Snowsport Helmets May be Overrated

Post by blogger | March 3, 2005      

Shop for ski helmets.

I’m seeing a bunch of interesting web discussions about helmet use for skiing or snowboarding (backcountry skiing and resort skiing). Peer pressure appears to push use fairly heavily, but equipment experts such as Clyde Soles are questioning just how important helmet use is for our safety. Soles points out that snowsport helmets are rather meager; designed for low speed impacts, and may even increase injurious rotational forces on your head, thus causing neck injuries. Proponents of helmet use pile on and frequently bring up the “I wear one and would like everyone else to do so” argument.

Clyde Soles, from the Couloir Magazine forums:

“If you wear a helmet and believe it works, you are a greater danger to yourself and others than without. Helmet wearers typically take bigger risks than they would without the imagined protection. Pretty easy to prove it to yourself if you have a computer on your road or mtn bike: do a favorite descent w/helmet, then w/o and compare your max speed. Those who “feel naked w/o a helmet” will definitely go slower. If you wear a helmet knowing that it does next to nothing — and don’t change your behavior — then you are safer with it than without…”

Other than for extreme skiers and racers, helmet wearing may indeed be more of a style event than anything else. After all, think about all the ski injuries you’ve heard of within your greater circle of friends and acquaintances. How many would have been prevented or mitigated by a helmet, or a better helmet? Certainly a few — but in my case, the vast majority of injuries I know of have nothing to do with helmets (including several paraplegics), and I know of several where the helmet wasn’t good enough to prevent serious life-changing head injury.

More, it’s been proved in numerous behavioral studies that people frequently increase their risk taking behavior when they’re using safety gear, thus canceling out at least some of the gear’s possible benefit. Contrarians are saying that because of that effect, helmet use may actually be increasing injury rates! That sounds weird at first, but think about it. You go more radical because you’re wearing a helmet — but snowsport injuries happen to lots of different body parts — not just your head. Statistical studies are no doubt being prepared as we speak — we’ll see what they “prove.”

In the meantime, yes, our family wears helmets during most of our skiing. But we do prefer lightweight and stylish helmets such as the Giro Nine, which is obviously under-engineered for major hits — but it is warm and it looks good.

Shop for ski helmets.


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