which was developed by the Canada West Ski Areas Association.

In Austria it is obligatory for children under 16 to wear a helmet when skiing or snowboarding. Italy also has introduced mandatory helmet use laws for children.

There is very strong research supporting the benefits of wearing helmets. Studies by researchers at the University of Innsbruck' published in the British Medical Journal estimated that the mandatory wearing of ski helmets could reduce head injuries by a third in adults and two-thirds in children under 13.

The recognition of the need to take care and avoid of brain injuries from accidents could also increase if people wore helmets. Although many people have argued the opposite that wearing helmets encourages people to take risks.

Other studies have shown that three-quarters head injuries occurred when skiers hit their head on the snow after a fall. A further, 10 percent of head injuries occurred when skiers and snowboarders collided with other skiers and about 13 percent when they collided with fixed objects.

One of the main arguments raised by those opposed to mandatory helmet laws is that helmets impede the vision of skiers and therefore increased the risk of accidents. Gerhard Ruedl and colleagues at the University of Innsbruck discounted these claims. As applies to bike helmets, many people have also argued that wearing helmets gives people a false sense of security and increases risk taking. However this argument is countered by the observation that most helmets are worn by he most skilled ski and board riders. Many beginners have accidents and head injuries when their limited skills and experience would not allow them to take great risks.

A major review study by researchers at the University of Calgary scientists showed conclusively that people who wear helmets are much less likely to suffer head injuries in a fall. The research analyzed a total of twelve studies in Asia, Europe and North America. The conclusion from the study was that skiers and snowboarders who wore helmets reduced their risk of head injury by about 35 per cent. There was no evidence helmet use caused an increase in the incidence neck injuries as many people had claimed.

Modern helmets are attractive and streamlined and their use becomes a habit rather than a chore after a while.

Dr. A Stewart Levy, who is chief of neurotrauma and neurosurgery and at St Anthony Central Hospital in Denver, Colorado, put his beliefs into practice many years ago. He witnessed too many head injuries from skiing accidents and was convinced of the benefits of helmet use. He began giving away safety helmets 1997 and has donated over 1,000 helmets during his personal campaign. He has referred people to an unpublished study that found helmets reduced the risk of brain injury by 75 per cent between 1998 and 2005. He was aware of other studies that showed helmets reduced brain injuries by between 50 and 80 per cent.

Dr Levy is quick to point out that wearing a helmet when skiing or snowboarding is only part of the aim to reduce head injuries. Skiers and snowboarders must be educated and learn to ski responsibly to avoid risks and dangers. The stated that wearing a helmet is not a license to ski recklessly.

The majority of ski race clubs, and snowboard event organisers make helmet use mandatory for competitors.

If the ski racers and competitors need them, despite their skills and experience, then all skiers should wear them.

Similar arguments have led to mandatory bike helmet laws being introduced in Australian and many other countries .

It is true that deaths and injuries on the ski lopes are relatively rare. Statistics from the 1991/92 to the 2003/04 season inclusive, showed a total of 469 traumatic deaths on the US ski slopes (401 were skiers; 58 were snowboarders). A total of 650 million skier days occurred during these 13 seasons giving a death rate of 0.71 deaths per million skier days (or one death every 1.4 million skier days) which is a very low figure. In the 2006/07 ski season there were 22 deaths from 55.1 million skier/snowboarder days. Although the chance of dying or being injured in a car accident is much higher (you have a one in 77 chance of dying in a motor crash in your lifetime), seat belts are mandatory. Motor Cycle bike helmets are also mandatory in most countries.

Helmets will not save the life of every ski accident victim, but they have been shown to be very effective in many cases, and to greatly reduce the number and severity of head injuries.

Helmets should be Mandatory! What do you Think!

Helmets to be Mandatory in Canada

Do You Support Mandatory Helmets?

Do you think helmets should be mandatory for Skiing and Snowboarding?

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© 2011 Dr. John Anderson


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  • neilKurt profile image

    neilKurt 5 years ago from Hull

    A bit late on this hub but I have just found it. Just like cycling on the roads, helmets should definitely be compulsory on the snow slopes. If people are not clever enough to worry about their safety then the law should make them protect themselves. Thanks for the hub, very interesting.

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    David Romano 6 years ago

    It's stunning to me that you never even consider the basic premise of liberalism, which is that if I'm not harming someone else, leave me alone. If I prefer skiing with the added risk of no helmet, that's my business. If you then turn around and say, "but society pays for you injury," then it's time to ban skiing, hang-gliding, car racing and everything else. Get stuffed with your compulsory this and that.