Helmets save lives Prevent injury on the slopes

Date: Feb. 1st, 2010
Contact: By Colette Derworiz at Calgary Herald

CALGARY — They may not be mandatory for skiers and snowboarders, but a new study by University of Calgary scientists proves people who wear helmets on the slopes are much less likely to suffer head injuries in a fall.

The article, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, encourages the use of helmets among skiers and snowboarders.  “It’s safer to ski and snowboard with a helmet as opposed to not wearing one,” said Kelly Russell, a PhD student at the U of C who’s the lead author of the paper. “Helmets do work.”

The research — which analyzed 12 studies in Europe, Asia and North America — found that skiers and snowboarders who wear a helmet reduce their risk of head injury by 35 per cent. It also suggests there’s no evidence that a helmet increases the risk of neck injury.

Calgarian Andrew Sawatsky, 29, said he always wears a helmet when he skis.  “I’ve had concussions in the past,” he said, noting he also works at a ski shop so knows all about the benefits of wearing a helmet. Another skier, Calvin Macdonald, said it’s no different than wearing a tuque.  “It becomes habit now,” he said.

The U of C paper suggests traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and serious injury among skiers and snowboarders.  “Estimates from numerous countries indicate that head injuries account for nine per cent to 19 per cent and neck injuries for one to four per cent of all injuries reported by ski patrols and emergency departments,” according to the research.

And yet, no province in Canada requires skiers to wear helmets.  “We encourage it, but it’s not mandatory,” said John Ross, spokesman for Lake Louise Ski Area. “It’s still very much a personal decision and we don’t want to tell people what to do.”

However, Ross and others said helmet use is a growing trend among skiers and snowboarders.  “I would estimate at least 60 per cent of our customers are now wearing helmets,” he said. “Five years ago, it was 10 per cent.”  Ross said helmets are mandatory for children under 12 who are enrolled in programs at the resort.

Other hills have a similar policy, which was developed by the Canada West Ski Areas Association.  “We recommend wearing helmets for skiing or riding,” said Doug Firby, spokesman for Sunshine Village Ski Resort. “We also encourage skiers and snowboarders to educate themselves of both the benefits and the limitations of helmet usage.”

However, he said it’s only mandatory for children under 12 who are enrolled in ski or snowboard school. Similarly, officials at the Resorts of Canadian Rockies — which runs Fernie and Kimberley in British Columbia and Nakiska in Alberta — said children in their programs have long been required to wear helmets and many customers wear helmets voluntarily.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said spokesman Matt Mosteller, noting 90 per cent of resort staff are sporting helmets.  At Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park, helmets are mandatory in higher difficulty areas such as the terrain park and the half pipe.  “Generally speaking, we have very high use of helmets,” said Jim Younker, chief operating officer with WinSport Canada, which operates the park. “I don’t see a lot of children without helmets.

“The conversion is the slowest among people like myself who are in their fifties and have been skiing for 35 years.”