Contact: Linda on 01189 264 669

The ski helmet debate

In the aftermath of Michael Schumacher’s tragic accident, The Telegraph ski editor Abigail Butcher talks about the importance of wearing a helmet.

The ski helmet debate – to wear or not to wear?

More and more of us now wear helmets on the slopes, but how effective are they at preventing injury – and should they be mandatory?

Helmet use among skiers and boarders has risen exponentially in the past 10 years. They’re no longer uncool – a recent study in Austria showed that more experts wear them than beginners.ellieh2

America’s National Ski Areas Association reports a 171 per cent rise in helmet use since 2003/04, when 25 per cent of people wore one, compared to 67 per cent last season. The figures are mirrored in Europe – Austrian experts estimate that 60 to 70 per cent of skiers and boarders there wear helmets, and two years ago a survey in Switzerland found 84 per cent wore one.

Head injuries typically occur as a result of a collision, or an impact with the snow. They often happen at high speed. While so
me people still choose not to wear a helmet, research published in the British Medical Journal shows that wearing one makes general head injuries 35 per cent less likely.
However, there’s been little or no impact on serious head injuries. Aviemore-based Dr Mike Langran, president of the International Society For Skiing Safety, says data suggests severe injuries might even be on the increase.

“Helmets play a valuable role in mitigating injury, but there’s a limit,” he says. “Your brain can’t be protected against certain forces.” And he says the research should be put in context – head injuries make up less than 20 per cent of all slope injuries, and only a tiny proportion of those are classed as severe.

In the US, ski injury expert Dr Jasper Shealy, from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, says helmets reduced head injuries by between 30 and 50 per cent from 1995/6 to 2009/10. But he adds, “There’s been no significant reduction in fatalities, even as the use of helmets overall has increased.”

In Nova Scotia in Canada, and in New Jersey, US, wearing a helmet is mandatory. In Europe, they’re often compulsory for children. But many people, including Dr Langran, believe helmets should remain a personal choice. “I think people should wear one, I wear one,” he says. “But all the people who have looked at the data realise the risk of serious injury is too small to make them mandatory.”