We all have seen it—the group of angsty teens at your local ski mountain not wearing helmets. You think to yourself, how can someone be so stupid to not wear a helmet out here? The point of this article isn’t to encourage anyone not to wear a helmet, but rather to get us to question just how effective the helmet is at preventing snow sport injuries.
Wearing helmets in snow sports is common, it’s recommended, and it seems to be a matter of common sense. Interestingly enough, wearing a helmet doesn’t really make a difference when it comes to snow sport injuries, especially because most snow sport injuries are not related to the head. Though helmets may be effective in preventing serious injury, it is not always the case.
Most snow sport injuries are involved with knees, shoulders, clavicles, lumbosacral junctions, and ulnar collateral ligaments. So, while the head is less likely to get hurt, it is nonetheless of vital importance to protect.
In the Journal of Clinical Sports Medicine, Douglas McKeag conducted a study that encompassed 20 different ski areas and collected a consensus of sport injuries in relation to the head and neck. From the 1576 injuries reported, 693 of these injuries were head injuries, including 483 concussions (70%) and 469 participants with isolated head injuries. Consequently, 152 were evacuated by ambulance (32%).
Neck injuries, on the other hand, were much lower. Out of the 131 reported neck injuries, sprains came in at 44%, fractures at 16%, and muscle or nerve strains at 7%. Of 41 participants with isolated neck injuries, 23 were evacuated by ambulance for an astonishing 56%. What the study found was that riders who wore helmets were less likely to have as serious of a head injury, but the wearing of a helmet made no difference whether someone was going to suffer a neck injury. Moreover, the study found that young people and females were at a higher risk as snow sports participants.
What the study does admit is that wearing helmets may in fact change the behaviour of riders. What this means is that riders that wear helmets may take risks that they wouldn’t normally take while not wearing a helmet. Further, that the type of helmet the rider is wearing could in fact be causing more damage compared to other helmets. So, while helmets seem like a good idea, it's unknown if they may actually have more negative effects on behaviour, or if certain types of helmets may be less effective. What we need to ask ourselves is if we would ride differently if we weren’t wearing a helmet. The answer to the effectiveness of your helmet may be answered after considering this question.
All in all, wearing a helmet can prevent a serious head injury, but it also may give the illusion of safety and may lead riders to increased reckless behaviours causing more harm than good.