A top Canadian brain surgeon and seasoned skier, Dr. Charles Tator, is advocating helmet use for all those who enjoy snow sports. Around the world traumatic brain injuries are on the rise, probably due to increased speed and acrobatics in skiing and snowboarding and helmets definitely save lives, says Tator, the foremost expert on spinal cord and head injuries in sports.
Head injuries are the most common cause of death among skiers and snowboarders. But 44% of skiing and snowboarding head injuries could be prevented simply by wearing a helmet. Despite these figures, helmets are not mandatory on North American slopes.
Helmets can prevent what Tator calls “the most catastrophic of brain injuries.” They can prevent fractures of the skull and fragments of the bone penetrating into the brain, he explains. They can prevent blood clots from forming in and around the brain (the kind of injury that is thought to have killed the actress Natasha Richardson whose unprotected head hit the slopes.)
In a research paper co-authored by Tator, the rise in traumatic brain injuries coincide with the development of and acceptance of acrobatic and high speed activities on the mountains. Traumatic head injuries can be devastating and therapeutic interventions to restore neurological function in survivors may be limited.
Ski helmets can be single or multiple impact helmets (check the manufacturer’s label.) They should cover more of the back of the head than a bicycle helmet. For exact specifications, go to www.thinkfirst.ca for invaluable sports safety information plus a video on ski safety , or www.lidsonkids.org.
Aspen Skiing Co. has required students 12 and under at its ski schools to wear helmets since 2002. “We strongly encourage helmet use by all our employees and guests, but we only make it mandatory for children 12 and under while taking lessons,” Aspen spokesman Jeff Hanle said. “A child 12 and under couldn’t be expected to make their own educated decision, and we decided to make it easy on everybody.”
Vail Resorts now requires all its on-snow employees to wear helmets, the first resort to do so, and requires children 12 and under to wear helmets during group lessons. It joins the list of resorts tightening their rules on wearing helmets during ski and riding lessons, particularly for young skiers and riders.
Intrawest, which owns Copper Mountain, Winter Park and Steamboat, now requires all those under 17 to wear helmets in terrain parks and in ski school and issues helmets with all youth gear rentals. Next season, Intrawest will require all on-hill employees to wear helmets.
Other Colorado resorts, such as Powderhorn, take the route that stresses personal responsibility. The only mandatory helmet use is for instructors and students using the resort’s terrain park.