Most skiers, snowboarders now wearing helmets
Published 2:05 pm, Friday, January 19, 2018
It took about 20 years for most skiers and snowboarders to finally get the message: Helmets give you an edge against head injuries.
Costing from about 40 bucks to several hundred dollars, ski helmets have a hard outside shell and shock-absorbing foam inside. During a fall, the impact’s energy spreads over a large part of the helmet - not your head.
Compared to the heavier, dorky helmets from the 1990s, today’s “head buckets” have full and half-shell designs with built-in headphones, seamless goggle compatibility and lighter weight. Designs and colors are much cooler than the black, green and red helmets from 20 years ago.
Along with providing head protection, helmets are also warmer than hats. Another benefit are the vents in helmet that can regulate temperature and moisture.
But the big question asked by skiers and snowboarders is: do helmets prevent serious injuries?
To a degree, yes.
The biggest study on ski helmets and head injuries was done in 2014 by Jasper Shealy, professor emeritus of engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Shealy and researchers studied 17 seasons of helmet use at the Sugarbush ski area in Vermont and concluded that as helmet usage rose, potentially serious head injuries declined.
According to the study, three quarters of all head injuries from skiing or snowboarding are mild concussions, and 90 percent with patients typically treated and released from hospitals or clinics within four hours.
The study concluded that ski and snowboard helmets are very effective in preventing skull factures, and virtually eliminated scalp lacerations.
There was increased interest in ski helmets after the deaths of deaths of Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy, less than a week apart, in 1998. Both were killed after hitting trees.
It’s doubtful that a helmet would have prevented Bono’s and Kennedy’s serious head injuries because both struck the trees at a high rate of speed.
Helmets aren’t going to save you from serious injuries in extreme cases of reckless skiing, speed, and collisions.
Twenty years after those high-profile deaths, 83 percent of skiers and snowboarders wear helmets. The number is even higher - 89 percent - in the Northeast.
It’s a pretty remarkable increase considering in the 2002-2003 season, just 25 percent wore helmets.
“Ski areas have done an incredible job of encouraging helmet use, and it shows in the dramatic growth we have seen in the span since NSAA began tracking helmet usage,” said Kelly Pawklak, NSAA president and the former general manager at Mount Snow in Vermont.
“The commitment of resorts, parents, local medical groups, even the tremendous improvements by helmet manufacturers to enhance helmet design and comfort—all these factors have helped grow helmet usage. When you think how much we have achieved organically as an industry, without government mandates requiring helmets, it’s quite impressive.”
Studies have shown that most serious accidents happen toward the end of the day when muscles are tired. The desire to get one more run in before the end of the day often comes when light and snow surfaces are changing.
According to the NSAA, there were there were 33 catastrophic injuries at U.S. ski areas last season. And most of those catastrophically injured were wearing helmets: 24 were wearing helmets while 9 were not.
Of the 44 people who died skiing and snowboarding last year, 25 were wearing helmets, 14 were not. It’s not known if the five others killed were wearing helmets or not.
The only state that requires people 17 and under to wear ski helmets is New Jersey. The law puts the responsibility of the kid wearing a helmet on the parent or guardian. Get caught and they could face fines ranging from $25 to 100 bucks.
In 2016, a proposed law to require kids 14 and under to wear head lids failed to win passage in the New York Senate.
Individual ski areas have their own rules regarding helmets. This season, Boyne Resorts - owner of Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Maine and Loon in New Hampshire - require its outside workers to wear helmets. The decision followed the death of a Sugarloaf worker who tumbled 100 yards downhill without a helmet.
Connecticut’s Powder Ridge Mountain Park is the only ski area in the country that requires helmets. It’s a rule that the Middlefield has had since since it opened under new owners in 2013.
In announcing the decision, Sean Hayes, Powder Ridge’s CEO, said “Please understand, It is not our intent or desire to regulate personal safety preferences of our customers, but because we live in a insurance-driven and litigious society, the decision to wear or not to wear a helmet on a mountain that is privately owned is no longer a decision that only effects the individual.”
Most ski resorts leave the decision to wear a helmet up to the individual.