Equipment » Helmets on the slopes
Anyone who’s been on the slopes over the last five, or even three years cannot have help but noticed the increase in the number of people wearing helmets.
You don’t wear a helmet??
Only a few seasons ago, it was only hard-core boarders/skiers in that wore helmets, but now helmets are not quite ubiquitous, but certainly widely worn across all ski areas.
This is backed up by sales figures. Peter Radford from MyCoal, which imports Sun helmets into the UK, told Natives that worldwide helmet sales have increased by up to 200% in the last two years.
High profile accidents such as the death of Sonny Bono have also stimulated sales, but there is a sense across the board that safety considerations are being taken more seriously, with sales of transceivers equally on the rise.
One must also acknowledge the snowboarding sport, that has without a doubt contributed to the acceptance of wearing helmets. If looking cool has the bonus of being safe, then it is definately a positive trend.
They also keep your head warmer in the cold days. A good fitting helmet combined with goggles can keep out the cold and keep you skiing on in more frigid climates.
How helmets work
Many people believe that the most important purpose of a helmet is to protect them against cracking their skulls open. But just as important is the helmet’s ability to minimize trauma to the brain inside the skull.
Concussion and injury often comes from the brain (which is in motion) coming to an instantaneous halt against the inside of the skull (humans can only handle about 300g’s without severe injury)
When looking at helmets, don’t just consider the hardness of the outer shell, but make sure you check the inner liner – which will absorb most of any impact energy through compression or destruction. The outer shell helps to spread impact energy over a larger portion of the helmet.
How do I know if I have hit hard enough to need a new helmet?
Bear in mind that once the liner has been compressed in an accident (which may not be visible), the helmet has served its purpose and should be destroyed and replaced. It has given its life to protect yours!
Helmets mandatory on the slopes..No!
There is insufficient evidence to support mandatory wearing of helmets on the slopes. Yes, injuries may occur and yes, helmets may help reduce them. But the fact remains that the risk of such an injury is far too small to insist that everyone wears a helmet. Personal choice at the end of the day.
So let's forget the hype and hysteria and concentrate on the true facts about head injuries and helmets! Of course, there’s no denying that head injuries and related deaths do occur, but it has to be kept in perspective - traumatic deaths from skiing and snowboarding are extremely rare.
Many of the high speed impacts with solid objects lead to multiple injuries that no helmet could prevent or reduce. The wearing of a helmet should not be viewed as a guarantee against fatal injury and should not give the wearer a false sense of security.
The situation is perhaps best summed up by Carl Ettlinger - a world renowned expert in ski safety from Vermont, USA - when he says on his website...
"When you feel that rush of adrenalin while skiing (snowboarding), ask yourself if you would be doing what you are doing if you were not wearing a helmet. If the answer is NO, maybe you should reconsider the activity."
Head Injuries and helmets
So what about helmets reducing the rates and severity of head injuries?
Again, things have to be kept in perspective. Head injuries account for at most 10-20% of all injuries from snow sports - although some studies have shown higher rates in children (up to 43% in one Canadian study). But even taking this 43% rate coupled with the highest injury rate gives a rate for head injury of 2.4 per 1000 skier days - really very low. Most of these injuries are minor (usually concussion) and as already mentioned the bad ones are usually the result of skiing or boarding out of control.
In February 2006, Sulheim et al from Norway published a case-control study from 8 Norwegian resorts to see if helmets might reduce head injury rates. The overall incidence of head injury in this study of 3277 injuries was 17.6%. They found a 53% higher incidence of head injuries amongst snowboarders compared to alpine skiers. Using a helmet reduced the risk of sustaining a head injury by 60%. They also found a trend towards a lower incidence of neck injuries amongst those wearing a helmet.
Which one to buy?
One of the problems is knowing which helmet to buy – as with much so-called “protective gear”, many have not been subjected to any standardised testing. The commonest standards are the Central European Standard EN1077 and UNI EN 812, but the American Snell RS-98 test standard sets more stringent targets. Unlike EN1077, Snell performs a series of impact tests and requires a higher level of impact absorption. Specifically, helmets that meet the Snell standard have to withstand at least 30% more impact force than EN1077. A newer American standard ASTM F2040 has also been introduced - nevertheless, Snell sets the toughest standards and therefore helmets that meet the Snell standard have been put through more than the others - unfortunately, very few commercially available snow sports helmets are currently Snell certified.
The bottom line is that if you are going to buy a helmet, make sure it at least meets one (if not more) of these standards. That way, you know it has undergone some form of testing appropriate to its ultimate use on a ski slope.
Recommended manufacturers include Leedom, Boeri, Giro and Red. You can also check out a series of helmet reviews at www.skihelmets.com
So, to conclude, helmets are a good idea and will protect you against many of the common injuries that the head is susceptible too. They are especially important for children, who are at highest risk of snow sport injury. In addition, there is no evidence to date that helmets predispose the wearer to a higher risk of neck injury or cause injury to others. However, it must be remembered that wearing a helmet will not protect you if you have a high speed impact - so go careful.
And the fit
Jesse at Cheapskates/Seasons says that the main things to consider for fit are comfort, and a snug fit...
- Make sure the helmet is low on the forehead
- Make sure the helmet is seated all the way down on the head.
- Check for comfort and gaps. Comfort padding on the inside of the helmet should be flush with the forehead with no major gaps.
- Adjust chinstrap so it is snug but not restrictive.
- The highest level of performance and added protection will be achieved by a snug fit.
- If helmet twists with obvious ease, it is too big
- Be sure the helmet is fitting above the eyebrows in such a way that your goggles (if wearing them) are fitting the user's face properly while wearing the helmet.
- There should be minimal or no gaps between the top of the helmet and the goggles. Remember, gaps are for chumps.
- The helmet should not be pushing the goggles down on the nose. This will not only create discomfort and obstruction of vision but it will also destroy any remaining style points that your user may have had.
Locally, check out
Cheapskates/Seasons for R.E.D. and Limar Helmets.
And Vertigo for R.E.D. and Giro Helmets.