Looking at helmets — head on

HelmetsTo some it’s a personal issue, a matter of imposition on civil liberties, but as skiers and snowboarders take a look at the people near and far who’ve been impacted by snow sports related brain injuries many think it’s simply time to click in and get used to it.

Impact to the head can be devastating on beginner terrain (Natasha Richardson), intermediate terrain (Michael Schumacher), or in expert circumstances (Sarah Burke), and likewise can affect skiers and riders of every level.

Emma Whitman, a long-time Sun Peaks skier, and competitive skier, can speak directly to the consequences of leaving the helmet behind – even for one run.

“I suffered a very serious head injury in 2006; I was unconscious for four days, and hospitalized for six weeks,” Whitman explains of her ordeal. “I had to start from scratch relearning how to do basically everything, and I was definitely not advised to ski again.”

Whitman credits her injury to skiing in the terrain park without a helmet.

“The frustrating thing was that I fell doing a straight air over a jump that I’d hit many times before,” she says. “It just goes to show that regardless of how dangerous pushing the level of park riding can be, injuries can happen at any time. An impact at such speeds can be completely traumatizing regardless of how difficult a manoeuvre, steep a face, or big a drop.”

Statistics indicate that helmet use by recreationalists is way up on the slopes. This year Sun Peaks Resort Corporation also enforced the new WorkSafe BC regulations stipulating that employees working on hill must wear a helmet when skiing, riding or snowmobiling.

“In the past five years there’s been an average of 21 claims per year from B.C. ski hill workers for which a head injury (brain injury and/or skull fracture/trauma) was the primary diagnosis,” says Megan Johnston, communications officer and media relations for WorkSafe BC. “Between 2008 and 2012, 120 ski hill workers in B.C. suffered work-related head injuries. These claims cost a total of $1.3 million.”

Arguments have been made that recreationalists wearing helmets, whether on snow, bikes, or beyond, will engage in riskier activities due to their “added protection,” and thus incur more and more serious injuries. However, statistics don’t reflect this claim.

“Helmets are designed and tested to mitigate the risk of an injury,” says Blaine Hoshizaki, professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Health Sciences and expert in the relationship between helmet performance and concussion. “They’re not designed to eliminate head injuries.”

SPIN polled some people in the Sun Peaks village on their helmet stance, yea or nay. Do you have an opinion on helmet use? Drop us a line at editor@sunpeaksnews.com and let us know.