Put a lid on it: the helmet debate

It’s a debate with strong proponents on both sides: should helmet use be mandatory for skiers and snowboarders?

A much publicized skiing accident in Mont Tremblant Ski Resort last year that claimed the life of actress Natasha Richardson caused people to revisit the issue in depth. Richardson, a beginner skier, wasn’t wearing a helmet when she fell on a bunny hill.

Also last year a snowboarder who wasn’t wearing a helmet died at Big White, but other pertinent information, like how fast he was going, are unknown making it uncertain whether not wearing a helmet could have prevented his demise.

Head injury was the second highest cause of death among skiing or snowboarding fatalities in B.C. from 2000 to 2009.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal found helmet users who get into an accident are 35 per cent less likely to have a head injury than those who don’t wear helmets.

While helmets do provide some protection, other factors should be considered.

Research shows that people who wear helmets take greater risks when skiing or snowboarding due to an incorrect understanding of its benefits and limitations.

Dr. Jasper Shealy, who specializes in researching ski and snowboard-related head injuries, explains this phenomenon: “Cars equipped with antilock brakes systems (ABS) are involved in more single car collisions than cars without ABS. Not because cars equipped with ABS are less capable, but because humans drive cars equipped with ABS differently than cars without ABS.”

This misguided confidence is something people need to be aware of, whether they’re driving a car or skiing down a mountain with a helmet on. There’s a limit to the amount of force a helmet can take, so if you hit a tree while skiing or riding too fast, wearing a helmet is probably not going to help.

While some ski resorts enforce a mandatory helmet policy, the Canada West Ski Areas Association members, including Sun Peaks Resort, are letting their clients decide. The association’s helmet policy encourages the use of helmets while stressing the importance of skiing and riding “in a controlled and responsible manner.”

“People need to be aware that a helmet could potentially save their lives,” said Valerie Powell, Canada Safety Council’s communications and media coordinator.

However, Powell wants to dispel the myth that a helmet is foolproof. “Ski or snowboard as if you’re not wearing a helmet,” she cautioned.
Some people don’t wear helmet due to habit. Younger ones may think helmets are not “cool”, which Powell thinks is “kind of sad.” After all, a brain injury is irreversible.

“We definitely think all parents should make their kids wear helmets while they’re on the ski hill.”

Choosing the right helmet and knowing how to use it properly determines how well it can protect you in the event of a crash.
Buying helmets that carry a European or American safety certification is recommended. To provide the best protection possible, it should also be the right size and mustn’t be worn loose.

Wearing a helmet and practising common sense when on the slopes is the winning formula to help prevent injury. So put a lid on it.

For more information on the benefits of wearing a helmet, visit www.safety-council.org.

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