Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | March 25, 2011      

Some of you might remember the Click-Clack aftermarket heel lifter for Dynafit. While for most of us somewhat of a solution without a problem, with his Click-Clack product Stefano Maruelli did show he’s got his innovation and manufacturing chops (for proof, browse to and see all the stuff they make), as well as influencing Dynafit to change their heel lifters to the new flip-up 2012 version. Now, Maruelli continues to amaze us with his crazy looking “Natural Walking Binding” plate for tech bindings. Video below and Stafano’s website here. I’ll let you guys do the talking, though I have to say this brings me to thoughts of the Ministry of Silly Walks (just google it, if you don’t recall that famous little bureaucracy).

I’ve sure been cheering for Lindsey Vonn. It was amazing to watch her catch up her Worldcup points after bashing her head and getting a concussion (proof that ski helmets are cosmetic add-ons?). It looked like she might even win overall again until the final and deciding race was canceled due to weather — and Maria Riesch got the crystal globe. That would have been one of the coolest World Cup races ever as who doesn’t love a comeback? Bummer. At least hard working Lindsey gets paid, in win prizes alone she reaped $510,000 this season and I’d hope much more in sponsorships. I wonder how that stacks up to the X Games kids?

One of the nightmare scenarios for those of us who solo backcountry recreate is to be disabled with a relatively minor injury, and lie there and die of hypothermia because we have no means of summoning help. Aaron Ralston became a celebrity by not succumbing to such, but many others have. Recent in the news is tragic death of Carole Hague who broke her leg while XC skiing by herself in Michigan. Forget all the noble and selfish blather about “being on my own in the wilderness, knowing help is weeks away,” as that is selfish sophomoric idiocy for most of us. Instead, carry some form of comm that works. A cell phone if functional, if not, a Spot Messenger, PLB, or satphone.

It’s time for Colorado Ski/Snowboard Hall of Fame voting again, when inductees such as yours truly get to vote for 4 folks off a short list prepared through a year long nomination process. This year’s menu is here, not much in the way of backcountry pioneers but I’ll admit I voted for John Denver. I mean, he’s not already in there? Whatever you think about Denver’s music and associated gemütlich, you have to admit he was a huge influence on Colorado skiing in terms of simply promoting it as a fun thing to do. Also, he did write some of his songs at a backcountry cabin that’s used during winters for ski trips, so real mountain muse in in his writing. Forthwith: Whatever you think about the following Denver vid, you have to admit the primary color onesies are probably the next big thing, right? Enjoy. Shoot, I might even have to learn that song on guitar for my next Europe trip.

News of the Weird: Reports say fully six skiers/riders had to be rescued near a Nevada resort — at the same time. One has to wonder….

Have a great weekend folks, and be safe!


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


81 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. MVA March 25th, 2011 9:22 am

    rando run ups?

  2. Nick March 25th, 2011 9:25 am

    Lou, are you really making the argument that if you can get a concussion in a world cup speed race while using a helmet then helmet are cosmetic add-ons? I know it’s a joke, but ridiculous nonetheless

    I dont deny that on the world cup circuit helmets could be better, and that in recent years weight and aerodynamics have been as much of a concern as safety, but these helmets are still saving lives.

    Hopefully there will be some advancements that actually make helmets safer for all segments of the sport soon. I have high hopes for the MIPS system, but I dont think any helmets using it are available just yet.

  3. aviator March 25th, 2011 9:29 am

    That’s some extremely unnatural skiing right dere. Ouch.
    And at minimum 200 gram extra per foot. Double ouch.

  4. Matt March 25th, 2011 9:31 am

    Speaking of six lost snowboarders, we were heading out of bounds from Kicking Horse in Golden the other day, and as we were looking back at the resort, we saw a big group of boarders all ski off the same cornice. No packs, every one of them fell coming off the cornice, and they all gather directly below the cornice to take pictures. I am amazed more people don’t die like this.

  5. Lou March 25th, 2011 9:37 am

    Aha, helmets…my point is they are incredibly primitive and ineffective compared with what we really need to protect our heads at speedy impacts with immovable object. I also like to bring the helmet issue up because I believe all too many people buy them and wear them thinking they give a lot more protection than they really do.

  6. aviator March 25th, 2011 9:50 am

    Seems to me it’s more and more common to see these big crashes and they get up and race again REALLY soon after.
    Did you all see that Anja Parson death jump in Whistler last year?
    The NEXT DAY she did downhill and slalom and won another olympic medal. 😯
    Just another day at the office.

    1. Something’s gotta be right about their helmets and safety gear

    2. These athletes have psyches like none other. Pushing through all that pain and still winning. When mere mortals would have been hospitalized.

  7. Ziff March 25th, 2011 10:03 am

    Helmets will rarely if ever protect against a concussion as your brain will still hit the inside of your skull if you stop too suddendly. They are either designed to stop skull fractures or hits from falling objects.

  8. Matt March 25th, 2011 10:07 am

    Just like when mountain biking, I mainly use my helmet to deflect tree branches.

  9. Gentle Sasquatch March 25th, 2011 10:22 am

    I thought the helmets are mostly used to effectively hold the ski goggles…. 😉

    Anyway, a helmet is great. It is totally windproof, holds ski goggles well 🙂 and protects from tree branches and hits to the head from rocks, trees and other skiers.

    But – for concussions, dream on. A concussion happens when the jello inside your head gets jerked side to side, causing the jello to move violently to disturb the consistency. No helmet in the world will prevent that if you go down hard.

  10. Mike March 25th, 2011 10:23 am

    What an absurd assertion about helmets. I’d likely not be around anymore if it weren’t for wearing a helmet in the backcountry a few years back. I won’t go in to details but before any comments are made, risk homeostasis had nothing to do with anything in my particular situation. Of course helmets could be better – everything could. But to use a concussion in a world cup race as “proof” that they’re just “cosmetic add-ons” is ridiculous.

    Having a little fun with SEO in the RSS summary?

  11. dg March 25th, 2011 10:48 am

    Certainly it is likely that the injury would have been worse without the helmet. Why not add the protection even if the ultimate efficacy is debatable considering the fairly minimal trade offs. The only real question is how can they be made better and how do people perceive the benefit?

    I like the protection afforded by a helmet when the gas lift struts on my partners Subaru give way and the tailgate comes down on my head.

    Lindsey Vonn is awesome either way. 🙂

    It is dumping in Utah so let’s get out there!

  12. See March 25th, 2011 11:01 am

    Helmets are far from perfect. Like many things, they are a compromise. Comfort. weight, ventilation, protection, cost, etc., all have to be balanced.

    But, it is my understanding that the styrofoam that makes up the bulk of most ski helmets crushes in an impact, and that this does absorb a significant amount of energy. This is confirmed by my own experience.

    Regards from snowy Northern California (40″ in the last 24 hours!),


  13. Lou March 25th, 2011 11:44 am

    See, it’s basic physics. Even if an inch of foam collapses during impact, expect that inch to decelerate your head from 30mph to 0mph in a split second still places huge stress on the brain. This results in too much stress at anything over very moderate impacts, is my understanding after lots of reading. In other words, helmets might work fairly well for things like a small rock dropping on your head or low speed impacts, but if your body and head are moving, fast, and you hit something solid like a tree with your head, they do very little. Instead, your brain bangs against the unpadded interior of your skull and bam, sometimes serious or life threatening damage. Sure, helmets do something. So does stuffing newspaper inside a ski cap. The question is, how much protection does a ski helmet really give you, and are you realistic in your expectations? More, is this uncertainty about how much a helmet really does the root cause of how quickly and forcibly people react to any ski helmet criticism?

    This problem of basic physics is the disappointing thing about helmets. Even taking a scifi approach to imagining how the brain deceleration problem could be solved, one is hard pressed to come up with anything. It’s too simple. Your head is moving at 30mph, encounters immovable object, and has to decelerate in a very very short amount of time. Your brain does the same thing, only the inside of your skull that it hits has no padding. Increasing that deceleration time by virtue of a helmet to any practical extent is very difficult. For example, to make a helmet really work for say, a tree impact at 30mph, you’d need quite a bit more thickness of foam, to an impractical extent. That’s my understanding anyway.

    What confuses people is they tend to think of helmets as something like knee pads, where they simply spread out impact forces with some hard surfaces and foam padding. Knees don’t have a brain that has to be protected from deceleration and subsequent bouncing off the inside of the skull…

    Oh, another thing, if I go out skiing with a hat stuffed with newspaper, fall and hit my head and survive, should I start promoting the official WildSnow recycled newspaper helmet?


  14. Lou March 25th, 2011 11:50 am

    P.S., just so I don’t sound like too much of a crazy, I do use a helmet for certain things. All snowmobiling, most of my alpinism, and some of my skiing. I figure it will protect me from moderate rockfall and other lesser events (perhaps a low speed fall on ice, for example), but I don’t expect much from it due to my understanding of above physics…

    There are other safety items I tend to be more likely to carry and make a weight/volume sacrifice for, such as my satphone, ski brakes on my skis, decent repair kit, Avalung…

  15. tyler March 25th, 2011 11:57 am

    On the Binding Plates:

    Seems like he has to lift the ski up every step instead of just sliding it along. A zero sum proposition here?

  16. tka March 25th, 2011 12:02 pm

    wow lou. Dale Earnhardt had the same outdated and stubborn opinions as you concerning head protection. My best friend died biking while wearing his helmet and I’ve never concluded it was just for fashion. Don’t blame the helmet. As for your “The problem with basic physics is the disappointing thing about helmets” comment….since when did helmets play a part in determining basic physics? Using your logic seatbelts in cars do no good all. Looks as if someones brain wasn’t buckled up.

  17. See March 25th, 2011 12:19 pm

    One reason people may be quick to respond to criticism of helmets is that they believe helmets have real value based on personal experience. That is what motivates me to offer a dissenting view when I read comments that seem to suggest a good ski helmet is comparable to a hat stuffed with newspaper. I haven’t done any calculations, but empirical observation is an important part of science, too.

    30 mph into an immovable is a pretty extreme example, and I would agree a helmet probably won’t prevent serious injury or worse in such a case; but, in my opinion, the biggest drawbacks to using a helmet are the false sense of security they may give some people, and the space they take up in or on one’s pack when they aren’t being worn.

    I think you and others have done a pretty good job of addressing the first issue, and the second isn’t really such a big deal, once you work out a system. I just use a slightly bigger pack.

    Certainly helmets don’t provide complete protection, but I believe they can make a huge difference in many cases.


  18. See March 25th, 2011 12:27 pm

    Just reread earlier comment.

    I meant to say “immovable object,” and maybe “big difference” is better than “huge difference.”



  19. Lou March 25th, 2011 12:37 pm

    See, yes, there is no doubt well made ski helmets do something, just how much they’ll really do is one question, and how duped we are as consumers is the other question.

  20. Jonathan Shefftz March 25th, 2011 1:04 pm

    Just google around to find summaries of the studies by Jasper Shealy. I’ve copied some snippets below.
    To me, those benefits are worth the extra several ounces, bulk, and late-spring/early-summer overheating:
    “Using this general definition of head injury, various studies around the world have found that head injuries range from about 10 to 20 per cent of all injuries. The large majority of head injuries that fit this description tends not to be life-threatening, and in fact are minor. Helmets are most effective in the mitigation of these minor head injuries.”
    “Our research and the research of others has consistently shown a 35- to 50-per-cent reduction in head injury if a head injury is defined as “any injury above the neck.” Helmets prevent close to 100 per cent of relatively minor head injuries (lacerations), but are far less effective at preventing serious head injury (concussions, closed head injury, subdural haematoma and so on).”

  21. Jonathan Shefftz March 25th, 2011 1:10 pm

    And continuing the benefit-cost analysis, so the “walking” plate, let’s see, costs money, weight, mechanical complexity making it more prone to failure, additional linkages reducing skiboot rigidity while skiing, and instead of just pivoting the rear of the boot, you have to lift up the *entire* boot significantly. And in return for all those drawbacks, you get . . . “A zero sum proposition here?” Sounds more like 100% negatives and absolutely zero positives.

  22. naginalf March 25th, 2011 1:26 pm

    “Even taking a scifi approach to imagining how the brain deceleration problem could be solved, one is hard pressed to come up with anything. ”

    Lol, Lou you obviously haven’t watched much scifi. If only we had some device that lets us slow down time just before the crash, then not only would we hit the tree at 3mph instead of 30, but we could pull off some pretty cools stunts while doing it 8) ! But really, I didn’t read anyone saying that you shouldn’t wear a helmet, just be realistic about its usefulness. This sort of thinking is what spurns better technology. Now who’s got the patent on time-slowy-downy devices?

    I really like the idea behind those binding plates, and it looks quite efficient. But they also look very weak and fiddly, and where they’d be most useful on a long trek, they’re also just another thing to break catastrophically. Then again, if they did break, it would probably be pretty simple to bolt the toe part to your ski in the traditional manner.

  23. aviator March 25th, 2011 1:34 pm

    I’m all for the “don’t expect safety gear to do miracles” sermons lou but you go too far.

    The newspaper example and the 30mph to full stop example are ridiculous.

    Want some hard data, there are tons and tons of scientific support for helmets on motorbikes, mopeds, pushbikes, they all go at 30 mph or much more where everything is a lot harder than in the BC.

    Even in a motorbike crash at 90mph many people are saved by their helmets every day because they hit their heads at lower (but still fatal without helmet) speeds.

    In the Lindsey Vonn and Anja Parson crashes above, what do you really think would have happened without helmets?

  24. Lee March 25th, 2011 2:27 pm

    I think Maruelli’s binding deserves a closer look, there’s not a lot of innovation in touring bindings IMHO, but hell this guy is thinking outside the box. Looks very natural on steeper ascents to me….though maybe there’s not so much glide on the flatter terrain…must look at the weight.

  25. Lou March 25th, 2011 2:43 pm

    He he, sermons? If so, I sure don’t appear to have much of a believer congregation when it comes to helmets, Crashes 3:17 (grin)! I guess I should go back to skimenary and study my oratory skills. 😀

    I’d agree that motorsports helmets are somewhat effective (though death rates in motorcycle crashes could be used to refute some of that argument, as helmets no doubt save some lives, but lives continue to be lost at rather alarming rates.). So, to that end, with how fast and hard people are skiing now, a truly effective ski helmet should resemble nothing less than a snowmobile or motorcycle helmet, otherwise stuff some crumpled newspapers into a knit cap and hope for the best — or buy a nice thin, lightweight, comfortable and well ventilated “snowsports” helmet and hope for the best.

    In all seriousness, I know some of you do use full-face beefy helmets for snowboarding and skiing. Those appear to be much closer to the truly effective helmet that I feel the common little ski helmet aspires to in marketing but doesn’t achieve in reality. And don’t worry, I get sucked into the hype just like anyone else, and have gone to the effort of carrying and using ski helmets that were ludicrously meager.

  26. Lou March 25th, 2011 2:49 pm

    I hope Maruelli has a sense of humor, as my attempt at that is truly light hearted and I indeed appreciate him as an innovator. His walking device could indeed have a place. I’m thinking of something with a more limited range so you can have more control of the ski tip for breaking trail, but still have the super natural ergonomics. It probably needs a lock-out as well, and weight is a huge issue. Word I’ve heard in Europe is that weight is frequently trumping ergonomics when it comes to going up hill on skis and these issues are studied in light of what wins skimo races. In other words, when something is done to help ergonomics, if it increases weight the net effect is to make the system less efficient rather than more, simply because when going up hill it is the lifting of weight that’s the battle. Now, on the other hand, for covering flat ground or very slight angles, especially long distances, ergonomics starts to rule…

  27. naginalf March 25th, 2011 2:57 pm

    I just sent Maruelli an email describing what I think would make this a workable solution (although, again, not much of a problem, but comfort is key on long treks). Here were my thoughts:
    – Those three closely set screws and a hinge behind the heel are going to break. Attach a standard dyna heel binding to the ski and put a hinge in FRONT of the heel.
    – He’s reinventing the wheel. Make it so a standard dyna toe binding can bolt to the frame. By using a standard binding and leaving the standard threaded holes in the ski, you can attach the binding straight to the ski in case of a breakage.
    – And here’s my genius part, get rid of the linkage at the toe, which will be the first thing to break in a fall with any kind of lateral torsion or force. The linkage is unnecessary, heavy, and prone to breaking. Use a plastic U-shaped locking arm that LOCKS down for ski mode (a solid lock, no need for spring lock as you don’t want it coming undone during skiing and the dyna has all the release built in). Then the frame would have a piece that sticks through the handle which guides it and allows the frame to lock down without any pins, hinges, or aluminum to break.
    – And now that I think about it, frankly you don’t even need a frame. Just a rod going back to the hinge in front of the heel would be enough, make the toe binding so that it will rotate along the rod and if you fall, it won’t force the frame and hinge withstand any torsional forces. All it needs to do is keep a set distance from the heel, pull the ski and lock down. Less meat in the frame would also mean less weight and the frame doesn’t get any torsion if the toe rotates around it and the toe already rotates perpendicular to the frame by the nature of a dyna toe binding.


  28. Lou March 25th, 2011 3:03 pm

    Regarding helmets, please correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t the NASCAR helmet safety system deemed inadequate after Earnhardt death, and improved? I’ll bet there were some concussions and other injuries leading up to that, and no one took any action till Earnhardt. I wonder if that’s the same progression that’s going on in World Cup skiing?

  29. tony March 25th, 2011 3:11 pm

    I (with Eldorado SAR) was involved with the last rescue at Heavenly mentioned in the article. It was my first experience tailgunning a sled, at 1am on an outofbounds, treed slope.

    Douglas County SAR has been hammered with 30 missions since Xmas in the Heavenly side country. They usually average 30 missions a year. Not sure why, maybe good snow and info on the internet. Big issue is that Douglas County has an ordinace that lets them ticket skiiers/snowboarders who go out of bounds (even through an open gate) and need a resuce. They can’t be ticketed if they are out of bounds but don’t need a rescue. Many are snowboarders who bog down in deep snow. The skier whose rescue I was invoved with had skinny skis, and it looked like he was on rental gear.

    Eldorado County is the CA side of South Lake Tahoe, Douglas County is the NV side. We help each other out.

  30. Lou March 25th, 2011 4:14 pm

    Wow, 30 missions since Xmas in sidecountry. I’d say things are a bit out of hand…

  31. John Gloor March 25th, 2011 4:19 pm

    Tony, are they ticketed for a boundary violation, or billed for rescue costs?

    Lou, helmets help quite a bit in skiing accidents. If that same skier catches an edge and falls, the head falls six feet, plus it has the forward velocity of the skier. If the person’s head hits a tree, there will be a lot of damage. A more likely fall will have the person’s head hitting the ground at a glancing angle. The impact is not a 90 degrees square hit. In a situation like this that one inch of foam might minimize a concussion. I ski with a helmet about half the time and do not always wear my moto helmet for ski access sledding.

    I think the walking plate is pretty cool for things like flat arctic crossings. The lifting toe and lack of a heel lift make it pretty ergonomical on flat ground. It seems backwards for ascending with the low heel and flexible toe height.

  32. tony March 25th, 2011 4:40 pm

    John G., the ordinance is something about ski/snowboarder self responsibility. They are not ticketed for going out of bounds, but for going out of bounds and needing a rescue, ie not having enough responsibility to take care of themselves. I think it is a fine, not a bill for rescue costs. All this is second hand from Douglas County SAR personel, of which I am not a member, so I am not positive about what is going on. I don’t think the fines (I heard $700?) come close to covering the costs of a rescue, including gas for a snowcat, multible snowmobiles, a couple of official vehicles including a big command post RV, and not including the time of the volunteers. I got two cups of hot chocolate and a gallon of gas out of this, and maybe a free tune to fix the core shot I got while on the back end of the sled.

  33. JQ March 25th, 2011 5:43 pm

    Hall of fame—–

    Bob Singley gets my vote. Winter Park in the ’60s. He was amazing. The Bradley snow packer should be in there too. Uphill on the T-bar, then straight down.

    Anyone know the year of the John Denver video? Or who was skiing with the camera?

  34. Wyatt March 25th, 2011 6:36 pm

    I don’t take Lou’s comments as being anti-helmet at all. Everyone is getting defensive towards helmets when they aren’t really being attacked. Helmets have value, sure, but they just won’t make you invincible. Don’t expect too much from them. Thats what I get out of what Lou is saying.

    I wear a helmet when I feel I need one – resort skiing, tree skiing, ski moutaineering/ice climbing. They are nice for alot of things and I got one because I kept having issues where I would catch an edge and fall hard onto the side of my head. Since I got it, I’ve fallen the same way twice, and it honestly didn’t seem to lessen the impact THAT much. I no longer expect it to save me from brain injuries, but only keep me from splitting my head open and maybe keep a concussion a little further away.

  35. tka March 25th, 2011 7:14 pm

    “please correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t the NASCAR helmet safety system deemed inadequate after Earnhardt death, and improved? I’ll bet there were some concussions and other injuries leading up to that, and no one took any action till Earnhardt.”

    Sure…….The helmet safety system was deemed inadequate BEFORE Earnhardt’s death. The system existed, was brand new and proven during tests, and was used by a handful of drivers during that race. Earnhardt was a critic of the new system and refused to believe that safety increased by restraining the head. The data was there and available to him and his team. I don’t give NASCAR much credit, but the racecar and safety engineers are top of the line and actually s-m-A-r-t.

  36. Darin March 25th, 2011 7:41 pm

    Earnhardt didn’t die from a concussion, or anything near it. He died because his spine detached from the base of his skull due to his head rolling to the side at a high speed. A neck brace would have saved him. Maybe we should all ski with those…

  37. Ian March 25th, 2011 7:45 pm

    Lou, just wanted to add that helmets add a lot more than just impact protection….I think the biggest benefit is how they aid in deflection. The smooth shells really help you glance of the side of, say a tree, as apposed to a toqued or bare head that grips and does not deflect so well. Why absorb when you can deflect…

  38. See March 25th, 2011 8:50 pm

    Hmmm, I think I may be detecting a pattern– a piece on stupid steep skintracks disguised as humorous relationship advice, and a piece on “how fast and hard people are skiing now” disguised as a critique of helmet “hype.”

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom, even if it takes a while to figure out.

  39. Carl March 26th, 2011 4:05 am

    There’s a lot of information about helmets at

  40. Sam F March 26th, 2011 8:09 am

    Wow,that video is very entertaining. Maybe it is to heavy and completely pointless(It does look kinda fun). But you have to respect the guy’s ingenuity.What kind of music is that?

  41. Harry March 26th, 2011 7:59 pm

    I think the helmet debate boils down to this. Regardless of the situation a helmet decreases the energy/severity of the impact.

    So, in a “minor” incident, the helmet can prevent 100% of the injury, be the a light concussion, or lacerations, or bruising.

    In a more “major” incident, it reduces the scope of the injury. For example Lindsay Vonn’s case. Back in the day an impact such as hers, with less developed safety tech or none at all, would have likely resulted in a season, career, or life ending tragedy. Instead it resulted in a big headache.

    If an impact results in a concussion, but helmet reduces the severity from a III to a II, or a II to I, it is a big deal. Ask someone who has had one.

    A helmet may not save the life of a person who does a header into a tree straight on. It may be the difference between the life or death of a person in the same fall, at the same speed, who’s head impacts that tree at an oblique angle.

    A similar case can be made for almost any incident. The difference in many accidents between walking away and loved one collecting a life insurance check can be a few millimeters of distance or a few joules of energy. A helmet dramatically increases your margin.

    The same is true for more mundane skiing accidents. After my first concussion 15 years ago, I decided to only ski with a helmet (it was a silly bottom of the hill end of the day fall onto a patch of ice). In the 15 years since, despite about a dozen broken bones from skiing incidents, I never got a scratch on my helmet or hit my head while skiing, until a month ago. I was skiing a day at the resort, switched skis with someone who rides much lower retention setting than I do, and had a pre-release and fall. The ski tomahawks directly into my head, splitting my helmet. I saw stars and was out a $150 helmet. If I was just wearing a hat, I might be out some gray matter.

    You make sure your kids wear a helmet right? They think as highly of your skull as you do of their’s

    Wear a helmet folks, we participate in a high kinetic energy sport, dissipate some before it gets to your brain.

  42. brian p. harder March 26th, 2011 8:44 pm

    OMG. Why do we keep bringing this silly helmet debate to these pages? It’s painfully endless every time and nothing changes. If you like ’em, wear one. If you don’t like ’em, don’t wear one. Simple. Now, let’s talk about fun stuff.

  43. Chris March 27th, 2011 8:46 am

    Your thoughts on helmets are interesting but you lost me when you considered the Avalung an important safety device. Applying your “helmet” logic to a Avalung would really prove how completely silly they are as a “safety device”.

  44. Richard March 27th, 2011 4:50 pm

    Seems like the anti helmet crowd has spent too much time polishing the “born free” symbol on their Harley. Perhaps they should watch film of a 200mph crash in an Indy or F1 car before they decide that a helmet has no value in preventing brain injury. In particular, Felipe Massa is driving again after being hit in the head by a spring from the suspension system of another car while traveling in excess of 150mph..

    That said, the typical ski helmet is so poorly designed as to be largely ornamental. If you want to learn something about the science of helmet design, go to the web site for the Swedish manufacturer POC that Bode now wears.

    As a ski racer with a preference for the speed events, I studied Lin’s crash in slo-mo to try to learn the errors in technique that caused it. I have to say that she didn’t take much of a hit– certainly no more than an aggressive skier would receive in an ordinary fall on hard snow. All the more reason to wear a really good helmet unless you limit your skiing to low angle back country powder.

  45. Richard March 27th, 2011 4:56 pm

    ps With sponsor and appearance fees, Lindsey Vonn reportedly earned 6 million dollars this year. Almost as much as a second rate basketball player for being the best woman skier in history—-.

  46. Brian March 27th, 2011 5:01 pm

    It’s a wonder any of us made it out of childhood without incurring, what appears to be, the inevitable head injury.

    If I never hear another anecdote about high speed motorcycle or race car crashes it will be too soon. Nearly meaningless comparisons except to point out that Indy car racing is freaking dangerous!

    Sort of reminds me of someone I know who drives a huge car to protect him from that car crash he’s sure he’ll be in someday.

  47. Lou March 27th, 2011 7:20 pm

    Richard, your point about ski helmet design is exactly what my position is. I think they can help sometimes, but could be MUCH better. Again, biggest problem is that people are still getting concussions even though they’re wearing a helmet, and concussions have a cumulative effect. So if you’re bashing your head to the point of needing a helmet, and doing it more than a few times, the helmet might save you from immediate trauma but you’re still going to end up messed up from too many concussions. In other words, ultimately, the helmet didn’t work.

    Yes yes yes, I understand that wearing a helmet may reduce immediate injury, but if there is a cumulative effect even in the case of the reduced injuries that still result in concussion, shouldn’t we not look at the need for better helmets?

    Brian, I’d agree this discussion gets old quick, but I have some energy on it since I think we consumers are sold a bit of a bill of goods when it comes to recreational snowsports helmets. In other words, I get the impression that people think helmets are much more effective than they really are. Also, it concerns me that folks get so bent and defensive whenever the idea of inferior helmets is brought up.

  48. Harry March 27th, 2011 9:26 pm

    Except for POC, none of the major helmet manufacturers make any claims about increased safety vs. their competition. They talk about venting and colors and bluetooth connectivity. This is good in that more stylish and comfortable helmets are on more heads, and is bad in that there is no incentive to improve their primary function.

    Mass market helmets meet vague minimum safety standards set by the industry. They fear that claiming increased safety vs another model, but having the user still sustain injury could result in litigation. ANSI is a fig leaf over self regulation. When was the last time your saw a SNELL sticker on a ski helmet?

    I don’t know where I am going with this because I don’t have the start of a solution for incentivising the helmet manufacturers to produce safer equipment. In every way it is in their interest to never mention safety, but only to imply it.

    For motor sports helmets the FIA sets the standard for impact, penetration, inflammability and who knows what else for what can be used in competition, and raises those standards often. The tech trickles down to more accessible price points (by motor racing standards) fairly quickly. You want the sameish helmet as worn by Fernando Alonso 5 years ago? Arai will sell it to you in whatever color you want.

    I don’t think FIS has sufficient clout, money, or the technical resources to create and check those standards. Heck, they don’t even have pervue over a large cross section of competition in the sport, just alpine racing.

    Still, its better to have one on.

  49. Brian March 27th, 2011 10:15 pm

    I understand, Lou. It just seems that we’ve been cycling this topic ever since Picabo Street started whoring herself out for Giro and somehow convinced the skiing public that they were crazy to ski without a helmet. The thing is, no one ever changes their mind. I have simply added helmets to my short list of topics not to discuss with others – religion, politics, helmets while skiing. Pointless, especially with old-schoolers like us.

    I do find that point about what manufacturers find important very interesting…and telling.

  50. See March 27th, 2011 10:46 pm

    It seems there are two issues that it would be interesting to hear people’s thoughts on: 1) are a significant number of people really skiing in such a way as to make the cumulative effect of blows to the head a problem in more than a few cases, 2) how would those who consider current helmets to be inadequate improve on them, and 3) would the improved designs be sufficiently light, compact, cheap and well ventilated to actually get used?

    But if a lot of people are bashing their heads on a regular basis, then the real issue is the way we are skiing, not the state of ski helmet technology. I would suggest, if a significant number of us are actually skiing like this, then the question we need to consider is cultural–why do we ski this way?– not technical.

  51. Lou March 28th, 2011 6:52 am

    Fair enough Brian! But folks do change their minds about this. I’ve spoken with a few people who were using helmet in the backcountry a few years ago and have gone back to no helmet. I used mine quite a bit more a few years ago, now I don’t use it mid-winter but do take it in the springtime when things like rolling rocks or sliding falls are possible. In terms of the day-to-day protective gear, I’m finding knee pads are much more of a concern.

    The main thing that led to my choice to use a helmet less was realizing they simply do not provide very much protection, but it has to do with my style of skiing as well, which is pretty mellow.

    All this being said, I’d repeat that it’s obvious a helmet can help mitigate the amount of immediate injury in an accident (though cumulative brain damage is another issue), so you helmet evangelists out there need not accuse me of anti helmet sin (speaking of religion). And I’m glad those of you (such as my son) who ski fast and agro use them, though to me I’d like to see something more effective on top of your head, if you’re going to all the effort to haul a helmet around. More, if you’re in avy terrain you’d better be wearing your helm on the way _up_ as well as the way down, otherwise, why are you carrying the thing around, so you’ll look good on Facebook in the ski shots, or so it’ll save your behind?

  52. Lou March 28th, 2011 7:08 am

    POC is doing a good job using “information marketing” to market their products. Their website is indeed informative, and gives the impression their helmets are more effective than some others at preventing or mitigating brain injury. Main thing is that some of their helmets are designed so they have both a crushable liner and shell so they indeed decelerate your head slower when it hits something, but to defend against penetration they have a Kevlar type membrane. All that makes sense to me, but it would seem that until stricter standards are developed for snowsports helmets, and more independent testing is done, there is no way to know for sure what works better and what doesn’t.

    Nonetheless, I like the POC helmets, and I also like the CAMP Pulse, though it sounds like the POC offerings might give more protection.

  53. Lou March 28th, 2011 7:40 am

    See, a common theme with helmet apologists is to recount their own accidents, and some of those guys in my recollection do refer to multiple incidents where they claim their helmet saved them. Of course no way to know how common that is. But if you whack your head hard enough for your helmet to save your rear, chances are you at least did get at least a minor but still very real brain bruise, otherwise known as a concussion or “getting my bell rung” caused by your brain hitting the inside of your skull. I’m thinking there is indeed a demographic subset of skiers who ski very vast and hit their heads more frequently than most of us, and they are vocal about helmets. In their case, they prove my point, as if they are indeed hitting their heads and no doubt incurring at least occasional concussions, they’re going to eventually realize the cumulative effect of such abuse, and it won’t be pretty.

    I’d say that in the case of average recreational skiers, having more than a couple of brain concussion producing accidents (with or without helmet) over the space of a career would be very rare. For example, I think I probably had one or two in my whole 40 years of skiing, climbing, cycling, hockey, broom ball, and what have you, and thinking of my mountain sports partners, I can only recall a couple of head injuries out of dozens of people who have spent thousands of days out there. The two times I hit my head fairly hard were once playing roller blade hockey, and once in a bicycle fall. Both times I’d totally agree the helmet prevented greater injury, but both times I did receive a minor but very real concussion that symptoms indicated. In other words, I’m probably getting close to my lifetime limit for brain bruises — even though I was “protected” by a helmet.

    Also, I know a guy who had one too many concussions and was told that one more could kill him or turn him into a vegetable, so he can’t do any more sports or activities that could cause a concussion. For example, the doctor told him he can’t ski anymore, helmet or not. So he doesn’t downhill ski, he just goes out for a walking type tour on nordic gear once in a while. For what it’s worth, he was wearing a helmet for the final crash that took him over the edge of cumulative brain damage.

    Main thing here is that cumulative brain damage from even mild concussions is very real. And it only takes around three good head whacks to get you to the point where subsequent head bangs are more damaging than they would be otherwise, and thus require even a better helmet to protect you:

    From the almighty

    “…The research conducted by the University has also demonstrated that a history of concussion can cause long-term memory loss and other problems. According to Dr. Michael Collins, “the study indicates for the first time in the high school athlete population that prior concussions may indeed lower the threshold for subsequent concussion injury and increase symptom severity in even seemingly mild subsequent concussions.” Researchers found that athletes with three or more concussions were nine times more likely to suffer more severe concussion symptoms (e.g., loss of consciousness and memory) than players with no prior history of concussion.”

  54. aviator March 28th, 2011 8:58 am

    I like the posts here from people who are wearing helmets, are trying to get more people to wear helmets , AND want to discuss how helmets should be better and what the best helmet choices are. I like them a lot.

    The posts here trying to justify not wearing helmets, trying to convince others they shouldn’t wear them, and trying to disguise this a little with nonproductive “helmets should be better than they are” complaining…. Not so much. I think these latter posts are what gets the “helmet apologists” fuming.

  55. Paul March 28th, 2011 8:58 am

    If helmets help to prevent concussions then a good statistical study would show this… or not. I haven’t seen one. I can’t imagine that they don’t help.

  56. aviator March 28th, 2011 9:01 am

    All these cumulative concussions with helmets that “shouldn’t” have happened.
    What do yall think the outcome in these cases woulda been WITHOUT A HELMET? SMDH.

  57. Matt Kinney March 28th, 2011 9:44 am

    John Denver? Why not? Anyone who can ski well and sing about Colorado at the same time deserves it.

    Heck… some we know ski Colorado very well and then write about it! 😀

  58. See March 28th, 2011 9:53 am

    “Helmet apologists?”

    Gee, I wasn’t expecting a sort of Spanish Inquisition…

  59. John W March 28th, 2011 9:58 am

    Winter sport lovers need to look no further than the game of hockey. All players now wear helmets, despite this concussion rates are climbing faster than ever at both professional and amatuer levels.

    Gray matter is still impacting bone caused by sudden decelaration, the helmets are not stopping this. The speeds that a any skier can reach are a lot higher than a hockey player. I fail to see how a helmet will stop concussion injuries in high speed skiing accidents, and it wiil do nothing for neck injuries.

    Like a padded steal lift tower it will stop some minor injuries, but is really just cosmetic when the real deal comes along.

  60. March 28th, 2011 10:51 am

    Lou’s disbelief of benefits from helmets is like listening to an old guy tell you why he doesn’t use a seatbelt and won’t quit smoking cigarettes.

    Glad to see Louie wearing a helmet.

  61. Lou March 28th, 2011 11:02 am

    Slave, see what John wrote. I’m just being realistic. As for old guys, they’re so full of it, especially the ones who smoke.

  62. Lou March 28th, 2011 11:28 am

    Slave and all other helmet advocates, could you please let us know how you evaluate the protection potential of a ski helmet, and why you think it affords enough protection to make it worth wearing? This is not a rhetorical question nor intended to be divisive, instead, I think your answers would really help us all get a handle on what’s going on with the helmet issue. Please be brand and model specific if you can.

  63. Jonathan Shefftz March 28th, 2011 11:31 am

    Lou, why do you need anything more compelling than this?
    Just google around to find summaries of the studies by Jasper Shealy. I’ve copied some snippets below.
    To me, those benefits are worth the extra several ounces, bulk, and late-spring/early-summer overheating:
    “Using this general definition of head injury, various studies around the world have found that head injuries range from about 10 to 20 per cent of all injuries. The large majority of head injuries that fit this description tends not to be life-threatening, and in fact are minor. Helmets are most effective in the mitigation of these minor head injuries.”
    “Our research and the research of others has consistently shown a 35- to 50-per-cent reduction in head injury if a head injury is defined as “any injury above the neck.” Helmets prevent close to 100 per cent of relatively minor head injuries (lacerations), but are far less effective at preventing serious head injury (concussions, closed head injury, subdural haematoma and so on).”

  64. March 28th, 2011 11:39 am


    Your argument doesn’t hold up under scrutiny from a Canadian like myself. The arguement in hockey about concussions and why they seem to be happened more often has to do with checking from behind and illegal hits.

    What will take a hit and protect you? A helmet or your super neato toque? Answer: Not your toque.

    Sure, the helmet is not a be all end all savior, but even while tree skiing this weekend, I clipped numerous branches that grazed off my helmet. Even one of those without would have left me with a headache. I don’t think anyone is saying that a helmet makes you invinsible; but much like carrying snow safety tools….why wouldn’t you?

  65. Lou March 28th, 2011 11:40 am

    He he, Jonathan, you just made me laugh. I’m not worried about minor head injuries. I mean, scars are cool. I’m worried about major ones, and the cumulative effect of even “minor” concussions that ski helmets do not protect against.

    Also, do you realize that a significant number of ski injuries happen to the neck, some being quite serious or life threatening? A proven prevention for that exists, known as the neck brace. I hope you’re wearing one of those as well. See, you too. (grin)

  66. Lou March 28th, 2011 11:41 am

    Slave, I guess back in my day (pre-historic times when ski helmets didn’t exist) we were better at dodging branches?

  67. Jonathan Shefftz March 28th, 2011 11:48 am

    You’re really not worried about effective mitigation of head injuries that “tend not to be life-threatening”? Sure sounds like worth addressing that worry with an additional several ounces in the form of a helmet.

  68. March 28th, 2011 11:52 am

    Come try and make it out of our lush Cascadian forest, sometime Lou! Bring your best toque.

  69. håkan March 28th, 2011 12:02 pm

    I wasn’t gonna comment at first because Lou went all hurt when he was criticized for bashing helmets but this last comment by John W is just too stupid.

    Ice-hockey is not a good comparison because they wear helmets that don’t fit and they don’t strap them to their heads.
    If you watch a lot of hockey you’ll notice that their helmets are out of position or totally off their heads once they need them. For some stupid macho-ahole-reason they continue to wear them like that.

    Most skiers buy pretty, lightest-weight helmets with a bunch of holes in them that don’t fit properly and then have the neck strap hanging centimeters below their chin ensuring that, like the hockey players, the helmet will be out of position if it’s ever needed.

    Have you ever noticed that in alpine racing, motor racing or, in fact, anywhere people take helmets seriously, the helmets have a “clean” shell without ridges, ventilation-holes etc?

    That’s actually protective functionality, not “lack of cool design”.

    If the helmet provides a slick, continuous surface for any blow to slide/glide off and so redirect any force before its distributed over a wide are, it’s actually going to be able to protect your valuable grey matter.

    If you’re an adult/gear-expert/whatever and are recommending a poor product or bashing good products because of lack of knowledge then you are actively helping the marketing morons who just want your money and, just as actively, “helping” kids acquire brain-damage before they are old enough to know better just because they want to be “cool”

    Get educated, get a good helmet. To paraphrase Seth when he was asked about “duck-stance-mounted-bindings” (mount as usual, stop sucking)

    Get a good helmet, properly fitted, STRAP IT SECURELY TO YOUR HEAD, and stop sucking.

  70. Lou March 28th, 2011 12:07 pm

    Jonathan, I really don’t worry too much about minor head injuries. I’ve literally witnessed tens of thousands of skier days, and honestly can not remember when I actually witnessed any sort of head injury that was more than a scrape, though I’ve known of a few (as mentioned previously). I still use a helmet on occasion, and of course feel it’s a good idea if you push hard. My point is that current ski helmets are NOT good enough to get all bent about how important it is to wear them, and I do believe consumers are somewhat duped about how much protection they offer.

    Again, why not wear a neck brace?

    Sunglasses for eye damage prevention. Sunscreen for melanoma prevention. Release bindings for leg injury prevention. How about a neck brace?

    Back to being serious, let’s put it this way: If they made a ski helmet that could prevent brain concussion in a head collision with a wooden post at 20 mph, I’d wear it for 100% of my ski time and I’d be a huge advocate. Instead, while wearing present helmets, if you do a direct hit with your head on a beefy fence post at 20 mph, you will experience very serious brain injury or death. That’s according to studies I’ve found on the web and that I’ll try to talk more about soon, but is why guys hitting trees and rocks while wearing helmets are still dying.

  71. Lou March 28th, 2011 12:08 pm

    Slave, point taken.

  72. Jonathan Shefftz March 28th, 2011 12:16 pm

    I’m not familiar with neck brace options that would work okay for backcountry skiing, but maybe I should look into it. (Seriously.)
    As for the other safety devices you mentioned:
    – Sunglasses are worn for comfort and vision too, so no additional burden for the safety aspect.
    – Sunblock is necessary for me to keep from being burnt, so once again, no additional burden for the longer-term safety issue.
    – Helmet, sure, those extra several ounces (plus warmth in the spring and summer) are a drawback, but we have lots of tight trees with low-lying branches out here during the winter, then all sorts of falling objects from up high during the spring, so a small burden for significant protection from “minor” injuries.
    – Releasable binding, well, my Plum race bindings have the ideal RV for me, both forward and lateral, and they weigh only 10.7 oz including screws, per pair, so hardly a disadvantage to safety there.
    – I also wear knee pads during the winter. (See aforementioned reference to tight trees.) They weight very little, are almost entirely unobtrusive, and keeping the knee joint warmer is probably a plus too.

  73. Lou March 28th, 2011 12:21 pm

    Jon and all, I think we’ll see major improvements in helmets over the next few years. But a bit of buyer beware and skepticism can only help with that. I’d agree with Hak in that if you’re going to wear a dang helmet, at least wear one that’s deemed to have a fairly high degree of protection.

  74. Lou March 28th, 2011 12:32 pm

    For those of you who want to know part of the “why,” in all this. The kinetic energy in a moving object increases as a square of the velocity increase. Thus, a helmet that protects you well at 10 mph requires four times the protection once you’re moving at 20 mph, or 16 times the protection if you’re going 40 mph (math boys and girls, correct me if I’m wrong). Thus, let’s say you’ve got a helmet with an inch of foam that we’re pretty sure will do well to protect you at a 10 mph direct head collision with wood post or pavement or rock. Hit at 20 mph and you need 4 inches of that same foam? So that ends up with a pretty bulbous helmet no skier would be caught wearing. Or how about the 40 mph helmet? That 32 inch wide helmet (16 inches of foam) is going to be really practical.

    From a physics website:

    “hat for a twofold increase in speed, the kinetic energy will increase by a factor of four. For a threefold increase in speed, the kinetic energy will increase by a factor of nine. And for a fourfold increase in speed, the kinetic energy will increase by a factor of sixteen. The kinetic energy is dependent upon the square of the speed”

  75. aviator March 28th, 2011 12:48 pm


    The direct hit example is not what happens in many real crashes where helmets do save you.

    The important thing here is the threshold were you go from no concussion to a concussion and from just a concussion to death, helmets DO sometimes keep you UNDER those thresholds.

    You all get lost in your little theories.

    FACTS are in any accidents where helmets are worn people DIE A LOT LESS compared to the same type accidents where helmets are not worn.
    The same with concussions.
    And there are tons of stats and studies that prove this.
    And it’s true for flimsy foam bike helmets too.
    It’s not opinion.

  76. Bar Barrique March 28th, 2011 1:20 pm

    I don’t wear a helmet. Maybe there are some statistics that show that they can prevent injuries in some situations, but there are also a lot of studies that show increased risks from many things such as eating red meat. I’ll continue to ignore those studies as well. One more tip; you can virtually eliminate your risks from avalanches if you give up skiing. 😆

  77. håkan March 28th, 2011 2:25 pm

    “One more tip; you can virtually eliminate your risks from avalanches if you give up skiing”

    Even if that statement is true; it is still a, very, stupid idea for people in a position to influence off-piste skiers, to claim that they might as well skip transceivers, shovels, airbags, probes, avalanche courses and snow-analysis because, even if expertly used, it’s not guaranteed to save you from ever being caught in an avalanche and die…


  78. Lou March 28th, 2011 2:39 pm

    Hak, it’s not that simple. People are always making choices and giving advice about what avy safety gear should be carried due to tradeoffs between weight, cost, effectiveness, proper use, etc. That’s been happening for years. For example, should every person carry an airbag backpack? How big a shovel? Is group search so important that beacon shopping should be based on it? How important is digging snow pits? (For example, nearly every snowpit I’ve seen dug this winter has been done incorrectly and thus pretty much useless, so my advice to people is usually to not bother with snow pits, but rather consider all other zillion factors used in avalanche safety decision making.) Also, consumer willingness to question how good things like beacons are, and to constantly upgrade, has resulted in MUCH better equipment than that of decades ago.

  79. Lou March 28th, 2011 2:41 pm

    All, if possible please shift helmet comments over to this post:

  80. john morrone March 28th, 2011 3:02 pm

    recent CAIC avy report:
    “The slide moved fast and Rider 2 could feel his board hitting trees on the way down the slope. He hit a tree with his chest, but was wearing body armor, which tempered the blow”….
    BC risk taking worry warts had better be sure to use body armor as well as a helmet. In the BC no patrol to cart you off- I ski under control so i can come back and ski the next day- I do not feel I need a helmet for skiing. Good for you if you do, but don’t think you are getting much protection from it.

    I BC ski almost exclusivley these days- all the out of control idiots at the resorts scare the hell out of me!- if i skiied there i would wear a BIG helmet for self defense from them- 1.0 – 1.7 Million skier days/yr at the big resorts…lots out there every day bouncing off each other. Nearly all ski area accident fatalities in CO this season were wearing a helmet and suffered masive body trama. Methinks that helmet wearers maybe taking a few more risks than if they were not…

  81. Harry March 28th, 2011 3:05 pm

    Lou, repetitive brain injury. If you think of how much your brain can take in a lifetime as an account, then a helmet makes each withdrawal smaller.

    Also, Lou, to address your question about how I evaluate my helmet choices for effectiveness, the simple answer is that I don’t. I don’t think there is anyone who can evaluate the relative effectiveness of helmets w/o highly calibrated destruction testing, as even multiple impact helmets are single use.

    I am currently wearing a smith vantage brim. I selected it because it is comfortable, light, and well vented, therefor I will really wear it, as opposed to own it and leave it behind because it is annoying to have on my head. I know it is not as effective as my POC Skull X I wear for races or cold days at the resort. Leaving aside POC’s claims to improved saftey, right off the bat its obvious that the POC covers more of my head, and fits more closely to my skull, decreasing contra-coup or secondary impact forces. My Smith is a medium, but i have it “adjusted” fairly small to fit my head. That adjustment just means it doesn’t fit right and won’t provide the best protection that helmet can even give me in the event of a backwards fall. The same is true of universal fit bike helmets.

    But the POC is hot and tight and less comfortable and if that was my only option when I was having a mellow day, I just wouldn’t wear it. In that sense the Smith is much safer.

    As far as kinetic energy reduction from a helmet…

    So joules =1/2 x mass x velocity^2

    But given that helmets prevent the entire sum of those joules from being transmitted to the brain, unless we know the fraction we can’t evaluate it that way, like helmet to like helmet. I can say that in an impact from behind my POC helmet will work better than my Smith because of the reasons stated two paragraphs above. I don’t know by how much. Nor do I know if a Giro helmet would be better than a Smith with the same fit.

    A more interesting way to address concussions specifically is with acceleration. It is the difference of acceleration between your skull and your brain that causes the movement which causes the bruising which is the concussion.


    Can’t to much about the deltaV except ski more slowly, and even that does’t always work because of whiplash effect. The t on the other hand…

    extending the time (increasing the denominator) of the concussive event by even a 1000th of a second can have a dramatic effect on the acceleration, usually expressed in g’s.

    Uh… I have lost track of the question. I think my point is still that any helmet is better than none, and incremental improvements in helmets can make a big difference in the overall safety of a helmet, but you have to have one on for it to work.

    Oh! and this one is even better cause t is squared, although I think one of them usually cancels… still t in the denominator is a big deal.

    a = 2(s – ut)/t2 

    so “s” is distance and “u” is initial velocity. Comparing the two formulas gives two different approaches to reducing the final g. if you increase the distance, or amount of foam that crushes helps, unless it crushes too quickly. That is why spongy comfy foam is pretty much useless.

    I am totally rambling and not close to coming to a point with this post so it ends. This would be more convincing if i put real #s into those equations but I am feeling lazy.

    Also I am not a brain sciencey person so everything above could well be wrong. If it is someone let me know.

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