Standards for Helmets intended for Recreational Snowsports are governed by ATSM, as adopted by ANSI. The first standard was adopted in 2000, this article is updated to include the most recent ASTM standard adopted in 2011. The active standard is available for purchase at the ANSI website.
In 2000, The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recognized the severity of injuries associated with skiing and recommends the use of helmets and protective headgear for recreational skiing and snowboarding.
The purpose of the helmet is to partially absorb the force of blunt trauma and dissipate the energy so that the head alone does not sustain the total force of the blow. While helmets do not decrease the risk of injury, they can decrease the severity. A study found 15 skull fractures among 27 fatal head injuries. Six of these fractures were depressed, suggesting that protective gear may be of benefit. Several recent studies in Sweden show that the use of helmets has reduced head injuries by approximately 50 percent.
Ski helmets are graded on their ability to withstand frontal blunt and sharp impact, retention strength, and resistance to roll off. American standards indicate that those helmets with a rating of RS 98 from the Snell Memorial Foundation of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have the highest level of protection in all tested areas of impact. This is approximately 15 percent stronger than those standards used in European testing and sales of helmets.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff also recommends skiers and snowboarders wear helmets to help prevent head injuries from falls and collisions. In a study released (pdf format), the CPSC staff concluded that helmet use by skiers and snowboarders could prevent or reduce the severity of 44 percent of head injuries to adults, and 53 percent of head injuries to children under the age of 15. The proportion of skiing and snowboarding head injuries is higher in children than in any other age group.
In 1997, there were 17,500 head injuries associated with skiing and snowboarding. The CPSC study estimates that 7,700 head injuries including 2,600 head injuries to children could be prevented or reduced in severity each year by using skiing or snowboarding helmets. The study also shows that helmet use could prevent about 11 skiing and snowboarding related deaths annually.
"We know that helmet use can prevent serious head injuries in a wide variety of sports and activities, including bicycling and in line skating, "said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "This study of skiing and snowboarding shows that helmets can prevent or reduce the severity of head injuries on the slopes, just as they do on the streets."
The study of head injuries associated with skiing and snowboarding was conducted as part of CPSC’s ongoing work to reduce head injuries in a variety of sports and activities.
Skiing and snowboarding are no more dangerous than other high energy participation sports, and less so than some common activities. However, they are challenging and require physical skills that are only learned over time with practice. The sports involve some inherent risk, but in some measure, it is that risk that entices most skiers and riders to pursue the sport.
According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA): During the past 10 years, about 38 people have died skiing/snowboarding per year on average. During the 2004/2005 season, 45 fatalities occurred out of the 56.9 million skier/snowboarder days reported for the season. Thirty of the fatalities were skiers (39 male, 6 female) and 15 of the fatalities were snowboarders (14 male, 1 female). The rate of fatality was .80 per million skier/snowboarder visits.
Helmet utilization in the U.S. is increasing by about 5 percent per year for the last several years. In the 2004/05, season the overall usage of helmets among the general public (skiers and snowboarders) was estimated to be 33.2 percent. It was higher among children nine and under at 66 percent; it was next highest among those over 65, at 46 percent. Only 19 percent of entry level skiers and snowboarders used a helmet versus advanced/expert at 45 percent. Among males, 35.2 percent used a helmet, and 30.4 percent of females wore a helmet.
Lids on Kids Campaign
Lids on Kids debuted in August 2002 as a resource for consumers to learn about helmet use in skiing and snowboarding. The site contains FAQs about helmet use, fit and sizing information, general slope safety information, related articles and games, and testimonials about helmet use from well known athletes, including US Ski Team members. The site has received nearly 2 million hits since it was created. The tagline, "Consider wearing a helmet – it’s a smart idea" is printed on posters and promotional cards at resorts nationwide.