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March 31, 2009

The Helmet debate - please contribute

But, what about helmets for skiers on piste or off piste.  You are more likely to get a head injury than to be caught in an avalanche.  We tell you to take a beeper shovel and probe.  Should this become a recommended piece of eqipment for adults as well as children?  Opinions really divide on this, many helment wearers swear by them, non wearers frequently swear at them others gently poke fun.  Where do you stand
 
Some of the HAT team are persuaded of the case and Chris started wearing one in February after more than 20 years of skiing without it.  Others are still thinking about it?
 
Comments here please?  A free ticket to the talks for the best one.

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There are few subjects on which I could be drawn to comment on the net, but this is certainly one of them, having just come back from a weekend where it was the source of (somewhat irritating) debate!
My experience both as a skier and as a lawyer leads me to believe that a helmet is essential on and off piste. They are becoming the norm rather than the exception as most people realise this. Those wearing helmets appear to be the better, safer skiers - but perhaps that is just my warped perspective on it.
There appear to me to be two types who will not wear them - those die-hard (and young)s who believe that it is cissy and those who simply cannot accept change.
Unfortunately, amongst the latter group is the most important - ski guides and instructors. Until they are convinced to set an example, my hunch is that many people think that they will appear as 'cool' as them. Perhaps they don't not realise that it is the level of skiing ability which sets this group apart, not the lack of a helmet!
With time, I hope statistics and experience will cause them to change - I know of many incidents where a helmet would have saved a life. A parent at my childrens' school was killed on piste, having fallen twice during the day and banged his head - haemorrhage. A friend stood unable to help as a young woman died in front of him, the back of her head split open by a careless boarder, etc.
My helmets have had some nasty dings in their time - I do not feel I am beyond falling. I am also aware when venturing onto the piste that other skiers can do for me what I have failed to do to myself all these years!
Great to hear that Henry is leading the way - innovative as usual!

My friend died on the slope 5 years ago. He was an athelete and an extremely good skier.
However, he was hit from behind while skiing..fell..glided..until a rock stopped him.. he never got up. Since then I wear a helmet.

Before I used to argue that it reduced your peripheral vision and hearing - but I knew really those were spurious arguments.

I know a girl here who cut her ear open on a rock and since then she wears a helmet, even though it makes her look like an egg on skis.

I also know a guy, great skier, who fell stupidly while hardly moving and split his helmet open on a rock.

Well need we say more?

I have been wearing a helmet since 2002 and can honestly say that it has protected me on a few occasions. I had a fall in Verbier just around the corner from Tortan in 2003, where i went from the top of the mogul field all the way to the bottom on by back, tumbling over and feet first.
The party i was skiing with thought that it was going to be a helicopter trip for me but I skied off the mountain. Without my helmet on i think that i would not be skiing today.
The reason that i didn't break my back was that i had a bladder pack on under my jacket with 2 lts of water still in it and it acted as a buffer.
I have finally this season got my wife to wear a helmet but it took an expert to tell her that the standard of skiing that she was doing needed one.

I'm not sure that there is a proven case for wearing helmets. Whilst there is no denying that a helmet will limit the damage if involve in an accident is it not better to prevent the accident in the first place than to limit the effect. Full body armour might limit the effect of any injury but safer skiing (and stopping) and consideration to others coupled with appropriate speed control would, I believe do far more.

It has been proven, though research that drivers not wearing seat belt and or travelling in vehicles without ABS, traction control, air bags etc drive more sensibly and thoughtfully than those who have all the gismos. It has been suggested that along with all with the 007 syndrome (those that think they are invincible) those that are wearing helmets start to also feel invisible and travel at faster speeds and on the edge of control not only because they feel safer but because intrinsically we all have a need for “fear factor”.

Not withstanding where appropriate, for instance ski racing, extreme off piste it is wholly appropriate to not only wear a helmet but to carry the correct equipment. But as above training and awareness is probably a better tool as what is the use of all this equipment if you don’t know how to use it?

When I got knocked unconscious from a simple trip when boarding on the piste, I realised that I was starting to ride at speeds and places where my head was in real danger. My life is in my head! Feel naked without one now (along with knee, elbow and wrist protectors too).

I've worn a helmet for the last five years, initially because I thought the best way to get my daughter to wear one was to wear one myself. Now I wear one all the time - getting a comfortable helmet with good ventilation is essential - and I wouldn't want to ski without one.

And now I know why! I was in Val d'Isere last week 'just riding along' playing in some of the soft stuff a few metres outside the piste poles on a green run. I wasn't going fast, there were tracks there and I was following someone else when my skis caught on a rock and flipped me on my side. As I was falling, I realised I was falling into a pile of rocks and there was nothing I could do about it. I came to a stop and thought "that wasn't good". I felt my face for blood: there didn't seem to be any: both of my skis were still on, so I just got up and carried on.

I asked my friend if I was bleeding. She said I was OK, so I thought no more about it until I got into a telecabine and had a look at my helmet. There were two significant dents, some nasty scratches and when I wiggled it you could see that the internal structure had broken. I bought a new helmet that night.

Now I wasn't going fast, I wasn't doing anything extreme and I wasn't doing anything I wouldn't do again and that thousands of other skiers do every day of the season. If I hadn't been wearing my helmet I very much doubt I'd have skied again that day. It is possible I might never have skied again. As it was, apart from a bruise on my shoulder and (bizarely) under the nail on my middle finger I had nothing but the story and the helmet to show for it.

By the way, please note the rocks were covered by a thin layer of snow - I tend to avoid rock fields if I can - and conditions off piste were generally excellent.

The only thing I find strange is that people think you need to be a certain 'level of skier' before a helmet becomes essential. That's clearly not true. I've been crashed into on the piste twice from behind whislt going slowly - in fact I generally think that skiing faster on piste is safer.

The bottom line. Wear a helmet - it could save your life!

I started wearing a helmet when I got better at ski racing at university. I bought a full race helmet with a chin guard for slalom racing (you can get some nasty knocks to the face if you miss the gate with your poles!!). Having got used to wearing a helmet for ski racing I carried on wearing one for all my skiing be it on a dry ski slope or the real stuff. I swear buy it and its saved my bacon on numerous occasions. I ski fast when conditions allow and have had some pretty bad falls (over my 27 years of skiing) even snapping skis in two and have no doubt that wearing a helmet has saved me from being killed or severally disabled. I have always skied aggressively helmet or not and speed is not the only reason for wearing one! I learnt to snowboard recently and as usual was wearing my helmet and I tell you when you catch a heel edge on a board even learning you can hit the deck hard and I have been very grateful for the helmet!

I managed to persuade a friend after many years to wear one and after his first run that day he was rather glad he bought one. As having got up from a fall off piste he had a broken pair of goggles and a sizeable scratch and dent in his helmet. It made him and I realise just how important it is to wear a helmet.

Just a thought! - Hidden Speed.

If you saw someone on a Motorbike going down the road doing 30mph without wearing a motorbike helmet you would think he or she was nuts! Now consider how quick you go skiing!

I can almost grantee that most skiers have gone over 30mph. Why do I know this! GPS! I have skied for 4 years now with a GPS unit (which I usually use for cycling so that I know how far I have gone in a day)and you would be surprised how fast you go, even down a path (which in many instances is a road in the summer!). So buy rights every skier/boarder who is not wearing a helmet is nuts!

And don't give me the you can't hear or see as much! As motorbike riders and race car drivers don't complain and they use much bigger helmets!

I have a good friend who is securite des pistes in a french resort. I put this question to him over a small pastis. His reply was all children should wear them. As for the adults, it depends what they are going to do and in what conditions especially he said - roughly translated - if you are going to be a prat. However, he said - not so roughly translated - shit does happen and it's only rarely a helmet will alter the outcome of the injury for the better. Lastly and perhaps more interesting; in his 20 years experience the incidence of head injuries has increased. He stressed this was in his experience. Pretty sure this has added to the confusion but there you go....personally I wear a helmet off piste only and then only if I'm doing something a mite dodgy.

I bought a helmet three seasons ago after the friend I was skiing with concussed himself on an easy blue. (Not doing anything silly - just caught an edge - we've all been there.)

Wouldn't ski without it now - it definitely prevented a potentially nasty injury this season when I missed a turn in some trees and slipped over a mini cliff.

However, getting one with decent ventilation is key.

Natasha Richardson's sad accident was bound to spark another bout in the helmet debate.

I have also written about this in my blog at: http://skiblog.chaletsdirect.com/skiblog/2009/03/the-ski-helmet-debate.html

Whilst helmets are clearly a good idea, the priority should be education.

A straw poll of skiers and boarders this week in Flaine, France, revealed that the majority are completeley ignorant of the FIS rules or the most basic piste "etiquette" such as looking up before rejoining a piste, or allowing plenty of room when overtaking.

Neither could we find any reference to this basic code in the whole resort - not on piste maps, tourist office guides, ski school brochures, nowhere.

Anyone involved in the ski industry, eg. lift pass companies, ski schools, tour operators, hire shops etc, should make it a priority to educate their clients so that people are skiing and boarding responsibly and with respect for other mountain users.

The French in particular seem to find the idea of a basic code of practice difficult - the idea seems to be that the mountain is a natural environment for free expression and liberty. So how many times do you need to be taken out by someone recklessly coming out of nowhere who hasn't bothered to look beforehand?

As I have said in my blog:

If you can't stop when you need to, where you need to, then you're going too fast, and no amount of plastic on your head is going to save your knees or shoulders, or those of someone else, when you helplessly skid into them.

Helmets should remain a personal choice, but making sure that you ski or board safely without endangering others is not a choice but an obligation.

Natasha Richardson's sad accident was bound to spark another bout in the helmet debate.

I have also written about this in my blog at: http://skiblog.chaletsdirect.com/skiblog/2009/03/the-ski-helmet-debate.html

Whilst helmets are clearly a good idea, the priority should be education.

A straw poll of skiers and boarders this week in Flaine, France, revealed that the majority are completeley ignorant of the FIS rules or the most basic piste "etiquette" such as looking up before rejoining a piste, or allowing plenty of room when overtaking.

Neither could we find any reference to this basic code in the whole resort - not on piste maps, tourist office guides, ski school brochures, nowhere.

Anyone involved in the ski industry, eg. lift pass companies, ski schools, tour operators, hire shops etc, should make it a priority to educate their clients so that people are skiing and boarding responsibly and with respect for other mountain users.

The French in particular seem to find the idea of a basic code of practice difficult - the idea seems to be that the mountain is a natural environment for free expression and liberty. So how many times do you need to be taken out by someone recklessly coming out of nowhere who hasn't bothered to look beforehand?

As I have said in my blog:

If you can't stop when you need to, where you need to, then you're going too fast, and no amount of plastic on your head is going to save your knees or shoulders, or those of someone else, when you helplessly skid into them.

Helmets should remain a personal choice, but making sure that you ski or board safely without endangering others is not a choice but an obligation.

I am a ski instructor with 'the development centre' in Tignes and I have started wearing a helmet for teaching thi winter. I got to the stage where many clients were wearing helmets and they would ask me ....why do you not wear a helmet?.....
I had no answers that weren't a load of nonsense or revolving around appearence. Intimidating look, loss of visual interpretation of what I'm saying, loss of hearing.......all these things that you have heard people say. I couldn't hear myself saying these things any more so I put my helmet on for work. It was a bit strange at first and I felt somewhat self concious turning up to my lessons, but what I did is just put myself in the shoes of friends who are instructors in Zermatt, Switzerland, who have to wear helmets as a compulsory part of their uniform (no helmet, you can't work!). Before I knew it I was loving wearing it and feel pretty strongly that it should not be made obligatory as then we become a nanny state but we should be encouraging everyone to wear helmets so that eventually it becomes a tradition. Instructors can lead the way with this by changing perception and relax the image of helmets. Things are definately changing and helmets are becoming alot more of a norm, but I would like everyone to really ask themselves why shouldn't you wear a helmet and I gaurantee that you will weigh heavily in favour of helmet wearing. However it is then actually buying one and putting it on your head that is the next step!!!!

This is my 6th season in the Alps and my 5th wearing a helmet. I decided to wear a helmet from the day I had my first snowboard taster(I'm actually a skier though) after falling on my heel edge and hitting my head on hard pack snow. It hurt. I now feel 'naked' not wearing one when skiing or boarding. I run a chalet company and one of my staff fell last week, he was wearing a helmet, it split in two on impact. Apart from mild concusion he was fine but imagine if he hadn't been wearing the helmet? We recommend all our staff and guests wear a helmet and we are starting to see more and more holiday makers doing so which is fab. Get one today!

I wear my helmet for slalom, where I have a greater than usual chance of head-planting, but not for free skiing.

I'm sure I should. I'd certainly be safer. I'd be even safer with full body armour, an orange mattress wrapped around me, and a small boy walking ahead of me with a red flag...

Doesn't there come a moment when the individual is allowed to decide for himself whether there is a risk, and whether he wants to take it or not? It doesn't affect anyone else. I wear a helmet when I cycle down off the Col de l'Iséran at 70kph, but not when cycling up it at 2kph. I would certainly vote against helmets' being made compulsory, for skiing or cycling. Perhaps insurance companies should look at the statistics, and, if helmets are shown to cut accidents, give a reduced premium or excess to people who wear them.

I'm surprised that nobody believes that helmets limit their hearing and peripheral vision. Mine certainly does. With helmet and goggles I have the field of vision of a blinkered donkey. I have to keep turning my head to check that some snowplough bomber isn't about to take me out. Most of them seem to be wearing helmets and goggles too. Not only can they only see objects directly in their field of vision, which never seems to include me, but they feel as invulnerable as a Range Rover driver, have little sensation of speed, and don't seem to hear me shouting 'Watch out!' I never get flattened by someone in a bobble hat and Ray-Bans.

A friend of mine is convinced that a helmet interferes with one's balance. I pointed out that World Cup skiers don't seem to have this problem, but he replied that half of the contributors to this blog admit to having dented their helmets! Did they fall on their heads that often before buying them?

Personally, I would like to see speed limits on certain runs, enforced by police with speed cameras. I would like a Highway Code for the pistes, with fines for those who ignore it, and prison for people who cause serious accidents.

Just leave me to enjoy the wind in my toupee.

It's a personal choice, I choose to wear one. After a severe concusion in Tignes Park back in 1999 I lost 3 months of memory and had PTS from the impact and insomnia too.

I wear one now but its more for the rocks off piste and the out of control idiots on piste. You coulde be the best skier in the world but if an out of control ski boot or board edge hits you in the head at 40+ it will do some damage. The thought of being a dribbling cabbage for the rest of my life sends shivers down my spine...

I started wearing a helmet 5 years ago when my children started skiing just to make them feel that it was part of the kit.Now it dosnt matter if its our family ski holiday when we spend most of the day on piste or the boys ski trips in the trees or back country i just would NOT go skiing without wearing a helmet.
Apart from the safety aspect cold head/ears are a thing of the past, even in the most extreme conditions.
If recent events in Canada havnt brought the message home to those who still think its un-cool to wear a helmet then there is no hope for them.
The sooner it is made compulsory and insurers refuse to cover those who refuse the better for everyone.
Keith ambrose

The helmets available these days are so light and comfortable, it seems like a no-brainer to wear a helmet (maybe that's just it!). The news ones are warm and cover the ears to keep them warm yet are thin enough that one can hear with no prob. And mine has come in handy many times - many times not on the backcountry ski tours, but with situations like on the lift when other people put down the bar so fast without even considering if we are ready! Anyway one thing that might help is if the rental companies include helmets with their rental gear. Many friends renting skis have run into the problem of not being able to rent a helmet when they want to.

A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to this debate and the other debates on this blog. I'm still enjoying the 'wind in my toupee' à la JYS (or generally bald head) for the moment; but will be taking that 'next step', as James put it, pretty soon as I have taken enough park and flies now to convince me that head-butting a rock is not something I fancy. I DO feel that many young to middle aged men in helmets (and often without) are a danger to everyone, but I still think that a good thumping is better than the police state answer of the North American resorts! Well, maybe I should modify that thumping to the 'education rather than legislation' mantra which I truly believe in, and which forms the core motivation for all of what we do at HAT.

Thanks again for your interest and participation. There's still over a month of skiing - get out there!!!

Have Fun, Be Safe!

Henry

Probably out of place, but I had another thought on the helmet debate.

I play a lot of rugby and a mate plays American Football. We often try to compare the difficulty of the games, and my mates response is that as more people get injured in American Football, it must be tougher. The counter argument to these shandy-drinking heavily fortified red-necks is that they usually feel invincible due to the vast amount of padding they are all wearing giving them enhanced levels of Dutch-courage. Of course, eventually padding hits bone with abandon and the bone always comes off worse.

I can’t help but feel that regardless of ability, a helmet law could cause problems - recklessness needs dealing with at a more fundimental level. Travel is far easier and cheaper for most now, resorts are gearing up for more people and not always clearing new runs. There are going to be more people - if they don't treat the runs with respect, insurers etc will have no choice but to impose draconian laws which will ruin it for all of us.

In Meribel recently, a friend in our group was taken out 3 times in 4 days. The last occasion by a highly trained idiot.

Many highly skilled drivers are involved in car accidents - we all know its not just about us, but those around us.

I think that I would go along with John Yates-Smith. I don't wear a helmet (I've been skiing for over 30 years without serious injury), but I think that I probably should for off-piste. My only relevant comment is that having skied with someone wearing a helmet this year, who was admittedly slightly deaf, I had to shout very loudly to get through to him. I think that the downside of wearing a helmet is the loss of situational awareness. If someone is about to run into you and you hear them coming then you have a chance to react and perhaps lessen the impact. If you are hit unawares, you are more likely to be seriously injured. Someone with access to the statistics on skiing injuries could do everyone a service by researching this.

Interesting debate. I have worn a helmet for about 7 years and ski off piste. It always surprises me that many skiers will only wear a helmet to ski off piste. Although there are rocks and trees off piste, on the piste there almost seems to be more hazards with the amount of skiers and boarders. Collisions on piste seem to be far more numerous than falls onto rocks etc off piste, and knocks with skis, snowboards can cause as much if not more damage. However, I do think it is personal choice whether to wear a helmet or not. By the way, helmets don't have to restrict hearing, many do have removable earpads.

In my cycle club, we have this debate frequently - does wearing a helmet reduce injuries or not? Or do you take more risks because you are wearing one? As an ex-lacrosse player, I definitely believe the latter when it comes to wearing protective equipment!

I think that the crux of the problem is that many of us are naive enough to believe that "it will never happen to me". As a teacher, I see it all the time. When I ask the pupils to wear their seat belts on a bus, they do them up initially but, if you walk down the bus shortly after departure, all you hear is the "clik" of belts being done up. They all believe that they will not be involved in an accident. After many years I still do not know how you can change this attitude.

Indeed, I myself belong to the hypocritical group of people who make their children wear a helmet when skiing, but don't do so myself(yet).I have no answer when my daughter asks me why I don't wear a helmet and she has to. When I take my pupils to Italy to ski, those Under 14 do not have a choice, and the law requires them to wear a helmet. For my trip next year, I will make it mandatory for everyone to wear one, whatever their age- and, reluctantly, that includes me. How can I insist that my pupils wear a helmet if I don't?

I see both sides of the argument - and I love the wind in my hair! (and the sun on my face).But I am under increasing pressure to lead by example.

Ironically, in my first season of skiing (in the late 80s)I did have a fall and managed to cut my head open with my skis - but I can't remember helmets even being around in those days?

As a parent/teacher I have a duty of care and I have a responsibility to lead the way.Until the children in my care are old enough and have enough experience to form their own opinions then they (or their parents) have to trust me.

In short, as with all these issues, I firmly believe that you are unable to make a balanced judgment until you have the experience to do so. Only when you have sufficient experience and knowledge can you make the decision for yourself.

I think the question that you have to ask yourself when it comes to wearing a helmet is what have you got to loose!!
If it is your fashion sense that is telling not too then there are enough brands and models of helmets on the market to suit all shapes and sizes.
But you have to remember the speed at which you ski and the terrain upon where it is based. It only takes one hard fall and it could be game over.
Also no matter how much you trust your own ability you have to remember the huge number of other users on the slope, do you trust them?
Also the majority of injuries you are able recover from, but a serious head trauma is a different issue!!

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