Effectiveness of helmets still a topic of debate | SierraSun.com

Effectiveness of helmets still a topic of debate

Luke Beasley
Sierra Sun

While almost all ski resorts encourage skiiers and riders to wear a helmet as a safety precaution, some still question whether helmets provide much in the way of protection.

A 2005 study conducted by the University of Alberta looked at incidences of head and neck injuries at skiing locales in Quebec, Canada, and concluded that helmets are relatively effective in preventing or mitigating the severity of head injuries.

Nevertheless, the researchers admitted that they could not disprove the claim, which helmet critics have latched on to, that helmet usage may increase the probability or severity of neck injuries. Others questions whether helmets, in general, actually prevent significant injuries or death.

Nonetheless, helmets ” once a foreign sight on the slopes ” are, by all accounts, becoming more and more popular. A survey of skiers during the 2007-08 winter season by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) found that 43 percent of skiers and riders wore a helmet, compared to just 25 per cent in 2003.

With that rise in helmet usage, however, has not come a noticeable decrease in fatalities. Instead, helmets seem to guard more heavily against minor head injuries, like cuts and minor concussions, according to several studies.

Regardless of the actual protection helmets provide, ski resorts still stick by the idea that it’s best to wear a helmet, but ski and ride as if you aren’t. When interviewed for this story, representatives of Sugar Bowl, Diamond Peak and Heavenly all emphasized this oft-repeated maxim.

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Jasper Shealy, of the Rochester Institute of Technology, argues that most recreational helmets are not built to sustain high-speed impact. Nonetheless, Shealy, who has researched skiing injuries and fatalities for nearly three decades, concludes that helmets may still mitiage the severity of injuries in many cases.