Don't Let Winter Sports Go To Your Head

Winter sports lovers are waxing skis and snowboards for downhill adventures. Now is also the time to prepare for safety on the slopes.

Football players wear them. Hockey players wouldn’t survive without them. And they’ve become commonplace on bicyclists, too. Don’t forget your helmet if you plan to race down packed hard snow, while having other people dart in and out of your path at escalating speeds down a mountain on two skis, or just one snowboard.

Various studies on the effectiveness of specially designed and constructed helmets for winter sports show these head pieces save lives and prevent injury by as much as 60 percent.

A Federal Consumer Products Safety Commission study found helmet use could prevent 7,000 head injuries a year.  All studies show a benefit citing helmets while skiing are most effective at providing protection from a direct blow to the head at speeds under 15 miles per hour.

Now the best line of defense while on the slopes is to ski responsibly—having up to date equipment, being aware of others and your surroundings, and avoiding dangerous or reckless situations.

But second best line of defense is to wear a helmet. And just because you do wear a helmet, don’t let it change the way you ski. The National Ski Areas Association recommends you not let wearing a helmet give you a false sense of security. You still need to refrain from aggressive and reckless behavior while enjoying your trip down the mountain.

An NSAA study in 2008 found 43 percent of skiers and snow boarders wore helmets. Today the number is now estimated to have grown to 60 percent. Among children, those under 18, the number wearing helmets nationwide is more than 80 percent. California was the first state requiring helmets for children on the slopes, and other states are following the Golden State’s lead.

In 2009 the death of actress Natasha Richardson renewed the importance of wearing a ski helmet. The actress hit her head falling on a beginners slope in Canada while not wearing a helmet. The fall appeared minor initially, but she died several days later due to internal head injuries.

Richardson’s case goes to remind us that a simple fall on the slopes can be life threatening.

Follow the lead of our professional athletes who hit the slopes in Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics, and wear a properly fitted winter sports helmet. Your helmet might keep you skiing and out of the emergency room.

By Kathi Hegranes, injury prevention coordinator, Theda Clark Medical Center