Encore: The Problem with Snowsports Helmets — Progress Made

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 10, 2013      

I’m bringing this post up to the top today. Why? Check out the beautifully produced and well written article at ‘Bicycling’ that reflects all the points we made in our blog post below — in much more detail. While reading the ‘Bicycling’article I was struck by a couple of things; a few quotes:

From ‘Bicycling’
“…As more people buckled on helmets, brain injuries also increased. Between 1997 and 2011 the number of bike-related concussions suffered annually by American riders­ increased by 67 percent, from 9,327 to 15,546, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System…

Of course, concussions are more readily diagnosed now than they were 15 years ago…It’s also possible that some of the 149 fewer riders killed every year survived to get lumped into the brain-injury ­category. But that still leaves thousands unaccounted for. We’re left with this stark statistical fact: The concussion rate among bicycle riders has grown faster than the sport.”

One of the most important concepts in the ‘Bicycling’ article is that rotational force is seriously damaging to the brain — and current bicycle helmets do nothing to protect against this. More, the U.S. bicycle helmet legal standards are now archaic; they have not been updated since they became law in 1999 through the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Ski and snowboard helmets? Near as I can tell, they do not address reducing rotational forces, and most suffer from the same problems as bicycle helmets do in terms of preventing concussions from lower impacts (though a new type of ‘multiple impact’ helmet may be what we need; see more below). It is axiomatic that safety gear is the most important stuff you possess — but could safety gear such as helmets be the most stifled when it comes to improvements? What is going on here!?

As we call for in the blog post below, and the ‘Bicycling’ article alludes to, ski helmet brands are indeed addressing some of these issues. For example, the Giro Combyn ski/snowboard helmet will be available this coming winter of 2013/1014, and other multiple-impact “MIPS” helmets are available for snowsports.

A huge problem exists, however, in that legal challenges are constant. For example, it is difficult to even advertise a new helmet technology because it implies your other helmets without it are sub-standard. More, you can build a better helmet, but it may not test well to legal standards such as European CE because it deals with impacts in ways the CE testing does not evaluate (similar problems with ski bindings, or anything for that matter.)

Original blog post: Some of you are going to hate me for flogging a dead horse. Some of you are going to love the opportunity to rear your stallion and try to kick us into agreement with the helmet crusade. Either way I’ll give you the last word in the comments but I’m taking the bully pulpit for a moment. (Disclaimer: I’m not a physicist or a medical researcher; following is simply gleaned from lots of reading along with attempting to be realistic.)

First, we need to get straight on types of head injuries. To keep it simple (apologies to medical pros), we’ll divide the nuances into two types: Direct injury is a surface bruise, laceration, abrasion or skull fracture. These can include brain injury but not necessarily. The other type of injury is brain damage caused by your grey matter twisting and banging into the inside of your skull when your fast moving head quickly stops moving. In the latter (and sometimes former) case, the result is a “concussion,” simply meaning your brain gets bruised and damaged. Also, we should clarify that in this discussion we’re talking about a moving athlete hitting his or her head on something. Helmets also protect against things like rocks falling on your head, but that’s another subject altogether as it involves properties such as penetration resistance.

Scalp lacerations and surface bruises can be spectacular and painful. Blood. Stitches. But without associated concussion or other types of brain damage they heal with no lasting effects. Ski helmets do a great job of protecting you from such injuries. Even a thick woolen hat offers protection from abrasions and lacerations (though of course no impact or penetration protection).

Concussions are different. Each time you undergo a concussion, you get a poorly understood form of brain damage that is known to be cumulative. Eventually, your brain becomes more prone to concussion at lower impacts, and you begin to exhibit 24/7 brain damage symptoms. These effects are said to sometimes happen after as few as three concussions — even over fairly long periods of time. What is more, it doesn’t take much of a hit to cause a concussion.

When your head hits an object, the likelihood of concussion can be measured in G force of the deceleration. You get a possible concussion at 95 g’s, certain concussion at 150 g’s, and serious injury or death at 275 g’s.

In the United States, ski helmets are certified to the ASTM F2040 standard for snowsports helmets. This article refers to a study where they tried to emulate a real-life skiing accident and measure G forces on a helmet “protected” head. The testing was done as if the skier was moving at 30 kph, 18.6 mph. Such moderate speed is frequently attained by nearly any skier.

During the study, measured force at 18.6 mph was 333 g’s when the helmet/head hit a wooden post. That’s significantly above the threshold for serious injury or death. What is more, G force when the head hit hard icy snow was still up at 162 g’s.

That, my friends, is the problem with most ski helmets. They only offer minimal protection. (More, due to liners that only compress with heavy impact, many helmets offer almost no protection against you receiving a concussion in lower energy impacts.)

So, why? Simple physics is the main reason why it’s tough to engineer better helmets. Put as simply as I can, the G force your brain is going to undergo in collision increases as a square of your speed. In other words, a helmet that definitely protects you at 10 mph needs four times the protecting at 20 mph and fully SIXTEEN times the protection if you’re going 40 mph (not an uncommon speed for good skiers). You can even reverse the math for the study I used, and realize that if you’re moving at half of the 18.6 mph, around 9 mph, you’d have 1/4 the G force (is my math correct?), thus, yeah, that helmet would possibly work when you hit that fence post at 9 mph and got 83 g’s on your brain. Though that still sounds iffy, since the lower threshold for concussion is 95 g’s.

What is more, it is common but misleading to assume that a helmet protects you by spreading out force like hardshell knee pads do. Yes, if a rock falls on your head the helmet needs to resist penetration and subsequently spread out the force. But in the case of hitting something, spreading out the force does zilch to change the deceleration that causes concussion.

Thus, though it is somewhat of a paradigm shift, try to put out of your mind that the shell of your helmet spreading force over your head is in any way protecting you from concussion. The only thing that protects you from concussion is to increase the time your head takes to decelerate. This is usually accomplished by the crushing of foam inside the helmet, or sometimes by a suspension system releasing or stretching. (Recent science is also indicating that twisting forces may contribute to concussion, as of 2013 some helmet makers are attempting to address this.)

Adding insult to “injury,” a hard helmet shell combined with semi-rigid foam liner is especially problematic in lower speed impacts. The hard shell of the helmet distributes force just enough to not crush or break the helmet liner — which is designed to deform under high energy impacts. Where does that “low” impact force end up? In your brain. Damaging your brain.

Conclusion? Wear a helmet if you choose; good ones (especially the MIPS models made for multiple impacts) do offer protection. But even with ASTM certified snowsport helmets the possibility of receiving a brain concussion is very real in even low speed accidents. For example, we know of no snowsport helmet that protects against rotational forces, and most are still not MIPS.

As for helmet evangelism, perhaps the ever constant yammering about wearing ski helmets would be better directed at the Consumer Product Safety Commission and helmet industry to up their standards, rather than applying peer pressure to your friends.

Following is from the study as quoted in the article I refer to above:
A simulation using a 50th percentile male anthropometric device (Scher, Richards and Carhart, 2005) was done of a snowboarder going 30 kph, catching an edge and falling headfirst onto soft snow, icy snow and a fixed object (a 28-cm upright wooden post). This simulation was done to assess the effect of wearing a helmet or not under the three different impact conditions. The helmet in question met the requirements of ASTM F2040. The g-loads to the head-form were measured and the associated Head Injury Criterion (HIC) values were computed. HIC is a time-weighted acceleration measure used widely in the automotive industry to measure impact severity as it relates to head injury. This study found that if the impact is onto a soft-snow surface, both the measured g-loads (under 100 g) and the computed HIC values (less than 220) are well within acceptable limits regardless of whether or not a helmet is used. When the impact was onto simulated hard, icy snow, the helmet reduced the average measured g-load from 329 to 162, and the HIC value from 2,235 to 965. When the impact was against the fixed object, the helmet reduced the values from 696 to 333, and the HIC from 12,185 to 3,299.


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310 Responses to “Encore: The Problem with Snowsports Helmets — Progress Made”

  1. Chris March 28th, 2011 2:21 pm

    I ski trees a lot. Branches hurt less when they hit my helmet instead of my head. The helmet still offers SOME protection, more than a hat anyway. It is better than nothing. I am still wearing it.

  2. Aleks March 28th, 2011 2:31 pm

    Chris, I think branches would fall into the category of something smaller hitting you, which Lou admitted is something helmets are good for.

    Lou nice writeup. I think you’re spot on. Helmets give me piece of mind for things like glancing branches (like those encountered during fast skiing tight trees at the resort) or rocks during a couloir climb where the helmet protects from the object and there is not deceleration of the brain involved. If my head is the moving object, all bets are off.

  3. pete March 28th, 2011 2:44 pm

    I’m one of those multiple concussion folks. I wear a helmet at all times now and it has certainly helped in crash situations. In fact, I’ve had helmets, both ski and bike, crack outwards from the point of impact clearly doing what they are designed to do and distributing force and probably protecting my skull from further injury.

    Study or not it makes common sense to me that if I have the choice of being hit in the head with a helmet on or with no helmet on, I would always choose the former.

  4. XXX_er March 28th, 2011 2:47 pm

    ” As for helmet evangelism, exhorting others to take up the helmet crusade looks a bit ridiculous in light of all this. ”

    I don’t think so ,wearing a helmet MIGHT save you some injury while if you don’t wear a helmet you definetley won’t get any protection

    IMO there is no downside to wearing a helmet ,also I find helmets warm comfortable and a good place to park my goggles …I can’t think of any downside to wearing a helmet right now as opposed to waiting till helmets are made better

  5. john dough March 28th, 2011 2:49 pm

    But what would all the awesome snow bros mount their gopros too?

  6. Mat March 28th, 2011 2:54 pm

    I thought April 1st was Friday…I better check my calendar.

  7. Dan March 28th, 2011 2:55 pm

    I won’t take the helmet evangelist position, but I will say that studying how helmets work at certain speeds then comparing those speeds to a skier’s “normal” speeds is incomplete and misleading. Just because I am traveling 35mph doesn’t mean that I will impact at 35mph. If I go flying headfirst into a tree, sure, but if I fall to the icy hard surface, the impact will likely be way less than 35 mph (a snowboarder is more likely to catch an edge and pivot their speed toward the ground, but that doesn’t often happen to skiers). Moreover, many falls may occur in difficult terrain with slower speeds, where the helmet would be very beneficial to have. I have no doubt that helmets don’t offer as much protection as I’d like while cruising the groomers, but that is just one portion of what people do on skis.

    While I agree that helmets could do a better job of offering protection, and certainly don’t think everyone must be required to wear one, wearing one is demonstrably safer than not wearing one. Your post seems to obfuscate that simple fact. Maybe people shouldn’t have to wear seatbelts in the car, maybe motorcycle riders shouldn’t have to wear helmets, these are philosophical debates. But your post seems to attempt to justify a philosophical stance by using a factual attack, but the facts — while they could be better for the pro-helmet crowd — don’t really back you up as much as you seem to think they do.

    I choose to wear a helmet. You can do whatever you like.

  8. MM March 28th, 2011 2:56 pm

    Motorcycle helmets have saved my life a few times. I’ve been knocked out inside full coverage helmets, made giant grindos in them that would’ve gone through my skull…the first real concussion I got was skiing without a helmet. I’ll never ski alpine again without a helmet again. (not that I intend to ski alpine) Helmets are great for avoiding simple pain, like when you slam your head on ice. I fantasize about a foldable packable helmet for backcountry. There is no logical argument against helmets for saftey and comfort. Sure if you wack your head on a fence post at 40 mph the helmet probably won’t help much but some one will be able to find your head easier when it’s torn from your neck.

  9. Graham March 28th, 2011 3:06 pm


    I’m a huge fan, but this is my first comment…

    Nice piece. There’s always a lot of debate, and I’m not current on the literature at this time. Its also a small segment of the sports world to study head injuries in the skiing public, so the statistics can easily be skewed.

    There is a large segment of catastrophic head injuries that was excluded from your piece. While most athletes suffer concussions at some point in their career. We also have to consider Diffuse Axonal Injuries, intraparenchymal bleeding, epidural, subdural and subarrachnoid bleeding. All of which have a much higher degree of morbidity and mortality than the common concussion.

    I have the opportunity to see a large number of skiers and snowboarders every winter in the time immediately post concussion. More and more skiers and snowboarders are wearing helmets, and anecdotally, I can say that we see a much smaller percentage of those high acuity injuries than in past years. I would also argue that your average rider with a concussion is a grade higher with a equivalent mechanism of injury if unhelmeted. Whether you use the Cantu, Colorado Medical Society, or American Academy of Neurology guidelines for grading, the patterns are all similar, and this means that the downstream effects of the injury are also potentially greater for the patient.

    Possibly the greatest risk associated with a concussion, and something that we are just beginning to understand is second impact syndrome, which is the increased damage done by a second concussion during the healing time following an initial injury. This is a big topic in team sports, and physicians place a very conservative limit on return to activity for athletes with potential for repeat injury. We are applying these same concepts to individual sports like skiing as well.

    All of that aside, I agree that the ASTM standards for snow sports helmet testing are somewhat optimistic. As helmets get lighter and more development goes into their construction, I’ve noticed a trend towards more broken shells and compressed liners. This means that the material does absorb some of the larger impacts, and thereby reduce the energy transmitted to the wearer. It also means that ski helmets are becoming more like bike helmets, and that they will need replacing after a large impact.

    In terms of reducing morbidity and mortality, simply reducing the severity of an injury can be just as important as preventing one all together.

    I think its best to just be informed and manage your own risk accordingly. I wear a helmet to ski at the ski resort, but not in the backcountry (unless the objective includes technical mountaineering, and then I wear a climbing helmet.)

    Anything you do can causes some risk. We now know that up to 30-36% of age related dementia can be attributed to alcohol consumption, but I still drink beer.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts to fuel the discussion…

    Graham Kane
    Critical Care Paramedic – Eagle County Ambulance
    Flight Paramedic – TriState CareFlight
    Former AMGA certified ski guide
    Frequent slayer of powder…

  10. Lou March 28th, 2011 3:07 pm

    The reason I ski with lead gonad shields, is because I can so why not? Wearing them is safer than not wearing them, and they really don’t weigh all that much.

  11. Lou March 28th, 2011 3:12 pm

    Thanks Graham, I know I simplified the injuries part of my essay, but I figured doing so worked okay for the thrust of my point, which is about concussions, how serious they are, and how little snowsports helmets offer to protect us from such.

  12. Harry March 28th, 2011 3:14 pm

    Darnit while you were posting this i was ranting for a couple of single spaced pages on the other thread…

  13. Lou March 28th, 2011 3:19 pm

    Harry, just cut/paste your comments over to this one if you want…

  14. Andy March 28th, 2011 3:26 pm

    The difference between a helmet and the proverbial lead gonad shield is simple – your balls heal better than your brain. As a social worker who has worked with people with traumatic brain injuries I have seen first hand how a crack to the head can take a well mannered father of two with a wife and career and reduce him to a temperamental equivalent of a 13 year old. It’s not pretty.

    My helmet has saved me more than once from falling ice/rocks, tree limbs, etc. In the mountains you underestimate the ability of a falling rock or chunk of ice to kill/maim you. A falling rock can do a lot more than give you a laceration. They can easily give you a fractured skull or a concussion. The helmets on the market today are very very effective at protecting against these types of injuries. I have never been hit by falling debris in a resort (other than snow balls thrown by kids on the lift) but I have been hit by falling debris in the mountains and I think the article dismisses the severity of these injuries as though they are nothing more than a little pain and blood.

    Mountains like to throw rocks down on people. My retired helmet collection is proof of that. I’ve also torn the hell out of two helmets in bad falls. Did I avoid a concussion because I was wearing a helmet or because I got lucky. I’ll never know but I do know that in each of these examples the helmet was broken and I wasn’t. Well, my head wasn’t. The falling rock bounced off my head and hit my shoulder and that hurt like hell.

    My current helmet is a long long way from perfect. But, the weight is genuinely inconsequential (unlike lead gonad shields) and I am more than confident that it provides more protection than the fleece cap I could wear.

    One final thought. As a bald guy, I rather appreciate their warmth.

  15. Dave C March 28th, 2011 3:30 pm

    I like seeing the motorcycle helmet comparison, since motorcycle helmets have similar issues. Both are engineered to protect you in a way that is, ah, not necessarily helpful.

    A few years back, motorcyclist wrote a long and detailed article about motorcycle helmets and testing, its not about skiing, but it has some pretty good information.


  16. Steve March 28th, 2011 3:31 pm

    Re” Diffuse Axonal Injuries, intraparenchymal bleeding, epidural, subdural and subarrachnoid bleeding”

    I thought the mechanism of injury for those bleeds was brain deceleration? So they are exactly the sort of worrying injury that Lou is referring to?

    Where does all this leave bicycle and rando racing style helmets? They are very light, and they certainly look like they would deform in a way that would reduce the speed of deceleration in a fall.

  17. Lou March 28th, 2011 3:33 pm

    Andy! Far from it, I state in the article that I’m not talking about protection from falling objects… that’s a whole other subject and I’d tend to agree that the correct type of helmet (good shell without a bunch of holes) does provide quite a bit of protection from smaller objects (though helmets have their limits in that kind of protection as well, read Steve House autobio for anecdotal evidence.

    As for the lead shields, cancer from radiation is as serious a problem as head injury. Why are all you guys just blowing that concept off? Everyone does not end up like Lance.

  18. Jim March 28th, 2011 3:39 pm

    uhhh… errr… debate about helmets? really? You’ve got one head. Why risk it if you don’t have to?

  19. Rob S. March 28th, 2011 3:45 pm

    My POV – Enjoy the outdoors, relax, take some pictures, hike up to that saddle, find some powder, race your brother for a run, but for crissake slow down!!! If you’re repeatedly cracking your helmet, you need to reevaluate how you have fun, because skiing is awesome, but brain damage is serious s#!t. My 2.

  20. Lou March 28th, 2011 3:46 pm

    Um, if you’ve got the time, check out this article!


  21. Andy March 28th, 2011 3:47 pm

    My problem is with your conclusion.

    “Conclusion? Wear a helmet if you choose; good ones do offer a small amount of protection. But even with ASTM certified snowsport helmet protection the possibility of receiving a brain concussion is very real in even low speed accidents. As for helmet evangelism, exhorting others to take up the helmet crusade looks a bit ridiculous in light of all this.”

    Concluding that the “helmet crusade” looks a little ridiculous, because helmets have some known deficiencies (which should be acknowledged and addressed) is simply not supported by the facts.

    Helmets do provide significant protection from real injuries. People are going to enjoy the mountains in their own way. But making broad conclusions based on a sub-set of the discussion is a great way to rationalize a pre-existing belief. People point to the limitations of helmets (which are real) and then conclude they are useless. Seat belts aren’t perfect either, but when I drive down the highway I wear one because it is better than the alternative (not wearing one).

  22. Marc Peruzzi March 28th, 2011 3:53 pm

    Hi Lou. You and Graham make some solid points here. For me the takeaway is to wear a helmet because some protection is better than no protection, but we have a long way to go before they’re a cure all.

    This is off subject, but have you ever discussed avalanche transceivers causing rib fractures in this space? (A search didn’t pull anything up.) Just happened to me last week in a stupid little fall. Another four people I bumped into on the trip had done the same thing in the past.

    Thoughts? Or can you point me in the right direction?

  23. Jim Dickinson March 28th, 2011 4:01 pm

    Hey Lou,
    I’ve got to agree with you on the ski hard hat issue. I worked ski patrol at a big Tahoe ski resort and we had plenty of really messed up people with bad head injuries, wearing helmets at the time of their crash. I’ve always thought helmets are great at keeping the accident scene clean but don’t do a damn thing to protect people from head injuries at the speeds that average people ski. That said, the worst concussion I ever had was skate skiing. I wear a helmet while cycling and on my motorbike but never skiing.
    Call me a nerd.

  24. Dave C March 28th, 2011 4:21 pm

    I guess the real problem with ski helmets is that we buy them assuming they are effective.

    The information that is most beneficial, the theoretical energy transmitted to your brain in given situations, is not available for you to look at. Instead you have the assurance that the helmet passes a test that may or may not be an adequate representation of a (your) ski crash. Every helmet review I have ever read is about fit, ventilation, comfort, gadget compatibility and the like, I have never seen an impact test.

  25. Chet Roe March 28th, 2011 4:22 pm

    Lou……as a physician I area ski with a helmet always ……if meadow skipping or backcountry powder skiing I typically don’t…..ski mountaineering I do……..Yes you can poke some holes in some of the helmet/head injury “studies” re real world applicability to skiing, but the only neurologists and neurosurgeons I know that ski, only ski with helmets………are helmets pefect, no, but I personally and professionally think they do increase your odds of a much better “result” after a head trauma skiing……..your “conclusion: wear a helmet if you choose” justifies your position ……all the skiing neurologists and neurosurgeons I know “choose” to wear a helmet skiing…………….sincerely, Chet Roe, M.D.

  26. Lou March 28th, 2011 4:26 pm

    The way avy transceivers are carried is frequently somewhat ridiculous. Including the way I carry mine. Seeing them strapped on the outside of people’s clothing, depending on one or two plastic buckles not to get ripped off in slide, would make me laugh if it wasn’t so tragic. Or, when I stick mine in the cigarette pocket up next to my sternum, I’m wondering about the equivalent of the legendary martial arts “death blow.” I try sticking it down on my thigh in my pants pocket, but then I’m worried about my femur and leg muscles getting abused, not to mention the beacon getting smashed on a rock. Sometimes my conclusion is that the best place for the thing is in my backpack, which is usually an Avalung rucksack I’m not planning on loosing in a slide, though I know having the beacon in your backpack is a sin. Shew.

    The worst I’ve seen is someone marching up an avalanche slope holding their beacon in high in front of them like a priest holding a cross in a procession. Or am I imagining that?

  27. Marc Peruzzi March 28th, 2011 4:44 pm

    Exactly. On that day, the snow was very hard (in Alaska). I considered shoving my transceiver in my pants pocket, but the thought of the pain I’d suffer in an easy fall made me strap it on traditionally. After I broke my ribs, someone mentioned throwing it in the avalung pack in the future. He whispered that it was a sin, too. Worth considering. Thanks Lou.

  28. Pete Clark March 28th, 2011 4:49 pm

    Hi Lou,
    Longtime follower, firsttime poster.
    I, like a previous poster, disagree with your conclusions. I’m a primary care and sports med physician in Mammoth, and doc for US Snowboarding. I see roughly 2000 ski/snowboard injuries per year. The bottom line is that helmets protect from injury, both minor and serious, in a variety of scenarios. The evidence is compelling enough that helmet use for snow sports (like bicycles) will likely become mandatory here in California for those under 18. That is why they are mandatory for FIS events. Work is ongoing on improving the kinetic absorption of current helmet models, but to say that they are imperfect and thus should not be used is unwise, particularly with modern helmets that are lighter, and more effective with less acoustic dampening. As with anything, it is a weighing of risk and in the backcountry risk of collision is less, although logistics of evacuation and assistance are more complex. Certainly in resort boundries, ski helmets are effective, and soon mandatory for youths here locally. For the terrain park afficionado subgroup it is critical to wear a properly fitting, lightweight helmet without a fixed protruding brim (i.e. Bern helmets that predispose to neck injuries) and with strap appropriately adjusted so that helmet covers forehead and occiput.
    Consider the possibility that the opinions of those that dedicate their lives to the subject may produce different conclusions than your own cursory research, and may be more valid.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!
    Pete Clark M.D.

  29. dave downing March 28th, 2011 4:51 pm

    2 words: Safety Bar. If you ride the lifts, and end up riding with people you don’t know, at some point at least 1 of them will lower the safety bar without warning. If you have your helmet on, you’ll be oh-so-glad you did ❗

  30. Harry March 28th, 2011 4:53 pm

    About the methodology of the test as quoted above:

    They say that it simulates a snowboarder catching an edge at 30kph. Does that mean that they were simulated the deltaV of the head as 30kph?

    This is important because if you fall while skiing at 30kph, then hit your head, the event probably didn’t have a deltaV of 30kph, likely the deltaV at your head was smaller and you continued to slide. Also the force vector would be dependent on the slope you impacted, just like landing on a flat vs. a slope.

    A similar effect applied for hitting the wooden post. Say were skiing at 45kph you fall on your side and are extended perpendicular to the direction of travel while sliding (as opposed to boots first like trying to ride out a rapid and that gonad protector would be great, or head first, in which case you’re screwed). Your slide slows you say 15kph before your head impacts the wooden post forehead first.

    Your head does not slow from 30kph to 0kph during the even period. Your neck travels backwards and your head slides past the post and your fall continues. Given the g reductions quoted in the above study, it could even make the difference between certain death w/o a helmet, and not death. At 30kph.

    Lou, in regards to some comments and questions you asked in the previous post I am cutting and pasting them here.

    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.

  31. Jonathan Shefftz March 28th, 2011 4:59 pm

    “male anthropometric device” . . . “gonad shields” – I thought this was a family-oriented website?
    “The difference between a helmet and the proverbial lead gonad shield is simple – your balls heal better than your brain.”
    – So a certain ski partner of mine, many years ago (before *anyone* wore ski helmets outside of true DH speed events), was skiing down a relatively mellow groomer, took a really freak fall at low speed, and somehow ended up with a concussion, complete with vomiting at night, etc. But he was fine the next morning and sustained no permanent brain damage. (Well, as far as we could tell!)
    – Then a decade or so later, at a backcountry trailhead, the decision was made to skip the boot crampons. The skinning got steeper and slicker, so he decided to take out his ski crampons. But uh oh, the ski crampons were back at the car in his boot crampon pouch! He continued on, but lost grip, slipped, and started falling, feet first, on his stomach, legs spread, heading toward a rock of the “perfect” size. The subsequent hospital visit was not pleasant. But his wife is expecting now, so he healed!

  32. Lou March 28th, 2011 5:06 pm

    Pete and all, many many thanks for your comments!

    Jonathan, ha! But seriously, if you were working on those reactors in Japan you’d be wearing your lead, and the consequences of not doing so might not heal.

  33. MM March 28th, 2011 5:09 pm

    Lou I got my ski concussion from a simple almost stationary fall backwards. Wacked the back of my head on a branch. A helmet would’ve prevented THAT concussion for sure.

  34. Jukka March 28th, 2011 5:10 pm

    Well I’ll be… I believe this might very well be the first time I happen to disagree with you Lou! And I have been enjoying your blog for quite some time now. 😀

    Looking at the measurements derived from the impact onto hard snow, we find a drop in HIC value from 2,235 to 965 if wearing a helmet. For me these numbers had no meaning what so ever, so I did a little research. I found two articles which helped me understand the head injury criterion (HIC) a little better.

    With a HIC value of 2,235, there is a 50% chance of death and an 80% chance to suffer at least critical head injury. If you’re feeling lucky, you have a 20% chance to get away with only moderate head injury (i.e. ‘Skull trauma with or without skull fracture and brief loss of consciousness; fracture of facial bones without dislocation; deep wound(s)’).
    HIC value of 965, however, brings the risk of death to 0% and the risk of suffering a critical head injury to under 5%. [1] (Fig X.2.1)

    While I agree that a helmet won’t help much if you hit your head hard enough, I still think that the simulation showed a clear advantage towards wearing a helmet. Even at a slow speed the impact can very well be life threatening if not wearing a helmet.

    [1] http://www.playgroundadvisory.com/Documents/News%20and%20Articles/HIC%20&%20Severity%20and%20risk%20of%20injury.pdf

  35. jeff March 28th, 2011 5:15 pm

    Recently I had some friends involved in an avalanche. Everything turned out okay for everyone involved. When I asked my friend who triggered the large slide if he heard his partners yelling and telling him which way to ski out he replied, “no, I couldn’t hear anything, I had my helmet on.” I asked if he thought he would have heard a whistle and he highly doubted it. Said he wasn’t going to stop skiing with the helmet, but was going to cut the ear flaps out.

    I’m sure some helmets allow you to hear better than others. Since communication is such a large part of our backcountry travel, a helmet you can hear well out of might be a consideration if you are in the market.

    And believe me, I’m not condoning that you should be able to hear in order to be steered out of an avalanche. Just an aspect of wearing a helmet that had not crossed my mind.

  36. Lou March 28th, 2011 5:16 pm

    Dave, actually, I’ve had the bar hit my head several times with and without helm. Definitely a valid scenario, but probably in the “minor” injury category. Thanks!

  37. Lou March 28th, 2011 5:21 pm

    Pete, I respect you and your credentials and experience, and thanks for posting. But I’d ask, if all those folks had better helmets, how many fewer would have you had to see in the first place? And though they survived, at least a few ended up with concussions, right? And since concussions have cumulative effect, perhaps there is more going on, in the future, than sending them home with a headache?

    Also, and serious question, do you think snowsports helmets are adequate, or should they be improved?

  38. Lou March 28th, 2011 5:24 pm

    Jeff, my son and I used to experiment with a radio earbud from our FRS radios, with a little throat mic. Actually the best solution but a bit geeky and fiddly. I’ve recently been more adamant about radio use in general. My wife and I are now nearly always using them, and I’m trying to get other companions into them now that I pretty much always have mine turned on. Channel 7 privacy code 11, by the way, if anyone sees us around Colorado or elsewhere.

  39. chris thompson March 28th, 2011 5:26 pm

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned the largest downside to helmets (in my opinion). Helmet courage. What is the lesson learned for a kid that gives himself a minor concussion(often undiagnosed), but is able to ski away with no bruise or lasting pain to tell the kid that he had pushed it a little too far and should dial it back. Lasting brain damage occurs with repeated minor concussions (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE). A condition that rose in the NFL when helmets became required. So yes, there is a downside to wearing a helmet. I ski tight New England trees daily (ski patrol) and i have never had an incident where i would have benefited from a helmet. For me, in my cost benefit analysis, they do no seem worthwhile. I also know that i have a high risk tolerance comparable to others and everyone should be free to make their own decision (ie please don’t start requiring them for resort employees).

  40. Pete Clark March 28th, 2011 5:47 pm

    Undeniably snow sports helmets should be improved and there is much research ongoing as to precisely the best way to do this. Concussions (particularly amongst football atheletes) are a hot topic right now, and taken increasingly seriously by those that provide care to athletes. I don’t disagree with your premise that helmets are imperfect at protection from concussion but they are clearly better than no helmet, and useful in other trauma reduction.
    Currrently all USSA athletes take a lengthy neurocognitive test called an ImPact test (impacttest.com) at the beginning of the season which is then compared to a post-injury ImPact score in the event of a definite or even suspected concussion. One common feature of elite athletes is that they are often symptom minimizers and this provides an objective yardstick to measure return of function. We have a graded return to snow protocol that much thought has been put into. Although hold outs remain, It is becoming increasingly rare and “old-school” for concussions to be minimized as “a headache” amongst coaches, trainers, physicians and event organizers. This mindfullness needs to trickle down to the general sporting population and awareness is rising.

    Thanks for breaching the topic.

  41. Pete Clark March 28th, 2011 5:49 pm

    Oh, P.S. To comment on Chris’s previous post, I suspect that soon the day will come that they are mandatory for resort employees while sliding on snow, because while your acceptance of risk may be different, from a workman’s compensation insurance perspective the tolerance of risk is much lower.

  42. Lou March 28th, 2011 5:49 pm

    Great Pete, thanks!

  43. Lou March 28th, 2011 5:52 pm

    Chris, in the old days when you got a minor concussion without a helmet it frequently included a severe scalp bleed and was scary. Taught you a lesson. Now you might feel weird for a few days but no overt gross stuff going on. That’s my point. You don’t get the cut scalp but your brain still whangs against the inside or your skull.

  44. Lou March 28th, 2011 5:53 pm

    MM, yes, of course!

  45. Lou March 28th, 2011 5:57 pm

    BTW all, in thinking back on my life of kinetic sports, the most severe injury I got while mountain biking, and one that still affects me with chronic pain, was a neck injury from being cloths lined at slow speed under a fallen tree. The helmet made no difference, and I almost broke my neck. A neck brace would have helped as I’d rather have been immediately knocked off the bike than undergo the slow backwards lever that must have been what it’s like to be on a malfunctioning gallows. There you go, some anecdotal evidence.

  46. Harry March 28th, 2011 6:01 pm

    The helmet courage thing has been mentioned. I don’t personally buy into it. I think our sport is faster high stronger because of other equipment advanced independent of helmet adoption. There are more people pushing the outer edge of an increasingly large envelope because new equipment makes the learning curve of getting their shorter, snow therefore more people get there.

    I have never felt an injury to cause me to loose confidence in the long run or make me recalculate my cost benefit analysis, probably because none of my injuries occurred while being reckless. You simply cannot anticipate every possibility in a given situation. Sometimes you are caught out even though you made reasonable decisions. It isn’t a matter of fatalism, it is just acknowledging that you don’t have control over all of the variables, or have perfect knowledge.

    When people push it I don’t think anyone looks at a line and says “well, im probably going to fall and hit my head, good thing I wear a helmet!” or for that matter “the risk of a slide is high, thats a big terrain trap, but what the heck, I have a beacon, my buddies will dig me out”

    They use the sum of their experience and say “I can do that” and sometimes fail. Or it happens when you are doing something you have done a thousand times in seemingly identical circumstances but for one unseen variable that causes a different outcome. Like the lotto, hey you never know.

  47. cseilern March 28th, 2011 6:02 pm

    Hmmm… not sure what the fuss is really. Having a helmet is better than not having one, whatever the stats or the debate is.

    Clearly, lugging/wearing a helmet is more of a hassle than not lugging/wearing a helmet. But that does not change the empirical conclusion that it is safer to wear one than not to wear one.

    I personally do not wear one, but it would be naive of me to believe that it is because there is no safety difference. I just try to be more careful, that is all.

  48. Lou March 28th, 2011 6:11 pm

    My opinion is that helmet courage is axiomatic. At a certain point of having safety gear in place, a human will ramp up what they are doing that that safety gear is intended to help with. This effect might not be remarkable or obvious, but in my opinion it totally exists and if all of you are going to use anecdotal evidence to prove helmets are great, I’ll use anecdotal evidence to show that safety frequently contributes to the risk level people take. One obvious example is avalanche danger. You have to have been around before beacons to see the difference, but believe me because I was, beacons obviously influenced the level of avalanche danger skiers are willing to accept. It’s as obvious as a face shot or the rising sun. Ironic part of that is of course that beacons are unreliable in terms of saving lives. But the perception vs. reality is quite different.

  49. Karl March 28th, 2011 6:12 pm

    I am looking for a place to train this weekend for an AT race, can someone suggest a place within 2 hours of Boston

  50. Jonathan Shefftz March 28th, 2011 6:19 pm

    Wachusett is friendly toward skinning during nonoperational hours, but unfortunately they open at 8:00 in the morning, and sometimes even more like 7:50. This is their last weekend though.
    Berkshire East is now closed for the season, and I’ve never had any post-season skinning problems there.

  51. Harry March 28th, 2011 6:21 pm

    Lou, I think your opinion is in the majority and mine cuts across the grain. It is even more difficult to develop a test to determine than helmet effectiveness. I have no more proof than my own way of thinking, and cannot know the mind of others.

    How about an injury story post when things get slow in the off season? Set it up like the scar scene from Jaws. We can all hum the tune of “Spanish Ladies” while we reply.

  52. Lou March 28th, 2011 6:35 pm

    Is it true that chicks dig scars? Is that why I’ve been married for a quarter century?

  53. Bryan March 28th, 2011 6:57 pm

    We hear stuff like this from old crusty dudes riding steel bikes with Campy Chorus 9-speed in the cycling world all the time…”oh helmets, they are too hot, don’t fit my head, and won’t save your life in a crash”.

    I can’t comment on the difference in standards for snow helmets vs. cycling helmets, but the bottom line is that when they are a part of your daily routine, they take nothing away from your experience. I don’t see any reason not to use a helmet, regardless of what the study shows.

    In this case, I’m positive that you crusty old guys with 3-buckle boots and dynafits mounted on sub-95 waisted skis are going start chiming in and say all the same things that the crusty Campy Chorus 9-speed guys in cycling do!

  54. Lou March 28th, 2011 7:01 pm

    Bryan, second time the age accusation has come up. Hmmm, I’d better shave my beard!

  55. Bryan March 28th, 2011 7:04 pm

    Sorry…I had to. Don’t forget about Just for Men’s mustache and beard coloring!

  56. Lou March 28th, 2011 7:07 pm

    Ah, now that is a good tip!

  57. Lou March 28th, 2011 7:09 pm

    Hey all, BTW, what do you think of Lindsey and her helmet?

    All roses in article linked below , but now, not exactly the best PR for Briko. Are do people just not get it?


  58. chris thompson March 28th, 2011 7:09 pm

    I don’t wear a helmet (see above post) and while I am telemark I hope I am not considered old at 33 and have not skied anything under 95 (BD Kilos) all winter. But other than that your post was still pretty lame bryan

  59. Glenn Sliva March 28th, 2011 7:11 pm

    Stay above tree line and you won’t hit any trees. Problem solved.

  60. chris thompson March 28th, 2011 7:13 pm

    rocks are way more of an issue for me than are trees.

  61. Chris March 28th, 2011 7:34 pm

    “Tell me how you are going to crash and I will build a helmet that will protect your head.”


    not sure about the accuracy of all the content (seems to be some opinion mixed in) but it raises some interesting points about the different types of crashes and different impact forces. This is motocross specific but speed, big airs and big impacts seem like they could be similar for some skiers.

  62. See March 28th, 2011 7:35 pm

    I think a simple, light, cheap, comfortable helmet is a valuable piece of gear to use for many types of skiing, even if it depends primarily on 1″ of eps foam for protection. I use mine most (but not all) the time I’m skiing.

    If some one comes up with a better helmet that does not give up too much in cost or usability to achieve better protection, I’ll use it. My suggestion for a possible minor improvement would be a carbon/Kevlar shell in place of the ubiquitous microshell. I made such a helmet 20 years ago from one of the old bike helmets that had a fabric cover over the foam. It was light and I’m glad to say I never got to give it a real test.

    But I really think the population of users that needs a lot more protection than current helmets provide is primarily younger shredders who have the sense of indestructibility that comes with youth, and may be influenced in a not entirely healthy way by all the extreme imagery that is a part of modern life. Not helmet courage, but what used to be called Kodachrome courage, and now might best be referred to as GoPro or YouTube courage.

    So, I repeat, do we perhaps have less a helmet problem, and more a culture problem?

  63. Lou March 28th, 2011 7:42 pm

    Main concept I got from a ton of reading is that a “soft” helmet is what’s going to save your brain in the majority of incidents, and helmets would work better if they were somewhat softer. If Lindsey Vonn had been using a softer helmet, perhaps she would be sitting at home looking at a crystal globe.

  64. chris thompson March 28th, 2011 8:02 pm

    See, the cultural problem you referred to did not exist before helmets. We could have a little chicken or the egg argument here but I’m pretty sure Jamie Pierre would not be hucking 250 foot cliffs if he didn’t have a helmet on. Not that the helmet is going help him if he bounces his head off anything hard.

  65. Dave Cowan March 28th, 2011 8:06 pm

    Hi Lou, If you separated skiing head injuries from snowboarding head injuries and
    just looked at the skiing part, would the statistics be as compelling for helmet use? I see snowboarders falling and really smacking their heads against the snow all the time.

  66. Lou March 28th, 2011 8:10 pm

    Dave, interesting point…

  67. See March 28th, 2011 8:11 pm

    I don’t think a single layer of hybrid (carbon and Kevlar) cloth would make the helmet a lot harder, but it would protect the foam during handling and keep the helmet in one piece in a multiple impact scenario, without making it a lot heavier.

    If softer is better, we need reformulated foam.



  68. Sunny March 28th, 2011 8:26 pm

    I wear one, but I am with you on the level of protection they provide. I witnessed a slow fall on soft snow with a good incline young lady was wearing a helmet and still the result was a concussions. What about whiplash? We need better options.

    The negative responses you have gotten are not surprising. Why is questioning the effectiveness of them a reason to assume the queries are made by people who careless about safety instead of more?

  69. Lou March 28th, 2011 8:34 pm

    Sunny, I know, some of the reaction is puzzling. But most of the folks commenting here make good points.

  70. Bar Barrique March 28th, 2011 8:38 pm

    Risk management is an important part of backcountry skiing. If you have a party of 5 skiers, and, expose only 1 at a time to avalanche hazards; you have reduced your risk by 80%. So how much risk reduction is afforded by a helmet? Skiing is statistically a relatively safe sport, and, head injuries are a minor category. I agree that head injuries can be serious, but I do not ski in terrain parks or ski at resorts very often. The risks of a serious head injury while backcountry skiing are fairly low, so I think that it is a reasonable decision to ski without a helmet. I wear a helmet while mountain biking, but I doubt it offers much protection against the more serious inherent risks versus backcountry skiing.

  71. Lou March 28th, 2011 8:50 pm

    Another puzzling thing: Snowsports helmets, their quality and use, is an ongoing issue. But google Lindsey Vonn and Briko helmets, and nada. I can’t find any discussion, editorial, or anything about her helmet and concussion. Really weird. Of course helmet evangelists are going to chime in and say “without a helmet she would have been worse.” Probably true, but even with the helmet she lost first in the Wold Cup and got a concussion that obviously contributed greatly to her not getting first. What actually happened and what might have been are two different things. My point is, look what happened (a serious injury), and could it have been prevented?

  72. Paul March 28th, 2011 9:01 pm


    After you intro I was prepared for some surprising data that substantiates that helmets didn’t help much, but this…

    “When the impact was onto simulated hard, icy snow, the helmet reduced the average measured g-load from 329 to 162, and the HIC value from 2,235 to 965. When the impact was against the fixed object, the helmet reduced the values from 696 to 333, and the HIC from 12,185 to 3,299.”

    Wow – you just made the case for wearing helmets!

  73. Tim March 28th, 2011 9:22 pm

    For my part, I don’t wear a helmet all the time, but I’m wearing it alot more often than I used to. I wear it 100% at the resort and about 75% in the BC.
    From all the discussion, the biggest argument against advocating helmet use seems to be overconfidence when using them will lead users to take bigger risks. This may be true in many situations, but I would guess this is the exception rather than the rule. It seems to me that in general risk takers take risks and cautious people avoid them. I would think that most helmet users fall into the latter category.
    The statistics from the study seem to present a pretty convincing argument that significant injury and even death can be avoided by wearing a helmet in MANY situations. Of course, not all, but it’s not fair to characterize the benefits using the most extreme scenarios.
    Certainly, we all want helmet technology to get better, but if companies are going to work toward that goal they need to have people buying their product and asking for safer helmets.
    I think the more dangerous attitude to have toward helmets is “they really don’t do anything so why should I wear one?” I realize you’re not actually saying this, Lou, but those who are on the fence looking to rationalize not wearing one will run with it.

  74. Charlie March 28th, 2011 10:42 pm

    The kinetic energy of a moving object increases as the square of its velocity. The momentum of a moving object is proportional to its velocity.

    If a braking force is applied to the object (brains, cars, trains), the stopping distance is proportional to the kinetic energy – it increases as the square of the initial velocity.

    If an object is required to stop in the same distance (say, the helmet thickness cannot be increased), the force involved must increase as the square of the initial velocity.

    What must equal the increased kinetic energy in this situation is the product of force _times_ distance. With a thicker helmet, you can use a softer foam. With a less durable helmet (as is done with bike helmets), you can use a foam that irreversibly compresses/breaks to help spread out the impact over the longest possible distance/time.

    Would people use a ski helmet that had the durability and thickness of a bike/motorcycle helmet?

    Paul above has the right idea – helmets aren’t perfect, but they definitely take the sharp edge off any collision. Concussions are harder to prevent than catastrophic skull fractures. No helmet will protect you as well as avoiding the collision entirely.

  75. mtnrunner2 March 28th, 2011 10:44 pm

    Lou, I look forward to your post on seat belts.

    But seriously, I’m not touching this one. Anyway, I wear a helmet to stay warm.

  76. canwilf March 28th, 2011 10:54 pm

    Interesting discussion. I fall into the ‘helmets are good’ group. I grew up wearing a toque and goggles. I have had a few bad falls that did not involve whacking my noggin. I started wearing a helmet after they came into vogue and have never looked back. I also bring it on ski tours when there is chance of rockfall, lots of tree skiing, or a wet-and-refrozen snowpack with lots of tree-bombs. What the heck, a tree bomb ladden with ice can really hurt!

    I think that it might be quite more useful for back country skiing than some admit as even avalanche survivors have said that the head trauma they would have received on the way down through rock and/or trees would have killed them without a helmet.

    A few years ago I had the honor of being a chaufer (taxi) for a guy that had a brain injury that he sustained after a few beers with friends and some local night-skiing. His injury was caused when he fell backwards and whacked his skull on an icy patch. He has been in a ‘care’ facility for people with brain damage ever since. He is able to care for himself with the guidance of others but remains quite impaired and will never live on his own again.

    I’m not going to wear a helmet as I tour up that mellow logging road or make a traverse through trees. When the going gets more exciting, I’ll probably don the helmet and still enjoy the ride.

  77. tka March 29th, 2011 1:30 am

    I really want to keep a light tone here…….but I hope the overwhelming benefits of wearing helmets are as clear as the overwhelming evidence of human induced climate change. Thanks to those with quality info that shared! Use your protected brain!!! Only question is…..tin foil or POC??

  78. Ian March 29th, 2011 2:25 am

    I hope helmet manufacturers are reading this and come up with improvements. So long as they don’t then make them prohibitively expensive.
    From personal experience, on ice they do bugger all.
    However I wear a helmet nearly all the time. I find it more convenient than a hat. I can take the ear pieces off in the same time it takes for a hat. I can wear my goggles on top all the time and not get hot. The only time it gets too hot is boot packing later in the season. It’s pretty light. I’ve never had a problem hearing anything with it on. It’s got flowers on it and chicks dig that.
    Anyway, I wouldn’t get too wound up with all this, you’ve got more chance of dying of heart attack and back country skiing is a good way to prevent that – with or without a helmet.

  79. e. March 29th, 2011 4:31 am

    I have survived a 15 meters free fall, falling on my back (protected by stuffed backpack) and a head (in a climbing helmet). Helmet had several deep bruises after that, but my head none, neither I had not concussion. I expect that the speed at the end of this free fall was around 40-50 km/h (air resistance, height error), thus 25-30 m/h. But collision was not a central one, and I continued falling.

    I am a theoretical physicist (still can do the job after this :-/ ) and know that simple toy models are not alway valid ones. If you want a helmet to protect your head hitting centrally a fence, at the speed of 30 mph, you certainly do not have one. But there are many other possible situations when the existing ones are good enough.

    For skimo I wear the same model of climbing helmet. I do not ski fast in a difficult terrain, but sometimes we do not have much snow and there are rocks just under the surface. Or icy conditions, really not much powder. For resort skiing I wear a fancy full head helmet, people are crazy there, and I achieve higher speeds. For cycling… err not always, although I had two unpleasant accidents. Nor for rock climbing, but for mountaineering yes.

    Greetings from the other side of the ocean, from the old reader.

  80. Peter March 29th, 2011 5:25 am

    Hi Lou,

    I’m a big fan and respect your opinions on everything, even these “helmetic” -thoughts.

    Still, coming from a country, where most skiers and boarders use helmets I do not really see any reasons stated here why not to wear a helmet?

    Are they too heavy compared to a beanie?

    Are they too hot?

    Well, as I carry a lot of “heavy” safety stuff in my backpack or strapped around torso, a helmet goes along well in my sack and of course I only wear it when going down…

    Hm, NOT wearing a helmet cannot harm anybody else, so in my opinion every one should be free to choose – helmet or not.

    Greetings from Finland!

    In Italy it seems odd if you do not ski bareheaded;)

  81. Lou March 29th, 2011 5:36 am

    Ok, I’ll hit seat belts. Ralph Nader spoke up years ago and said the public was being sold a bill of goods by the car makers, and the cars should be safer. The cars got safer. But still, around 30,000 folks die every year in car crashes, and car accidents are the leading cause of death for children and teenagers.

    If I was an old phlegmatic reactionary (look up both words) I’d say cars are good enough and people should drive safer. Instead, I take a progressive view and I say cars should be safer AND people should drive safer as well.

    Reactionaries say ski helmets are effective and provide adequate protection. Meanwhile, people skiing with helmets are getting concussed as well as dying from head injuries, and simple medical facts (G forces causing concussion) along with physics shows helmets provide minimal protection, especially from cumulative injury. So I say snowsports helmets are not good enough and should be improved.

    So who are the old fuddy duddies around here? Those of us looking at the whole picture and calling BS on ski helmets? Or those of us who faithfully strap a ski helmet on without thinking that just, perhaps, it’s really not going to do much more to protect our head than a thick cardboard hat?

    There you go, that’s my old fuddy duddy take on seat belts (grin).

  82. Christian March 29th, 2011 5:47 am

    Talking about soft helmets – I used to have one of them…a specialist SL-race helmet with a built in communiction radio. Was really nice for low impact blows.

  83. Larry March 29th, 2011 6:35 am

    Hey Lou,

    I know the numbers and physics calcs can be interesting, but the best evidence for helmet usage is obtained from real-world data. Helmet usage (lift-served skiing/boarding) probably reduces the risk for head injury by about 35-40%[1] (compared to roughly 70% reduction for wearing a helmet cycling or riding a motorcycle [2,3]). So yeah, ripping down a glassy black diamond sans helmet probably isn’t, in relative terms, quite as risky as riding a Ninja down I-80 without a lid, but another way to look at it is that wearing a ski helmet provides over half of the “safety effect” that riding a motorcycle with a helmet does. As far as the backcountry goes, the data isn’t that great, but lapping a tree run just might be the best time to throw the helmet on the pack.
    Sure, improvements can and should be made to skiing helmets, and the more that they are used, the more innovations in design that will come, but it seems to me that the risk:benefit ratio for helmet usage is ever tipping towards benefit –
    RISK (weight,bulk,cost): BENEFIT (small but real safety effect)

    This is america so no laws please…. live free (and informed) or die!
    Great site and I appreciate the discussion!……..Larry


  84. Lou March 29th, 2011 6:50 am

    I can’t believe none of you have taken the bait on Lindsey Vonn. I mean, really, if you were her, wouldn’t you be thinking that maybe, just maybe, if my helmet had been better I wouldn’t have gotten a concussion and would have won the World Cup title?

    More, if Vonn has had more than one concussion during her athletic career, she’s starting to look at the possibility of cumulative effects. If you were her, and that was the case, woudn’t you be thinking, perhaps, maybe, my helmet isn’t good enough?

    Again, after googling, I’m having a hard time believing that there isn’t more internet discussion about her Briko helmet. Shoot, if she’d pre-released and subsequently been injured, would people be talking about what bindings she was using? You bet they would.


  85. Gentle Sasquatch March 29th, 2011 7:25 am

    I don’t get the point of the article. It seems to be saying that because helmets won’t necessarily protect you from concussions then you could feel better about choosing not to wear a helmet.

    It’s like saying that a flak jacket won’t necessarily protect you from dying of a gunshot wound if you get shot in the neck while you’re out on a military mission.

    Let’s consent (logically) to that (even though it could be debated)

    Now that we got that out of the way, why not just agree that for the remainder of injuries, cuts and the rest of nasty happenings you do not want to be treating while 2 hours (or more) away from civilization – it makes sense to wear a helmet!

    P.S. On a lighter note they are superior for holding goggles. 😆 and you won’t have to deal with fashion decisions on which cool hat will decorate your mellon today. 😆

  86. Barry March 29th, 2011 7:40 am

    Since you are probably 10 times more likely to be involved and injured in an auto accident, assuming you drive to and from your snow play, why not wear a helmet while driving? Think of all the lives it would save and injuries it would minimize. Those of you preaching helmet use should be wearing it while behind the wheel and/or especially while your really tired buddy is driving and trying not to fall asleep…
    And going off on a safety tangent… I literally just watched the blurb on the Today show about the snowboarder that got trapped in a tree well at Shasta. Gawd, it’s dangerous out there. Better just stay at home… 😉

  87. Lou March 29th, 2011 7:41 am

    Gentle, my point is wear a snowsports helmet if you want, but don’t be deluded into thinking it offers much in the way of protection for serious injury. Folks beg to differ (grin).

    Also, all this will hopefully engender thought and discussion about safety gear in general, and how much safety gear we carry, wear, whatever. For example, wear that helmet in the backcountry but do you carry a bivvy sack? Sled making equipment? Communications gear? Avalung? Airbag backpack? Neck brace? Knee pads? Release bindings? And so on…

  88. Lou March 29th, 2011 7:43 am

    Barry, I’ve brought that point up before and thanks for bringing it up again. Indeed, if you choose to wear a helmet while skiing, why don’t you wear one while driving? It would be interesting if some of you could share your decision making process on this. You think you’re safer on the highway than while up there skiing? I doubt that’s the case…

  89. Gentle Sasquatch March 29th, 2011 7:55 am

    I would wear a helmet in a car if it was a Land Rover with the front windshield folded down and if I was driving the LR through a bush or woods. The helmet would protect me from injury (hitting objects on the way).

    In a car, however, you’re already protected and in case of a crash a helmet would not protect you from getting a concussion. I think that is why we have airbags in the car.

  90. Dave J. March 29th, 2011 8:04 am

    What I have found a helmet good for:
    Snowboarder falling on my head falling down steep chute. Helmet dented.
    Tree limb to forehead. Helmet dented.

    The helmet argument comes down to, many times, arguing what didn’t happen. Would I have been seriously injured when the snowboarder landed on my head if I wasn’t wearing a helmet? I believe so.
    But I’ll never really know – I just have to make an assumption from the dented helmet.
    I don’t wear a helmet thinking it makes me invincible. Just some added protection for the skull.

  91. Andy Bryson March 29th, 2011 8:08 am

    OK Lou, I see your point.
    Now apply the same logic to the new avy airbag offerings.
    They may keep you on top of the sliding mass, but they are not going to help when your body is rammed into a tree or boulder.

  92. Frank K March 29th, 2011 9:23 am

    I may be wrong, but I think the main point that Lou is trying to make is that helmets could/should be better, more so than that helmets are worthless in general. If that’s the case, I wholeheartedly agree.

    The problem is that helmet manufacturers are making what the public wants. And the public wants helmets that are light, and look cool, and vent well. Any ski shop folks want to comment- Has anyone ever asked “Is helmet A safer than helmet B?”. I doubt it. I bet they’re more likely to say, “ooh, this one with the visor looks cool.”

    Honestly, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that my 10 year old Leedom helmet would take a crash 100x better than my brand new Giro, but I never could hear anything out of that Leedom, and it was hot, and it looked like an extra from Spaceballs- The Movie, and it was heavy which made it hard to ever take in the bc. That’s just the way the market has gone, for the most part. I don’t plan on testing my Giro, but it’s still better than a hat.

  93. M March 29th, 2011 9:26 am

    30KPH fall on the head is an impact that most systems will not handle.

    Motorcycle helmets are designed for impacts between 14 and 25 KPH.


  94. See March 29th, 2011 9:27 am

    OK, so let’s say the industry takes Lou’s argument to heart– what would the optimall helmet look like, and would not most of the same criticisms still apply? As has been previously stated, the problem is physics– nothing that would be practical to actually ski with, I believe, will provide more than incrementally better protection.

    That said, by all means, let’s consider better shells (single layer of carbon/Kevlar would also provide better penetration protection, at less weight than abs), more effective impact attenuating materials, fit systems, retention systems, etc.. I suspect there’s less room for improvement than has been implied, but I would welcome whatever improvements anyone can devise.

    So I’ve made a couple of suggestions, if we’re going to go anywhere with discussion, I’d like to hear some suggestions for practical design improvements.

  95. Paul March 29th, 2011 10:43 am

    I like wearing my helmet. It’s actually very comfortable and helps keep my head warm. In the spring it vents well and I’m so used to wearing it I don’t mind it on my head when it’s warmer.

    So… it’s not perfect and if I straightline a tree it’s useless, but it does offer some protection and since it’s comfortable, I would be crazy to not do all I can to protect my head and wear it.

    My beef with helmets is that there aren’t enough made that are certified for both climbing and skiing. There is only one available in the U.S. (Camp Pulse) and it doesn’t fit my head well. There is (unfortunately) a growing market for helmets for bc skiers that need protection from falling rock and ice. POC and others, where are you?

  96. slave.to.turns March 29th, 2011 10:46 am

    Is Andy Rooney guest blogging for Lou?!?

  97. DMR March 29th, 2011 11:22 am

    I read an article recently (can’t seem to find it) regarding research on the effectiveness of football helmets. Apparently the “improvement” in football helmets from leather to the helmets of today reduced significantly major head trauma (cracked skulls, for example), but the recent research basically showed that concussions and long term brain damage is on the rise.

    Basically, the softer helmets of yesteryear did what has already been mentioned about soft helmets (slower deceleration thus less concussions). Also, the soft helmets being what they were, spearheading and high speed tackles where one used one’s head as the first body part of impact were few and far between when compared to today’s 25mph impacts between offense and defense.

    A trade off I suppose.

    Regarding the risk issue and the seatbelt comparison (which is a nice but less than perfect analogy), I do my best to drive safe, am fully aware of the danger out there, but can not always control the incompetence of others on the road, thus put my seat belt on to mitigate the inherent risks of driving. Even if I drive impeccably someone may still rear end me, and I’d rather not go flying through the windshield. That written, I know full well that wearing my sealt belt in my small Japanese economy car will not save me in a head on collision with a semi.

    Same goes for ski helmets, I was already skiing at high speeds and taking certain risks when I started to wear a helmet regularly (I wear the Leedom Limit when resort skiing), but in no way, shape or form expect the helmet to miraculously save me in all situations.

    Most of my backcountry skiing contains a mountaineering element, so I often wear my Petzl Meteor on the way up and down for reasons already mentioned when in a mountaineering situation.


    At the risk of being completely ridiculed by everyone here, on stormy holiday weekends when I know those who don’t know how to drive in snow will be out in force (and in their SUVs)i I have indeed worn my Leedom helmet while driving …

  98. Dawnpatrol75 March 29th, 2011 1:45 pm

    There will be times when you will avoid injury because you had a helmet on your melon…and there will be times when it will not help at all.

    That’s the risk of sliding on snow or ice at high speeds with rocks, people and unknown conditions all converging in the same area.

  99. Jason March 29th, 2011 1:54 pm

    There was also a study recently out that said the higher the level of skier, the more likely the use of a helmet. Personally, I think wearing a helmet is a good idea. My kids will always wear helmets, as will I.

    I love to ride with a helmet. It’s not only a comfortable safety blanket, but also a concert on my head when I’m at the noisy resort. Just plug the headphones in and disappear into your own world.

    I have had some concussions with it on, but I’m glad I had it on… it might have saved me from cracked skull or worse yet, a bald spot! After all, I’m all about what I look like out there anyways. 😯

  100. tka March 29th, 2011 2:41 pm

    HEY Glenn Beck!
    Give us back Lou!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    HEY Lou!
    Stop acting like Glenn Beck!!!!!!!

    Lou, you are a role model of this community. Claiming yourself as a progressive and labeling those who disagree as reactionaries is conservative and antiquated. I find it sad to see that even in light of overwhelming evidence and the inability to apply your logic to other sports with helmets and other safety devices that you refuse to listen and apply your gray matter…..kinda like those who think fossils are only 6K years old and died in a flood. Lou, you are a role model of this community. Whether or not you’ll eventually concede the importance of helmets, we, as your peers, expect you to challenge your views as well. I would hope that if you cited other sports and data that eschewed helmets and came the conclusion that they provide no protection that we would listen to you and change our stance. I find your recent Beckish stance deeply disturbing.

  101. Lou March 29th, 2011 3:34 pm

    Sorry to disturb you Tka! Perhaps you’ll get over it when you see me skiing while wearing a helmet, which does happen (grin). As for my views being challenged, it happened. I used to think ski helmets were MUCH better, read up on the subject, and my opinion changed! Go figure.

  102. Lou March 29th, 2011 3:41 pm

    Frank K. gets it, sorry if I wasn’t more clear.

  103. Helmut DieHelmet March 29th, 2011 4:42 pm

    A poster mentioned previously “I guess the real problem with ski helmets is that we buy them assuming they are effective.” So true, but then again, perhaps so false. Do you not truly believe most skiers/riders purchase and wear helmets these days, not so much for their protective capacities or for any helmet evangelist zeal, but for simply due to their popularity? Are helmets not just like other snowsport garments; part of the “uniform”?

    PS I actually ski in the resort with a helmet and enjoy its many qualities.

  104. brian h March 29th, 2011 6:49 pm

    Lou, you are not my role model. And Glen dont surf…

  105. Mark W March 29th, 2011 8:57 pm

    Helmets could be more functional and thus safer! Pretty simple to boil it down to that. A good deal else that is being said about helmets has a lot to do with nebulous personal feelings and perceived protection value, but not too much else. But hey, if we just cut to the chase, this discussion would be bland, boring, and all too brief.

  106. Jack March 29th, 2011 10:46 pm

    Lou and faithful,
    It’s good to wear a helmut when you beat your head against the wall w/ max G after reading the helmet helpnet.

    Lou, enuf technobabble rabble rousing. How about a pretty face (and/or figure) in some sick pow? Lange girl, powder wench, corn glissing middle age sweethang, cliff hucking femme fatale … Whatever, man, just gimme some STOKE!

  107. David March 30th, 2011 4:06 am

    I have been skiing for 30 years now and 20 odd without a helmut and lived. Lou, I get what you are on about. I won’t ski without one now and the following may convince others.

    A few years ago my buddies and I were skiing in a remote part of the world and came across a party that had been hit by an avalanche, 2 dead and 8 severely injured. All impact related injuries. The last guy I dug out was under the snow for 90 minutes. Shallow burial, on his side face down and no transceiver.

    He was wearing a helmut which had a 2″ dent right between the eyes on the front edge and was sporting a broken nose. Remember 90 minutes under and he lived. His helmut saved him twice, once from impact and the second time through the creation of an air pocket. He was face down, nose bleeding and his helmut had moved forward on his head all combining to create a big enough air pocket for him to survive a 90 minute burial.

    That was proof enough for me to justify my decision to wear a helmut. They are also very handy for headbutting small branches out of the way while in the trees.


  108. Christian March 30th, 2011 4:46 am

    Bicycle racers used to have soft leather “helmets” – were these more effektive than todays?
    I used to have a soft rubber helmet, with integrated communication, that I used for SL-racing. I liked it a lot, and it was more effektive than the hardshell helmets for its use (softening low impact hits by poles). For GS, Super-G and downhill, we used the hard shell helmets….

    I allways wear a helmet btw. A cracked carbon fiber helmet after hitting a rock after a relatively gentle fall is enough to convince me.

  109. combiner March 30th, 2011 5:43 am

    e., which helmet it was that had bruises?

  110. e. March 30th, 2011 6:21 am

    combiner, Petzl Elios. It had bruises but did not broke. The first impact was taken by the body, the second one by the back of the head and helmet, thus it had already reduced speed.

  111. Barry March 30th, 2011 6:52 am

    This reminds me of to-wear or not-to-wear helmet threads in windsurfing forums, back when water sports helmets started to penetrate that market in the mid ’80s. Definitely lots of emotion and strong opinions. Sorry to make this thread any longer. The horse is dead… -B

  112. Dawnpatrol75 March 30th, 2011 8:29 am
  113. Lou March 30th, 2011 8:34 am

    See, your comment about what an improved helmet would look like ended up in moderation lineup for some unknown reason. Sorry about that.

    But it’s a very good and constructive comment and fun to address in a positive way. Below is some back story, and my take on improvements.

    First, my understanding is when the industry uses the term “soft” helmet, this refers as much to a helmet with very low impact G-force as it does to the shell. In other words, as a term of art, “soft” doesn’t necessarily mean a foam hat, but rather a very energy absorptive helmet.

    Second, it is very difficult for the general consumer public to get the fact that a harder helmet shell can actually be detrimental to helmet safety, as it bounces rather than absorbing shock, and also doesn’t contribute to absorbing energy and thus lowering G-force.

    Third, at this time there is no known way to reduce G-force on a stopping/moving object other than giving that object more distance to stop.

    Fourth, the huge misconception with helmets is that by simply providing a shell over your skull (like a knee pad), they provide important protection. Some sort of shell is no doubt good to have if your head hits something, but the more important function of a helmet, as opposed to a knee pad, is to give your head more time to stop moving when it hits something. The science/physics behind this are explained above.

    Fifth, it is axiomatic and shown by studies that in accidents that involve huge impacts, additional trauma to other parts of the body are as likely to cause death as the head injury. Thus, helmets don’t need to provide “ultimate” protection, they just need to provide a modicum. Current snowsports helmets approach that, but in my view (and other’s) need to provide some additional reduction in G-forces so even minor concussions are less likely. In other words, what we’re looking for is a helmet that would have perhaps prevented Vonn’s concussion.

    So, what’s that helmet look like? I’ll take a stab at it, but I make no claim to be any more of a helmet designer than the next guy! Forewith, the WildSnow approved snowsports helmet:

    – Would have a softer shell with virtually zero rebound, and with shock absorptive nature. As POC does, shell penetration resistance would be provided by a membrane, rather than depending on rigid shell.

    – Would simply be thicker, with a liner that readily collapsed at the concussion G-force threshold (softer). From what I’ve gleaned from study, the WildSnow certified helm doesn’t need to be that much thicker than current models to be quite a bit more effective. But the helmet would indeed look thicker and not as sleek.

    – Any brim or protuberance would be easily removable and designed for “break-away” so they wouldn’t catch on the snow and cause neck injury.

    – Helmet would cover back of head and possible be much lower over ears and temples. A full face model would be available with carefully designed jaw guard that was not prone to catching on snow causing neck injury.

    – Fit system and chin strap would be designed for 100% confidence in keeping the helmet in position on head.

    – All vent holes would be covered with mesh to prevent penetration, and vent holes would be minimal. All vent holes would have a user operable covering system, such as the sliding/shutter systems currently in some helmets.

    – Interior venting and cooling would be a priority and cutting-edge designed so the helmet could be worn on the climb as well as the descent.

    Mainly, it has to be thicker and softer, but not so much so as to be ridiculous.

  114. mc March 30th, 2011 8:52 am

    My younger touring partners all wear helmets, my older ones don’t. Same when skiing at the resort. Tried one last year and hated it. (Smith Variant). I will wear one when road biking in the hills because of possible tire flats during descents. Otherwise I hate it particularly because of wind noise through the vents that don’t allow me to hear oncoming cars as well which is my biggest concern. Mountain biking always. Bottom line is that I’m not expecting these helmets to do much other than to protect my fabuous good looks.
    But my kid has to wear his even though I have no faith in it either. Chalk one up for the better than nothing camp.

  115. slave.to.turns March 30th, 2011 9:51 am

    Just to stir the pot; why do so many of you say you don’t believe in it but you make your kids wear it?

  116. Lou March 30th, 2011 10:00 am

    Slave, I’d tend to ask the same question, but I saw somewhere in a study that kids are more likely to get head injuries?

    On a side note, men and women in their prime are actually more resistant to brain concussion. You get more prone as you get older. Thus, as you get older you have more and more reason to wear an _effective_ helmet while skiing and in the icy parking lot. Here in the Aspens I see quite a few oldsters in helmets. It looks kind of funny as they’re usually skiing quite conservatively and when the helmet is combined with a down filled one-piece you don’t exactly have photogenics (grin), but provided the helmet will actually work (*?) their wearing one makes sense.

  117. Matt Kinney March 30th, 2011 10:00 am

    Some of most dangerous skiers are those who roam through skiers in the field (or airports) with their helmets swinging loosely off their packs by the chin straps.

    FWIW I pretty much require all my clients to wear helmets. Helmets can simply make the difference between a bump on the head and brain surgery. It is not bomb proof, but its better than nothing considering the sport. Of course the best way to protect a head injury or any injury in the BC is to ski in control. And in the BC you really need all the protection you can carry safely, considering weight of course.

    I started wearing a helmet 10 years ago after 25 years of never wearing one. Wisdom with age?

    Sooner or later if you ski lots you are going to hit your head on something. With that said its a matter of personal choice and I try not to be “nasal” about it.

  118. mc March 30th, 2011 10:34 am

    @Slave. Ironic isn’t it? I wish I could give you some fantastic answer but I can’t. Actually, I can – his mother! The kid wears one because I don’t want to go down the “what if” road – despite my concerns regarding how truly safe they are. Funny though, I can’t recall anyone growing up, despite all the crap we did, suffering a brain injury.
    We do have a few individuals/ groups here in Canada that are pushing hard for mandatory laws for ski helmets. Bike helmets already are.
    It’s just one more example of personal choice/ freedoms being nibbled away at that pisses me off more than anything.

  119. Lou March 30th, 2011 10:41 am

    MC sneaks in a little matrimonial advice/insight! Amazing where helmet blogging can go!

  120. Joe March 30th, 2011 10:51 am

    Well thankfully this guy was rocking a helmet the other day! http://vimeo.com/21629619

  121. Robert M. March 30th, 2011 11:30 am

    Speaking as a Ph.D physicist, I kind of doubt maximum acceleration of the entire head is the determining factor in brain injury or not. ‘Concussion’ prevention maybe not, but in terms dying from an traumatic impact and resultant subdural hemotoma in the backcountry, it will make a huge difference.

    If you take a point impact (i.e. a rock), the shock wave is going to propagate out from that point, with the most damage being at the point of impact and then the energy is going to radiate out from that point, with a fair amount of energy being reflected back and forth at interface layers (helmet shell to lining to skull to meninges to white and grey matter). So more interface layers is good, and more thickness until you get to the blood vessels in your brain is good.

    In materials science you separate the waves into elastic (no permanent deformation), plastic (permanent deformation), and shock waves (lots o’ damage). A helmet will spread out the the impact onto the skull, which in turn spreads out the impact onto the brain. Preventing the skull from actually fracturing is likely very important as when it fails…

    After all, a charlie horse doesn’t normally cover your entire leg, similarly a brain bruise isn’t the entire brain being damaged but just a small part. Small brain damage is still brain damage and could be highly debilitating. Spreading out the impact should still help reduce brain injury a lot, by decreases the amount of tissue that undergoes plastic and shock deformation-level forces. Concussions are another issue, but they probably won’t kill you, so I think you are overemphasizing them in the post.

    That said, the selection of backcountry specific helmets kind of sucks. I use a Sweet Protection carbon fibre kayaking helmet for the resort, but it’s a little heavy (550 g) for touring.

  122. Robert M. March 30th, 2011 12:09 pm

    Mmm… another follow-up to the idea of a soft shelled helmet, I suspect you would still want a hard shell to maximize deflection on glancing impacts. My background on this subject is anti-tank projectiles penetrating metal, ceramic, and polymer armour, so it’s probably not totally pertinent and it’s been well over a decade, but…

    Generally steel is used for deflection (because it’s both hard and ductile) and polymers or dead air for dissipation. The analogues for a ski helmet is the carbon fibre shell and foam liner. Ceramics and brittle fracture are probably not so useful for the types of blunt impact we’re talking about in skiing.

    When you have two hard things collide, there’s more initial elastic transfer of momentum before plastic deformation sets in than when you have a hard thing (rock) collide with a soft thing (soft foam helmet). Think of a ricochet versus a crater, or billiard balls colliding compared to foam balls. With a glancing impact there’s a transfer of momentum (equal and opposite) that is perpendicular to the direction of the impact. The earth or a tree isn’t going to move a ton, but your head is pretty light and likely moves a lot in response to an impact.

    Then the hard shell fails and the helmet starts plastic deformation but you’ve already bought yourself a much reduced impact. If you take a flat surface and impact it at angle theta, the effective thickness is:


    So if you have an impact at 60^, the thickness is twice the flat thickness. If you bounce the impacting projectile up (or conversely the helmet/head down) by having a really hard plate on top by only 5^ (to 65^) further up you have 2.35x the flat thickness, and 10 ^ (to 70^) is 2.9x. So deflecting the impact can make a _huge_ difference in how thick the helmet liner and skull is!

    Short story, hitting trees dead on with the crown of your head at 50 km/h is really bad, but at glancing angles your helmet is a lot thicker than you think. Since your head is round almost all impacts will be at glancing angles and a hard shell will help deflect your head away from the impact whereas a soft shell would dig in. The human reflex to avoid head on impacts will increase the likelihood of glancing impacts unless you’re totally out of control. Anyway that’s my thought

  123. Jonathan Shefftz March 30th, 2011 12:31 pm

    “Again, after googling, I’m having a hard time believing that there isn’t more internet discussion about her Briko helmet. Shoot, if she’d pre-released and subsequently been injured, would people be talking about what bindings she was using? You bet they would.”
    – The obvious answer is because the helmet could just as likely be viewed here is preventing a far worse injury. Whereas a pre-releasing binding is clearly *causing* the injury, not mitigating. By contrast, when Scott Macartney in 2008 slid through the Hahnenkamm finish sans consciousness, skis, and helmet, the internet was of course quite busy with discussion of his helmet. (Youtube videos #s he24trOJ2H4 for raw footage and P0lhMWaenCg for post-production voiceover and slowmo.)

  124. Matt March 30th, 2011 5:13 pm

    You seem to ignore half of the evidence in the article you cite. In both cases of a collision with a hard object, icy snow or a post, the helmet decreased the g-force by about half. Even if ~330 G’s is really bad, its still much better than nearly 700. Will a helmet absolutely protect you from concussion? Of course not, but it helps, a lot per the study you refer to, and there’s no refuting that.

  125. Lou March 30th, 2011 6:09 pm

    Matt, it seems what you’re saying is being dead is better than being dead, only the 330 G victim will be less work for the mortician.

    It would be idotic for me to say or think helmets don’t reduce G forces, my point is helmets don’t reduce G-forces enough. Many people disagree and feel snowsports helmets do an adequate job. Fine. But I’m not of that persuasion

    Lastly, so what if a helmet “helps?” I’m not sure that argument is a straw man, but it’s close. Lots of things help. For example, you could stuff a hat full of crumpled newspapers and it would help. I’ll bet even a well sprayed bouffant hairdo would help.

    It is already proven statistically that snowsports helmets are not saving lives, but they do reduce or prevent moderate to semi-moderate head injuries and I’m happy to acknowledge that. To not do so would be idiotic. All I’m saying I’d like to see is for snowsports helmets to trend more towards the saving lives and preventing concussion such as Lindsey Vonn’s, rather than them being comfort items that eliminate the need for band-aids — along with seemingly having very convincing marketing that causes people to have much more faith in helmets than is rational.

  126. Lou March 30th, 2011 6:20 pm

    Jonathan, ok, so a helmet has an inadequate retention system and it gets talked about, but one of the best skiers in history is wearing a helmet, still gets a concussion, and not a peep out of the internet? Perhaps, just perhaps, Vonn’s helmet had an inadaquate protection system. Isn’t that even worth discussion?

    Of course I understand the argument of “it could have been worse.” But hey, in the case of the lost helmet, I’ll bet it still did something for the guy before it came off, so in his case “it could have been worse” as well.

  127. Pierce Oz March 30th, 2011 6:35 pm

    I’m going to agree with Lou and other folks that a lot more could be done with ski helmet design and research. After coming from auto racing, where the most current SNELL rated helmets are a must for any track event, I felt OK about buying a ski helmet that was SNELL approved. That helmet is no longer used, and SNELL doesn’t do a rating for snowsports anymore, as far as I can tell. I believe that several manufacturers don’t even rate their helmets to the ANSI standard. It’s my belief that the standards for snow helmets were “dumbed down” with the help of major industry players, who didn’t want to pay for SNELL testing and ratings, and didn’t want to make helmets to that level of safety and therefore price. I’m sure the buying populace helped by being willing to only spend $100 or so on a helmet. I would love to see advancements in helmet safety and design and would pay more for a better helmet. That said, I understand their limitations, and don’t rely on them to save me in a nasty crash. I have definitely seen folks like Seth Morrison wearing a motorcycle helmet and a cowboy collar neck brace (football equipment) in ski films in the past, fyi.

  128. Lou March 30th, 2011 6:39 pm

    To think a helmet used with no neck brace is going to offer major protection is somewhat wishful thinking.

  129. Pierce Oz March 30th, 2011 6:39 pm

    Oops, meant ASTM ratings instead of ANSI!

  130. Lou March 30th, 2011 6:41 pm

    Looks like neck brace tech is a bit farther along than my Giro ski helmet:


  131. Lou March 30th, 2011 6:44 pm
  132. stephen March 30th, 2011 7:07 pm

    It must have been a slow week for comments for you to start in on this topic Lou…. 👿

    FWIW, I’ve been following the arguing about bicycle helmets for a few decades now, and there has been a lot of confusing data about their effectiveness, with enough ambiguity that both sides can claim there are stats are on their side. Bike helmets are now mandatory here in Oz, although many people don’t always comply. Wearing them in the UK was severely resented at one time (maybe still) because people there were afraid that seeing any in use would be enough to give legislators an excuse to make them mandatory – fair comment, reinforced by what many on this thread have said.

    Mandatory (bike) helmets seems to be largely a “blame the victim” thing, i.e., if people choose to ride and then incompetent and/or drunken morons in cars or trucks hit them, then it is the fault of those injured – not the idiots who crashed into them. Plus helmet sales are good for business, and hassling people for not wearing them gives police and other authority types their jollies.

    Note that I’m not saying that helmets are useless. I have personally written off a couple of helmets mountain biking, and have a friend who would have been dead twice from road crashes without a helmet.

    OTOH, I definitely agree with the theory that helmets make young, dumb guys take even more and bigger risks than they would have without them. And these are the guys who then hit *other people* and injure them. The most important thing is both TRAINING AND ENFORCEMENT of proper behaviour, both at ski resorts and in traffic, but neither of these is likely to happen when it’s so much easier to legislate helmet use and claim to have fixed the problem.

    After decades of bicycle helmet use, I finally bought a ski helmet last year. But, it’s uncomfortable at times, way less adjustable than switching hats, too hot on climbs, bulky and heavy to carry when removed (it won’t fit in my pocket at all!), and so I’ve sort of semi given up on it.

    I get that if one is going to hit one’s head hard and/or frequently then wearing a helmet can be a sensible measure. OTOH, if one skis in control away from rockfall, avalanches and out-of-control resort denizens, then there is no way that a ski helmet is anywhere near as necessary as a bicycle helmet IMHO. Snow is generally a lot softer than rocks or bitumen after all.

    Unfortunately, ski resorts here in Oz are very crowded and operator competence is abysmal, so there is some argument for wearing helmets at resorts to reduce one’s chances of becoming collateral damage. IMO, the real answer to this is for people NOT to turn their brains off when entering resort property, but I don’t suppose anyone is going to try to do anything about that! Especially when the resorts make money selling alcohol – something that no doubt increases safety immensely.

    To sum up, in my opinion the main problems causing ski injuries are psychological, and helmets are designed to deal with mechanical problems. It would be better to try do something about the causes rather than just to attempt to mitigate the symptoms.

    I suppose the safest thing is just to stay in bed and never leave the house at all…

    PS: To the guy who complained about “old, crusty guys with Chorus 9 speed and steel frames.” FYI, Campy 9 speed came out in 1998 or 1999, so those old guys would likely be at least 30 now, maybe even older! WildSnow obviously has a much younger demographic than I’d previously thought.

  133. Lou March 30th, 2011 7:13 pm

    Stephen, thanks for chiming in. I noticed the helmet comments on the News post, and just figured a stand alone thread and associated post would be better, in the present as well as a resource for folks studying the issue in the future, so here we go… it’s actually been a bit more work than I anticipated (grin), but along with that my feelings have adjusted in some ways and gelled in others.

    I still don’t have a handle on why it’s such a hot button. Suspect that it is so because people perceive a bit of smoke and mirrors in the whole deal as it’s so much tougher to know how good a helmet is, over, say, knee pads. Thus, folks spend money, decide to depend on a safety device, then emotions rise up when the status quo is questioned.

  134. stephen March 30th, 2011 7:13 pm

    BTW Lou, I’m sure that the “gonadal shield” technology could easily be incorporated into ski helmets at little extra cost!

  135. Lou March 30th, 2011 7:19 pm

    Along with the neckbrace!

  136. See March 30th, 2011 7:27 pm

    Thanks, Lou, for your very interesting and informed suggestions on helmet design. Let’s hope some one in the industry is listening.

    Some thoughts:

    It seems to me a helmet should be as “soft” as possible, as long as it’s not so soft that the foam (or whatever) bottoms out when a “harder” material would absorb more energy before crushing completely. The design challenge would seem to be balancing the ability to absorb most of a moderate impact without sacrificing the ability to absorb more of a larger impact. For the same thickness, a softer helmet might offer better moderate impact protection, but worse severe impact protection.

    I suspect bouncing is more a function of the shell material than the liner material. Styrofoam doesn’t bounce that well. A very thin shell of some strong epoxy composite would, I suspect, provide lightweight protection against penetration, disintegration, and wear and tear, without being too “bouncy.” Thick abs shells are a lot “harder” in terms of bouncing than a paper-thin layer of composite material.

    Regardless, softer will probably have to be thicker, and that means contending with the dorkiness factor.

    I’m not sure a full face helmet that is not more prone to catching on snow is possible.

    MInimal vent holes = hot (unless you are moving fast, the wind is blowing over the helmet just right, or you mount some sort of fan). A helmet is not very useful if doesn’t get worn.

    I won’t comment on the POC helmet, because I’ve never seen one in person, except to say: abs shell and aramid layer, multi-impact foam, “pneumatic honeycomb” (bubble wrap?), minimal vents? Looks like this product line is aimed primarily at the type of skier I had in mind when I said maybe we have a culture problem, not a helmet problem.

    Don’t get me started on skier-x.



  137. stephen March 30th, 2011 9:05 pm

    “Soft” helmets is I think a bad term to use as it’s ambiguous.

    If soft means crushable foam – which absorbs impact force – then that’s not such a bad thing. However, bear in mind that the thinner and softer the foam, the smaller the impact needed to total the helmet.

    OTOH, there has been a lot of argument suggesting that soft *shelled* helmets are more dangerous for bicycling as the whole helmet can deform easily, then “stick” to the road, thus increasing spinal injuries dramatically. This was apparently particularly the case with the “lycra over foam” jobs, none of which are still being produced as far as I am aware. Similar arguments are laid against helmets which protrude too far and likewise tend to prevent the head sliding. Body mass then rotates the head around the (relatively stationary) contact point and “bends” the spine. Not such a good thing.

    It seems that the ideal protective helmet would have:
    1. A smooth, tough, hard, slippery shell to resist punctures and promote sliding
    2. A smooth, protrusion-free design
    3. Crushable foam that would be able to absorb as much energy as possible without making the helmet physically so big as to create other problems
    4. As much coverage as possible without being unwieldy

    And then if people are actually going to wear it for non-racing-mandated purposes it would also need to:
    5. Be reasonably light
    6. Have some ventilation
    7. Have whatever amenities the marketers think we should have (peaks, visors, inbuilt headphones, goggle and/or headlamp brackets, whatever)
    8. Appeal to the style conscious/kül doods/fashun viktimz out there if it’s actually going to be saleable

    It’s not going to be easy….

    At the moment, I think there are at least 3 or 4 types of snowsports helmets out there.
    * There are the helmets the FIS racers wear (I assume these are more protective than what’s for sale in my local ski/surf shop)
    * There are climbing/alpinism helmets designed to protect from stonefall
    * There are what I’m inclined to call “park and pipe” helmets (basically aimed at skateboarder types) and likely to have to withstand repeated impacts without being replaced
    * Then there are all the other ones which don’t have such a defined focus

    A lot of the technology is basically bicycle helmet technology (can you say Giro?), not that this is necessarily bad. The one I have fits like my Giro bike helmet (good for me), and uses the same harness and adjustment system, with features to make it warmer, etc, but there’s not a lot of difference in the basic structure or materials.

    It would be interesting to know what sorts of things snow helmets tended to hit (statistically), and where on the helmet are hit, and how hard. If this data was available it would perhaps help with both helmet design and user education.

  138. larry March 30th, 2011 9:30 pm


    Pardon the continued banter, but in an effort to prevent misunderstanding, I’d like to take issue with your statement “It is already proven statistically that snowsports helmets are not saving lives…” – where are such things reported?

    Whether helmets are actually saving lives is a question that statistically just hasn’t yet been determined with certainty. The actual number of deaths from skiing is still quite low from an absolute total number standpoint and it makes such calculations difficult given the current research . What is known is that there hasn’t been a dramatic drop in head injury rates in the recent years during which helmet-use has gone up. This could merely be due to the coincident increase in more “dangerous” styles of skiing/boarding (i.e. parks, jumps, higher speeds, etc). Additionally, use of a helmet does decrease your risk of a reported head injury (don’t know about death). Not to mention that there are a number of helmet wearers who bang their head and just head to the bar and all is well and are not counted as they might be if found stumbling and drooling, sans helmet, around the edge of a run by ski patrol.

    Just wanted to clarify for any impressionable readers that there isn’t convincing evidence that helmets specifically have had no effect on skiing mortality. Waiting for scientific clarification on this issue before donning a helmet is everyone’s individual choice, but I’ll side with the thought that if my head were to ever meet a rock, tree, or someone else’s head while skiing, I’d rather have some foam and plastic in between……………………Keep up the great site!


  139. Mark W March 30th, 2011 11:23 pm

    Regarding the “dork” factor, some not-so-cool looking helmets have been donned by folks who’ve suffered multiple concussions in NFL football. They’re noticeably thicker and less aerodynamic looking, but they do apparently work better at protecting the human brain. They look odd, so I doubt they’ll be seen except as a strange anomaly on the field.

    I think the notion that some things done by a helmet shod head may be potentially more damaging certainly is demonstrable in football–whether it is in skiing or not. Driving or spearing with the head has much to do with the wearer’s perception of the helmet’s protective value. Contrast that with similar contact sports, like rugby or Aussie rules football, where helmets are absent. Spearing with the head is not the problem there.

  140. Lou March 31st, 2011 7:10 am

    Larry, you can read about that here, and the studies are cited:

    Even the National Ski Areas Association acknowledges this grim fact:

    “There has been no significant reduction in fatalities over the past nine seasons even as the use of helmets overall has increased to 57 percent overall usage among skiers and snowboarders, and to as much as 43 percent within the population at greatest risk—experienced young adult male skiers and snowboarders.”

    Above from http://www.nsaa.org/nsaa/press/facts-ski-snbd-safety.asp

    Lots of things about snowsports head helmets are counter intuitive. To put it simply, the thinking the studies support goes at least in part like this: most accidents with enough force to kill a person from a head injury also cause other fatal injuries. Thus, having a helmet in those situations makes no difference in terms of life saved. What is more, if you read up on helmet standards, you’ll realized just how little protection snowsports helmets offer, and thus how little difference they make in a really hard crash in terms of the resulting head injury.

    Beyond that, my main point of this blog post was to bring up the issue of helmets not protecting adequately against concussions, since the damage from even minor concussions is cumulative, irreversible, and life changing. As for the sophomoric argument of “it could have been worse if he/she/I had not been using a helmet,” sure, but lets move on from that and ask, could it have been better?

    As James Moss says in the article linked above, helmets do a great job of protecting against certain types of injuries — as does a plastic bowl duct taped to your head. I’d add that the plastic bowl should have some crumpled newspapers added underneath to equal what a ski helmet does (grin), but the point is that even if everyone on the ski slopes was wearing a motorcycle helmet, the majority of fatality capable accidents caused by violent collisions would still be fatal, due to other types of trauma (neck, chest blunt force, femurs, spleens, etc.)

    More, other discussion you’ll find about statistics takes a simple and very common sense approach. They study the number of deaths per skier days, and correlate that with the rise in helmet use. Result? No marked correlation. In other words, if ski helmets save lives, by now there should be a significant drop in skier deaths per skier day that goes along with a significant rise in helmet use by skiers. There is not such a drop in deaths as far as I know from extensive reading. Beyond stories, beyond anecdotal evidence, beyond what anyone says (including me), those very simple numbers tell the tale.

    This guy sums it all up pretty well:


  141. Lou March 31st, 2011 7:39 am

    As far as I can tell, ski racing helmets don’t have to adhere to any greater standard than the voluntary standards that recreational helmets are designed usually designed to comply with


    But if I read it correctly, the Briko models have a neck brace (roll protector) and are of course lower around the temples, ears, and back of neck.

    Does anyone know if FIS has a helmet standard that’s any more stringent than the following link describes?


  142. Lou March 31st, 2011 7:51 am

    By the way, to all you guys interested in how helmets could actually be improved. In my reading I keep coming across statements about how a helmet should “distribute” forces. Sure, the helmet should and will do a bit of that as a matter of course, but the operative words are “absorb and decelerate.” Again, this is counter intuitive, but any force that’s “distributed” by a helmet shell has to be “distributed” somewhere else! Where else? Oh, perhaps your neck, for example? Or, and this is even hard to get, if the shell is hard and “distributes” force, it then does nothing to slow down the deceleration of your head, so when your head finally stops moving your brain bangs into the inside of your skull and you get a concussion. By “distributing” force, perhaps your helmet has saved you from a skull fracture, but you’ve still got just as bad a concussion. Less of a mess for the ski patrol, but still a heinous injury.

    Ideally, the helmet shell resists penetration from sharp objects and has a modicum of rigidity so the helmet holds up to day-to-day abuse as well as being able to slide easily on a surface when you take a tumble, but the helmet shell should deflect with no rebound in any significant impact. My opinion, based on lots of study.

    In other words: A good ski helmet can be built with a very rigid shell, but in turn the liner has to be thicker and softer. Thus, to keep helmets as sleek and lightweight as possible, the shell needs to be part of the energy absorptive and deceleration system.

  143. Bill March 31st, 2011 8:39 am

    I do not know where the parameters are that much different in the area of impact absorbtion than that of a bicycle helmet. Speeds are similar, if not, a little less for skiing unless you are looking at racing. I personally feel my Camp is too hard, not able to dissapate the energy and decelerate the the blow. I feel more comfortable safety wise wearing a bycycle helmet with a softer shell and have an extensive development and testing period to justify that design.

  144. Greg March 31st, 2011 4:34 pm

    Can helmets be made safer? Yes, but only so much. We’re about at the limit for good designs on the market today (flexible shell with deformable expanded polystyrene liner) without increasing bulk. In a hard impact the polystyrene deforms almost entirely. To be safer the helmet will need to decelerate your head more slowly on impact, which means using a thicker, but softer, layer of polystyrene.

    You might see something like an airbag that deploys out of your helmet in the future, but that’s probably a few years off. Other safety improvements might include shock sensors that warn you of a hard impact so you can watch for signs of traumatic brain injuries. Custom thermoformable helmet liners could improve fit so that the helmet stays in place during impact and reduces contra-coup.

    Should helmets be mandatory? Should the helmeted gaze upon the helmetless with disdain? That’s a matter of opinion, so I’ll pass on that discussion.

  145. aviator March 31st, 2011 6:12 pm

    @ lou

    “there has been no significant reduction in fatalities over the past nine seasons even as the use of helmets overall has increased to 57 percent ”

    you are reading this wrong, if there was no increase in fatalities in these last 9 years when people have been skiing so much faster harder and more irresponsibly than before this is a MAJOR SUCCESS for helmets

  146. aviator March 31st, 2011 6:28 pm


    Shock absorbing is not everything.
    You seem to think the human skull is completely rigid like steel or hard glass or something, like the distribution of the impact is already taken care of by the scull.

    Like the medically schooled/trained people up here explained, the skull “gives” a little in a small spot, and concussion and other brain damage is often extremely local, this happens even without skull fracture.

    We need helmet distribution to get an even impact on the absorbing layer and the skull.

  147. Art March 31st, 2011 8:25 pm

    I’m predicting Lou will see the error of his ways sooner rather than later, and come out tomorrow with a full-throated defense of helmet usage.

  148. Bar Barrique March 31st, 2011 9:43 pm

    Lou; thank you for another good blog post. I do not see anywhere in this thread where you are discouraging people from wearing helmets. You are just asking people to be aware of the limitations of current helmet designs.
    Aviator; I am a “baby boomer”, and I have been “slowing down” for the past nine years 😆 .

  149. Ptor April 1st, 2011 6:26 am

    I’d have to agree with Lou.
    Helmets could be vastly improved like using gel or liquid technology which deforms and dampens force far better than solids. But you’ll never get rid of all the G’s and that’s the bottom line. I’d say for many people, a little whack on the head is a good reminder to pay attention. Imagine how nutso a child would grow up if it had always worn a helmet while learning to walk. It would not understand a big lesson in life.
    Ski in control and at your level. Earth is a dangerous place. Shit happens. Mind your own friggin buisness (helmet laws are pure fascism and hypocrisy compared to tobacco).

  150. Lou April 1st, 2011 7:01 am

    Ptor, the G’s are indeed the problem… one idea for a solution is an airbag that deploys from the helmet before impact, thus increasing effective thickness of the helmet and starting the deceleration sooner. But I actually think it’s easier than that as the need appears to be for helmets that are simply better enough to prevent concussions such as Vonn’s. My understanding is that such a helmet is a bit thicker but still doable, but the main thing is that along with thicker it is also a bit softer.

    What’s probably needed is a revised standard, as well as companies touting the standard as part of their marketing.

    I’d agree that helmet laws tend to be fascism… people should be allowed to make their own decisions when it comes to helmet use, in my view…

  151. Jonathan Shefftz April 1st, 2011 7:15 am

    This really does seem to be turning into the Glen Beck Show. I mean, I really can’t recall my European history professor father describing restrictive safety laws as a defining characteristic of fascism. (And if only so many of my ancestors’ heads had received from the Nazis a mandatory helmet instead of a bullet.)

  152. Ptor April 1st, 2011 7:35 am

    A racer should be aware of what protection they are wearing and if they compromise safety for aerodynamics, lightness and their sponsors gear, that’s their own fault unless FIS has something to do with helmet specifications. Lindsay could have worn a bigger helmet and strapped a gymnastics landing pad to her head if she wanted to but racing is about taking chances so performance overrules safety sometimes just like freeriders in comps getting mashed in the rocks. Too bad for her and it sucks she got hurt… but its only a race.

  153. mc April 1st, 2011 8:16 am

    All those little nibbles from the plate of personal freedoms leaves you with an empty plate before long, Mr. Shefftz.

  154. Jonathan Shefftz April 1st, 2011 8:21 am

    I suppose you and Glen Beck can provide plenty of historical examples how fascist dictatorships came into power via the slippery slope of restrictive safety regulations?

  155. mc April 1st, 2011 8:45 am

    I don’t seem to recall any fascist related words in any of my posts, but I digress.
    Perhaps you have not the ability to see how over regulated we have become, or are you in the camp of those imposing the regulations that continue to limit or eradicate personal freedoms? Step back for a minute and examine all the ridiculous things that have been banned, legislated etc in your own lifetime. Personally, I find it a bit of a shocker. What’s next? When does it end?

  156. Jonathan Shefftz April 1st, 2011 8:51 am

    Agreed, only Lou and Ptor were equating restrictive safety regulation with fascism, but still, saying it leads to an “empty plate before long” sure doesn’t seem to match up with historical record of those nations that have actually moved away from democratic representation, constitutionalism, and human rights.

  157. Lou April 1st, 2011 9:09 am

    This Glen Beck example comes up, I’ll have to listen to him more and see what the fuss is about. Or perhaps not. I’ve got sat radio and Beck is on there, but I tuned in to him once a few weeks ago and he really didn’t hold my attention and I wasn’t impressed. I like some of the talkers and put them on the speakers here in the office when I need a human voice and some grist for thought. I listen to both the liberal and the conservative guys, but Beck just doesn’t do it for me.

    As for fascism, that’s indeed a pretty strong word (and perhaps the wrong one) for the endless dance we have with government over regulation. But it makes the point. and hopefully gets folks thinking about just how much nanny government is enough?

  158. Lou April 1st, 2011 9:15 am

    Jonathan, your European history professor obviously didn’t know what he was talking about (grin, I’m joking). How is that for a “Beckian” response (grin)?

    But seriously, if things get too “Beckish” around here I’d appreciate you guys pointing that out and educating me. To have it go too far that way doesn’t sound like a good thing. Perhaps some other websites and forums will do anything for traffic and comment count, but that’s not me and I don’t want to give that impression nor go down that road.

    In other words, help and feedback appreciated.

  159. Lou April 1st, 2011 9:43 am

    Just to keep this semi on-track, anyone have any idea how we could set up a home-brew helmet test? Folks do it with melons, but no way to know if the melons are consistent from one to the other. Best would be actually using an accelerometer combined with a helmet drop. Far as I know the accelerometers in things like smart phones don’t measure enough G’s to be useful…. Ideas? Any engineers out there want to cobble us up an accelerometer and data read-out we could mount on a headform? We don’t need much data, just max G’s.

  160. tester April 1st, 2011 3:45 pm

    Personally I don’t often wear a helmet when backcountry skiing and I doubt I will soon change my behavior. But this study seems like a very good case FOR helmets, not AGAINST them.

    The final statement is “When the impact was onto simulated hard, icy snow, the helmet reduced the average measured g-load from 329 to 162 …. When the impact was against the fixed object, the helmet reduced the values from 696 to 333 …”

    We all have taken high-speed hard falls onto a variety of surfaces and survived. (The ones that didn’t survive aren’t participating in this discussion.) So reducing the G forces on your head by 50% seems like a very good reason to wear a helmet.

  161. Muddy Hollow April 3rd, 2011 4:32 pm

    So who makes a good helmet? POC? Sweet Protection?

    I’m a big fan of helmets. To many knocks on the head from tree branches…. need a full face version to avoid shaving with maple branches. 😉

  162. Lou April 3rd, 2011 4:49 pm

    Muddy, that’s part of the problem. Snowsports helmets are certified to a rather minimal standard in my opinion (though some would disagree and say the snowsports helmet standard is good). Thus, after the standard all you’re left with is manufacturer claims of why their helmet is better. What we need is some independent testing to higher standards. I’d recommend that such testing concentrated on impact deceleration with ensuing helmet damage being okay to some degree. There is too much emphasis in helmet marketing BS about how “strong” helmets are. Who cares how strong they are, what they’re supposed to do is decelerate your head when you hit something. So long as a helmet can stand up to a few good whacks, it can turn to powder afterward so long as it does a good job of preventing brain concussion. If they can build a helmet that lasts forever — as well as being super protective — so much the better. But job one is protection, after that they can brag about how “strong” their helmet is.

  163. Jon Moceri April 5th, 2011 11:33 am

    Lou, as a former paramedic and currently an anesthesiologist, I totally agree with all your questions and concerns presented here. For everybody else, you must read the article that Lou cited about motorcycle helmet standards and injuries. I think the concepts presented apply to the snow sports industry as well.

    I rode minibikes and motocross bikes growing up, and remember the whole Snell vs DOT debate. And I just looked my Shoei motorcycle helmet. It’s DOT, RF-900 and Snell approved. I’ll be looking for a new helmet now without the Snell approval.

    I also don’t understand why there hasn’t been any discussion about Vonn’s head injury. You have brought up a very good point.

    I wear a helmet when at a ski area. Mostly to keep me from getting the knock from the chairlift bar, ski’s and snowboarders. I don’t wear one in the backcountry.

    The best helmet for reducing concussions will be softer and slowly decelerate the head. And you’d have to replace it after each crash. How many of the readers here have replaced their helmet after a good crash where the helmet took a good blow? I bet zero. Why? Because the helmets are too stiff and there is no visible damage to the helmet.

    I would buy a Wildsnow approved helmet because it would have been tested by a guy who understands the risks and needs of the backcountry skier. Lou, you could get $1 for each “Wildsnow Approved” sticker applied to each helmet.

    Just for fun, here’s a good video of Evel Knievel testing his Bell Magnum helmet:

  164. Lou April 5th, 2011 12:23 pm

    If POC or someone else serious about positioning their hard hats as superior to the competition wants to make a helmet that exceeds the ASTM Snowsports voluntary helmet standard to any significant degree in terms of G-force mitigation and thus concussion prevention, I’d be up for providing stickers. Would need to see proof from independent testing lab, not just website verbiage and marketing speak…

  165. Gentle Sasquatch April 5th, 2011 1:19 pm

    If a helmet was soft then why would we need to replace it? A boxing helmet lasts a very long time. 🙂

  166. Lou April 5th, 2011 1:58 pm

    Gentle, it’s because the best functioning helmet would have very little rebound and energy absorption and deceleration would have to thus be taken care of by material sacrifice. Such a helmet could be made so you could “reset” it by using a suspension system that elongated and could be reset, but that would be very expensive and difficult to make. A helmet that crushes works much better. Another way to make a good helmet would be to use some sort of material that crushed easily enough, then rebounded slowly (over minutes or hours) to its previous thickness and state. Pretty sure there are some helmets out there that use at least some foam of that sort… but cost is an issue so most ski helmets are simply made from a thickness of crushable foam that is sacrificed. Where they can pick up better performance is by not using quite so rigid of a shell (to allow a smoother crush with less rebound), as well as additional thickness.

    Not sure about a boxing helmet, but being hit by a boxing gloved hand is different than hitting your head on a fence post while moving 20 mph (let the prize fighter jokes commence). Also, boxers are not known for surviving their careers unscathed by brain injury…

  167. Gray April 5th, 2011 3:02 pm

    This is perhaps the most interesting paragraph in the motorcycle article Lou linked to

    “The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL) has created a g-tolerance standard for helicopter crewpersons’ helmets. For a two-meter drop height, the same drop height we used in 3/4 of our testing, the Army allows no more than 150 gs to the earcup areas of the head, which they have determined are especially vulnerable, and no more than 175 gs on other areas. Should we motorcyclists?who are often older, not as fit, and not quite so willing to die or sustain head injuries as eager young soldiers?accept g tolerance levels of 300g for the same hits?”

    Comparing that to the snowboarder study, a fall on icy snow goes from being “bad”/unsurvivable to within the acceptable range.

    Perhaps snowsports helmets need to look to the military to get ideas for how to better protect snow enthusiasts heads.

  168. Lou April 5th, 2011 3:40 pm

    If you’ve seen helicopter crew helmets, you know they do have some space for the head to decelerate. They’re quite bulbous. Now we know why. They work.

  169. tim nash April 6th, 2011 1:03 pm

    If any one missed it — check out Jimmy Chin’s comments after a recent 2,000 foot ride in the Tetons. Methinks those dents would have been in his skull but for the brain bucket….


  170. stephen April 8th, 2011 9:00 pm

    On April 1, Lou mentioned the idea of a “home-brew helmet test.” I’m not sure that home-brew is so dangerous that a helmet is required, but I’d suggest sending the idea for the test to Myth Busters – any results should at least be entertaining.

  171. Lou April 8th, 2011 9:13 pm

    Appropriate I mentioned that on April 1, because most of the helmet demonstrations you see on the net are a joke — such misleading BS it is nearly criminal. For example, sticking a melon in a helmet and dropping it, then dropping a melon without a helmet. It looks cool when the melon bursts, and oh ah ah oh oh it doesn’t burst when it’s inside the helmet. Duh. I saw one of those tests recently where they said the helmet and melon where moving 30mph when they hit, and they made it look like the helmet was super effective. What they failed to mention was that going in with your head at 30 mph to a hard immovable surface, _with_ a snowsports certified helmet, was still going to cause permanent brain damage, spinal injury, and/or death. More, a much lower speeds, when the melon would look fine, a human would still have a brain concussion that was either serious enough to be life altering, or at the least would contribute to cumulative damage.

    So, what I mean by “homebrew” is something that has a repeatable way of measuring force, and even if the exact force couldn’t be quantified as an accelerometer does, the test could at least be used to compare brands and models and see who is actually making helmets that do a better job of decelerating the head than the ASTM standard.

  172. stephen April 8th, 2011 9:35 pm

    Agreed! Hitting anything immovable at 30 mph isn’t going to be good for one’s health. Can I assume that when you say “immovable surface” above you are talking about a 90 degree impact, rather than a low-angle sliding one?

    It still seems to me that there probably need to be more than one type of snowsports helmet. Resort use would presumably not need as much ventilation as climbing in the BC in spring/summer, and protection from rockfall would be a non-issue. (I guess climbing helmets are there to deal with the latter.)

    The other important thing is for there to be some easy way to tell when one’s helmet needs to be replaced. This is not always obvious as sometimes the foam can be compressed where this is not visible. I suspect that any impact resulting in a headache lasting more than a few seconds means it’s time for a new helmet though.

    One problem with helmet testing is that it is an expensive exercise. For it to work reliably, helmets need to be tested from each batch made. presumably, any that make it to retail distribution should be part of a batch which has been tested, so any WildSnow obtained should be reasonably representative.

    This doesn’t get around needing to test protection from various types of impact at different angles. All this data should already be out there, if only at the standards testing labs – might this be accessible online? If not, then the only ones who know will probably be the manufacturers, and if they aren’t willing to release information on their data and testing methodology, it’s not too likely they’d be keen on sending Lou lots of free samples to test.

  173. Lou April 9th, 2011 7:38 am

    Once we figure out a way to measure impact, I’ll bet we can get enough helmets to make for some interesting testing. Main thing I want to do is test a couple of the ones that claim to be superior, against a couple of average ones. My test would be a simple one that would measure acceleration (deceleration) in a standardized impact. So long as the impact of each helmet is the same, it really doesn’t matter what the impact surface is, nor the angle, but it’s probably easiest to just set things up for a 90 degree impact on a solid flat surface. I’d just measure it on top of the helmet, again, same on each one. If we had the money I’d just pay a testing lab, there are a couple out there that specialize in things like helmets and are totally set up to test.

  174. Lou May 2nd, 2011 11:59 am

    You guys who think I’m full of it might want to look at where the Candian ski team might be going with helmets. They came out and said it, that ski helmets might need to be better. http://tinyurl.com/42u54hs

  175. Lou May 5th, 2011 5:56 am

    Alpine Canada comes out with their new ski racing safety policy, which includes recommending

    “A Canadian-based study examining possible changes to helmets to prevent concussions and better protect the brain.”


    Those of you who think our take on helmets is BS might want to talk to Alpine Canada as well and make sure they’re not led astray.

  176. stephen May 13th, 2011 4:50 am

    From Lou’s URL above:

    “According to the FIS, 42 per cent of World Cup skiers suffered injuries in 2009. ”

    From reading the other stuff it sounds as if most of the Canadian team has been out for at least part of the last season or two. The injury rate appears to be much higher than what I might have guessed.

    Cannot imagine any reason why one wouldn’t choose to protect oneself as much as practical given the apparent odds of serious injury. Now I know why I go BC skiing!

  177. Jonathan Shefftz May 18th, 2011 8:21 pm

    Looks like Skiing mag is taking up Lou’s suggestion for some real-world helmet testing: http://tinyurl.com/6y8zxcp

  178. Lou May 18th, 2011 8:28 pm

    Hi Jonathan, someone shared that a while ago. Total BS and very irresponsible of Skiing Mag to be implying that just because a melon receives less damage inside a helmet, that somehow means the helmet is adequately effective at preventing human brain injury. Their presentation made me sick to my stomach it was so irresponsible. Good example of everything that’s bad about pop journalism and mags such as Skiing cashing in their credibility for cheap clicks and web traffic. At first I thought it was at least funny, but it’s too misleading and irresponsible to be funny.

  179. Jonathan Shefftz May 19th, 2011 5:39 am

    I thought Skiing intended it as a joke? If otherwise, then rather astounding.

  180. Lou May 19th, 2011 6:49 am

    Jonathan, perhaps it was a joke, but if so it wasn’t couched that way strongly enough, in my opinion. It reeked of “me to, click on me, giggle giggle.”

    Mostly, just goes to show that printed magazines are getting to the point where they have no more credibility and skill with this stuff than anyone else.

    I’ve wracked my brains and inquired of several engineers about how we could conduct a meaningful helmet test in our workshop. So far, I have not found a solution. Doing this well most certainly doesn’t involve buying fruit at a grocery store.

    The thing about magazines is that they portray themselves as and are perceived as the top dogs in the media. You’d expect THEM to be the ones doing a meaningful helmet test. Instead, they go fruit shopping and leave it up to some guy in his garage. Just makes me sick.

  181. Gray July 19th, 2011 12:05 pm

    Here is an interesting article about football helmets. Not entirely the same thing but relevant to the discussion.


    The author of the article has long criticized the NFL for its lack of concussion protection policies.

    Maybe the researchers at Virginia Tech would be willing to do a similar test for snowsports helmets. Then maybe some of the snowsports helmet makers could do some collaboration with the football helmet makers.

  182. Lou July 19th, 2011 1:31 pm

    Gray, thanks, that article is a terrific piece of journalism. Only thing it lacks is tech details on how they make helmets protect better for concussion.

  183. stephen July 19th, 2011 10:52 pm

    ^^ Very interesting piece, even for someone who knows nothing about NFL. Vested interests are universal it seems…

  184. Hannah December 15th, 2011 10:19 pm

    In answer to the discussion about why a better “soft” helmet is not available: An unfortunate reality for helmet manufacturers doing business in the US is litigation. Standards offer manufacturers some level of defense from an otherwise frivolous and massively expensive US legal system. A downside to standards that are created largely for this defensive purpose is that it is extremely difficult to change the standards. Sure, new studies and superior materials may come along. But if the standard is “raised”, what then is your liability for all your “less-than-standard” products still being widely used? What manufacturer would dare lead the way and deviate from the old standard? How does a human safety products industry politically and legally raise it’s bar? Lengthening the duration of deceleration and thereby reducing forces upon the head has long been known to be desireable (for decades). The glancing or sliding impact has long been known as the most common type of human-powered sports head impact. Materials have existed for many years, such as closed cell PU foam, which perform much better at deceleration in this type of impact than typical “hard” EPS foams or harnesses found in most helmets today. Sadly, standards have not changed to promulgate helmet improvement because of the stasis created by legal realities. And they’re not likely to change in the future.

  185. Lou Dawson February 6th, 2013 8:45 am

    Hannah, that is a very informed take. Thanks so much. I’d never thought about how supposedly useful and consumer protecting “standards” actually can work against us in that way. Disturbing. Lou

  186. Charlie February 6th, 2013 11:45 am

    There’s plenty of room for a disruptive manufacturer to demonstrate superior protection in a realistic accident and offer up a draft standard.

    In the technology industry (802.11 wireless comes to mind), manufacturers often design to, and comment on, draft standards as they evolve.

    This is, of course, easier if a new helmet meets the old standard as well as offering improved protection.

    As I’ve said before (further up in this thread, by happenstance), helmet thickness imposes severe constraints on what’s physically possible. The range of impacts (getting hit in the head with a lift safety bar to hitting a tree at mach-looney) also complicates things, especially if the helmet must survive multiple impacts.

  187. Barry June 10th, 2013 10:38 am

    While I tend to agree on all you said, No helmet will ever be totally 100% protective. I was a consultant hired by POC to help establish their USA operations several years ago and was very involved with and impressed by their focus on trying to make a safer ski helmet (and now bike). I remember spending time with the owner in Sweden trying to explain that in America even if a skier was hurt wearing a ski POC helmet they would likely be sued anyway, despite the fact that the skier would likely been killed or even more seriously brain damaged if he or she wore no helmet at all. This was very hard for a European to grasp. It will always be a no-win situation. At the end of the day I would simply assume that you are certainly better off wearing any type of head protection than none at all and that technology will keep producing safer helmets moving forward.

    As Jerry Seinfeld said in one of his famous routines below….

    “There are many things that we can point to that proof that the human being is not smart. The helmet is my personal favorite. The fact that we had to invent the helmet. Now why did we invent the helmet? Well, because we were participating in many activities that were cracking our heads. We looked at the situation. We chose not to avoid these activities, but to just make little plastic hats so that we can continue our head-cracking lifestyles.

    The only thing dumber than the helmet is the helmet law, the point of which is to protect a brain that is functioning so poorly, it’s not even trying to stop the cracking of the head that it’s in…”

  188. Matthew Denniston June 10th, 2013 10:59 am

    If I have to have a concussion, I’d rather not also have to deal with a skull fracture / massive bleeding head wound.

    If we could get some better helmets that would be great too, obviously, but I’m not sure how not buying/wearing the currently existing helmets would facilitate that.

    Sounds like a job for more competition and less regulation to me, but then, most everything does.

  189. Charlie June 10th, 2013 11:06 am

    Thanks, Lou!

  190. Harry June 10th, 2013 11:13 am

    I got to play around with the Scott and POC MIPS bike helmets the other day and I was very impressed. Especially on the POC side it is going to take some time to refine the design style, comfot and size wise.

    The POC seemed to go further on the saftey side, although I have no research to back that up. The secondary shell attached by replaceable sheer pins was very cool. It made it look goofy and bulky however.

    I expect the Scott is going to get more traction with consumers initially because it look more or less like a regular helmet, and the price premium is minimal. It is fun to be able to talk about saftey to customers again after all these years

    “Not really,” he said. “They all pass the same certification test.” The difference, he told us, is in style, fit, comfort, and ventilation.”

    That sounds like the exact line our shop has to use everyday. The positive is that it puts people at ease and prevents the use of fear to drive up the price of products. The downside is that I can’t offer increased saftey untill now. It will be interested over the comming seasons finding a balance between projection, goofyness, and price.

  191. Jack June 10th, 2013 11:32 am

    I don’t have references for this, but I have read that, in bicycling, most of the energy of impact is produced by the vertical fall off the bike (as opposed to forward velocity), assuming no fixed objects are hit. Intuitively, it seems like the acceleration caused by head snap (back strikes, the head whips down and impacts icy surface) must be a significant additive factor.
    This is a serious issue. A woman friend suffered traumatic brain injury in a low-speed fluky, “over the tips” fall that required > 1year of recovery.
    In my mind, skiing is psychologically healthy in that skiers have to balance risk v.s thrill. Brain injury is a pretty darned significant risk.

  192. Lou Dawson June 10th, 2013 1:14 pm

    I have to admit to a bit of “told you so” bliss with this. Please allow me a 6 second moment of rude non-humble pleasure (grin).

    Seriously, after seeing what happened to Vonn and now Sarah Burke , I felt it was so obvious that helmets needed to be better and that wearing present ones might not be all that effective, but wow did I get attacked on that concept. Now we get improved helmets. I guess a lot of you will be staying with the same helmets, as they were so good (grin)?

    On a more serious note, the huge huge problem for both bicycle and ski helmets is they have to remain quite light in weight, while improving protection. Really difficult to achieve. At the least, my theory is they must have more distance between skull and shell, to allow slower deceleration as well as low impact and rotation protection. But that’s just off-the-cuff theory.

    Someone a while back brought up the fact that what we probably ultimately need is a reactive helmet, sort of an airbag for the head and neck…. like the stuff they’re developing for motorcycle riders.


  193. Phil Miller June 10th, 2013 2:47 pm


    A racer going 80 mph needs a helmet much stronger than skiers going 40, right? And if they are already requiring breathable suits for racers and making them spend hundreds of dollars for them all in the name of safety… I just don’t get why racer’s helmets (especially for DH) have to be so light. I understand that g-forces for heavy helmets are greater than for light helmets – In 68-74 I raced in my dad’s Bell helmets he’d retired from auto racing. THOSE were heavy, but they didn’t slow me down! OTOH, I wasn’t going much faster than 65-70 in those days – racers average 10-20 mph faster now.

  194. Robin June 10th, 2013 3:39 pm

    There already is a inflated helmet for bike. This perticular helmet is aimed at the comuter that are more worried about his/her hair looking good then cracking their head open 😀


  195. Lou Dawson June 10th, 2013 4:21 pm

    Robin, I thought that was just a prototype? Saw it a few years ago, thought the concept was viable. Lou

  196. Lou Dawson June 10th, 2013 4:23 pm

    Phil, actually, skiers are easily hitting the 60mph range. I didn’t mention it in my post, but that’s another reason most snowsports helmets are a joke. Lou

  197. Charlie June 10th, 2013 5:46 pm

    The mechanism that works for the inflating bike helmet won’t work for many skiers; it has an accelerometer with freefall detection. When skiers move down the mountain, in bumps, off windlips, drops, etc., we’re momentarily weightless. It’s definitely the case for ski racers when they go over jumps. Some sort of reliable pre-impact detection may be the only way to make an inflating ski helmet work well. Avoiding false triggers and functioning correctly when the helmet is covered in newfallen wet snow will both be tricky.

    The underlying problem is that helmets need to be thick to spread out impact duration, but thick helmets are mostly unworkable.

    Good helmet engineering is hard. The Bicycling article’s emphasis on twisting motions is interesting.

  198. biggb June 10th, 2013 10:11 pm

    this is a bigger issue to me in whitewater kayaking than snow sports. Having paddled the North Fork of the Payette over the last few years there has been several (2+ in 2 years) fatalities because of folks flipping, taking knocks to the head and losing consciousnesses and drowning. I see so many paddlers with what i always considered worthless helmets as my standard was the hard plastic / eps foam / liner foam model. Most whitewater hits are going to be sharp blows and / or lower speed hits. Maybe my super nice helmet isn’t the best for my head in these types of situations.

  199. Halsted June 10th, 2013 10:16 pm

    Too many comments here.

    Screw it, I’ll just ware my old construction hard hat, next season.


  200. John Gloor June 10th, 2013 11:29 pm

    I just wanted the 200th posting here. I ride motorcycles and bikes with helmets all the time. I am about 50% skiing. I am hoping for abrasion/fracture protection, and counting on it less for concussion protection.

  201. frisco June 11th, 2013 5:30 am

    Good topic. I guess its important to ski a bit slower especially when there are changing conditions and obstacles, trees etc. Easy enough for me, but I go skiing with my 15 year old, who likes to go faster than I do. I just tell him to always be on an edge ready to stop, and to keep a distance from other people, rocks and trees, then hope for the best. I occasionally also try to “scare him straight” explaining what a severe concussion could to his quality of life. He listens.

  202. Jack June 11th, 2013 10:01 am

    Reflecting on this, I’m amazed at the prevalence of concussion in my own family, a family of skilled skiers:
    Self: concussion and skull fracture, age 11, fall from bike (standing on the seat, “surfing”)
    Son1: collision with tree, age 8, no concussion. concussion age 13, fall from gym equipment.
    Son2: mild concussion, age 12, crash after ski jump (he made the grab)
    Boy’s Mother: severe concussion with TBI, low speed ski fall.
    I don’t think this is a really unusual history. it just shows how common this is in motion sports.

  203. Lou Dawson June 11th, 2013 11:05 am

    Jack, indeed, this concussion issue is tragic. You get something like three of them in a lifetime, and the fourth can be lifestyle shattering. It is patently ridiculous that helmets are being sold that only protect you at one narrow band/speed of impact energy, with zilch protection at high impacts, and certain concussion injury at a fairly broad band of lower impacts due to the liner not compressing.

    Mountain biking as well as park/pipe are producing young adults that have already used up their allotted lifetime concussion allowance. Their brains are ticking bombs, waiting for one more impact with that “helmet” their parents have worked diligently to make sure they’ve worn since they were 2 years old. Just tragic — but perhaps a helmet with the right color and built-in speakers solves the problem.

  204. Lou Dawson June 11th, 2013 11:12 am

    I’d add that I’m sure I’ve had at least one concussion, perhaps two, but very mild and both happened while wearing a helmet. One while mountain biking and one while playing roller hockey (concrete is hard).

  205. stephen June 11th, 2013 10:03 pm

    Thanks for posting the Bicycling link Lou. 🙂

    I hadn’t been aware of that article or some of the conclusions in it. Shakespeare was right: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

    I’m wondering though if snowsports helmets all need to be super lightweight. I’d think most of the market was resort skiers, and given they – and their helmets – are carried uphill, I wouldn’t think a little extra weight would be a big deal. For BC use, then yes, weight and ventilation will be more important, but then speeds will generally be lower, so I would imagine impacts would also be less on average.

  206. Mark W June 11th, 2013 10:54 pm

    I know a former hockey player who has had three or more concussions. With the last one, the doctor said no more hockey because another concussion would likely be dramatically life altering, perhaps fatal. Scary stuff for sure.

    I hope the MIPS style helmets like the Giro and POC become more common. If we can truly reduce concussions, I’d buy one for each member of my family.

  207. stephen June 11th, 2013 11:37 pm

    ^ I wonder what counts as a concussion for the purposes of adding them up to determine risk. I’ve been knocked out once (very briefly) but have had a few others that have involved headaches for periods ranging from a few minutes to one of ~24 hours when I wrote off a bike helmet.

    Obviously, no impact is good, but how paranoid should I be? I’m guessing that seeing I’ve had no significant symptoms except from the knockout, the others probably haven’t been too significant, but there’s a niggling worry about the last straw…

    I’d definitely be prepared to pay more for something that had some scientific evidence suggesting it reduced risk, but is anyone going to be able to produce any without being sued???

  208. Lou Dawson June 12th, 2013 6:14 am

    Stephen, to be realistic that sounds like at least two for sure. My understanding is if you get knocked out it’s axiomatic that you have a concussion. I remember from first aid class that getting knocked out is mandatory trip to the hospital. Any neurologists care to comment?

  209. Lou Dawson June 12th, 2013 6:42 am

    Regarding weight, I’d agree that adding a bit of weight for a lot more protection could be worth it. For example, even if the average ski helmet was an ounce heavier it would still be quite light.

    The problem with all this, that bears repeating, is that shoppers generally don’t buy helmets because one could be safer than the other, they simply buy what fits and looks ok, assuming that if it’s called a “helmet” it protects them adequately. More, astute shopper of course look to see if helmet conforms to a standard, but most don’t realize how out dated the standards are, and how minimal.

    But, if they improve the standard, we start the whole mess all over again because the standards are so static and so rigid. What we need is for the CPSC to implement a new way of doing standards for safety devices, that has a built-in process for medical science advances, improvement and innovation. They can start with snowsport helmets.

  210. jriph June 12th, 2013 2:52 pm

    “if you get knocked out it’s axiomatic that you have a concussion. I remember from first aid class that getting knocked out is mandatory trip to the hospital”

    Not a neurologist, but anaesthetist.

    The answer is 2x yes.

    As I have seen my share of carnage I say wear a helmet ( even if the current ones are not ideal and could and should be improved) . Almost anything traumatic can be sewn, bolted, pinned, screwed or cemented back together, but a scrambled brain is just that. Anything that can shave a few G’s of the impact is worth it.

    I have seen what happens when you punch a bit of skull into the superior sagittal sinus (the really large venous return located at the top of your brain/skull), It involves franticly working on a patient while standing in a steadily increasing large pool of blood while you see the patient die.

    Your brain is basically a piece of fairly stiff Jell-O floating in liquor inside a bony container. This configuration works quite decently for on radial impact, as the fluid will flow from high pressure to low pressure zone ( can’t be compressed).
    however this effect is a lot less (and would be near zero of your brain was a perfect sphere) if you rotate the container. ( just put an egg in a glass of olive oil.. bump it and note that the egg will not readily bump into the glass wall. turn the glass and the egg stays stationary.. great.. total decoupling then.). However as the brain is not just floating about fully freely but it is attached to some bits that are attached to the skull things will have to deal with shear forces. Furthermore the brain is sort of oblong thus will quite quickly start to bump into the skull when rotated. This is one of the reasons why POC tried to mitigate the effects with a double shell.

    For very large impacts you get a shockwave that travels back an forth making your neuron’s do a harlem shake while your brain bumps back and forth and compresses and expands (neurons are not particularly stretchy I might add).

    I noticed that people that suffer a blow straight to the face (breaking a few things like a jaw, maxilla, frontal sinuses and the whole bony bit you nose sits on) generally have less brain trauma (less being to operative word here) as the crumple zone has dissipated quite a bit of energy.

    If you look at crumple cells that are used in racecars (like F1.. not nascar) it is very clear that you can dissipate energy using very compact structures ,very well if you use the right technique.

    Remember bullet proof vests aren’t really all bullet proof either and sure don’t help if you get shot in the head, and 27 air bags in your car will not always save you.

  211. dmr June 17th, 2013 12:48 am

    Thanks for the article, Lou. A great read.

    Even though I wear a helmet almost religiously when skiing/rock climbing/mountaineering, I’ve never considered one to be the magic wand in safety, just one component. That written, I’ll admit that I’ve thought little about rotational forces.

    Do you (or does anyone) know if a breakdown in the stats exists somewhere to provide more detail in terms of what type of riding – downhill mtb, road riding, city riding, etc. – the injured was doing when s/he received a concussion?


  212. WMM July 19th, 2013 11:42 am

    Good article. With two kids that ride motocross, it bothers me greatly that snow “recreational” helmets are so sub-par. In ’94, for example, I had (still have) a full face kayaking helmet (you can imagine the desire for something like that when you are upside down in a fast moving river, with large submerged boulders. Yet here we are nearly 20 years later and full face helmets are not available for the recreational skier. As suggested above, when comparing protective snow gear to moto gear, snow gear is extremely lacking although many of the impact forces experienced in both sports are similar. When I send my kids out on their dirtbikes, they have the latest helmets, neck braces, body protection (similar to a bull riding vest), elbow and knee pads, and MX boots. When I send them out on the slopes, they wear snow helmets and cold weather gear, and that’s about it. Seems the manufacturers are more concerned about iPod integration in snow helmets than protection. The manufacturers of protective snow gear will only make improvements if the consuming public demands it. Blogs like this certainly help. Thanks.

  213. WMM July 19th, 2013 11:48 am

    I should clarify, there are full face snow helmets out there (Giro, for example), but I can say I haven’t seen one person wearing one on the slopes yet (sans a couple in competition). I know my kids will likely have them on their noggins next season. At least it’s a step in the right direction.

  214. John Gloor July 19th, 2013 12:25 pm

    WMM, those helmets scream “I am so hardcore”. I hope your kids can deliver:)

  215. Pierre askmo October 9th, 2013 10:40 am

    That’s a fantastic article Lou and addresses a touchy issue in my home. I am 56 and the only one in a family of 5 refusing to wear a helmet. Everyone asks in total bewilderment with a not so subtle hint of disapproval: why on earth would you not? It’s pretty bad when your pre-teener and teenagers are more rational than you are… I ski almost exclusively in the BC most of the time not so fast but every now and then the urge to straght line will overpower me. So indeed why? Because for me skiing comes with a mystical connection to the mountains and their environment. I need to hear everything that is going on around me (not for safety reasons although it is often safer to get early warniongs about stuff you haven’t seen et), I want to hear and feel the wind around me and I generally need all senses involved and submerged by my environment when I ski or I will feel I tainted the whole experience. If it has to involve a little extra risk so be it. Although I take safety (especially avy safety very seriously) I think it is important for skiers to admit that we are not in the BC for any “safety firtst” reasons. We are there first and foremost for the skiing experience. I will take measures to mitigate the risk but not at the expense of the core of experience itself. For that core experience I will even accept some extra risk.

  216. stevenjo October 9th, 2013 3:19 pm

    Lou – only wildsnow could produce over two years of bickering about ski helmets… and the clock is still running:)

    Any thoughts on the latest greatest technologies that we should keep an eye for in our next family helmet purchases? I’m only seeing MIPS but had hoped other advancements had taken place since you first posted this.


  217. Lou Dawson October 9th, 2013 5:11 pm

    Stevenjo, the big thing will be features that reduce twisting forces. Beyond that, it is physically impossible to more slowly decelerate a head in a helmet with such a small distance to work with. Helmets probably simply need to be a bit thicker, that’s my understanding. They’re so thin now that even 1/4 inch thicker could probably result in a significant improvement in performance. Problems however:

    1. The ski helmet standard dictates what most manufacturers work to. It is a minimal standard, in my opinion, and needs to be improved.

    2. Consumers simply do not understand how a helmet works, and doesn’t. The key thing is deceleration, but many people think the helmet just spreads out the force of a blow over a wider surface area, with some “padding.”

    3. Most people I speak with do not acknowledge or understand that you’re only allowed a few concussions in your life. After multiple concussions, even if the helmet saves your life, you’ve got problems.

    4. Making a helmet thick enough to be a leap in performance might not look good.

  218. Pablo October 10th, 2013 7:35 am

    4 point is more about fashion.
    Why a thicker helmet should be watched as uglier than a thiner one?

    Most people find thick big cars look better than thiner (and sometimes more efficient ones)

    Most people finds that baggy-thicker pants looks better than elastic-thinner softshell pants even when the last are better for skinning in most conditions

    So it’s just a change of mind to see more atractive a thin helmet than a thicker one. And Marketing con do it

  219. Ziggy October 13th, 2013 4:12 pm

    As a motorcyclist of 40 years these are some of the things that I’ve learned:

    You can design an excellent helmet if you know the precise circumstances of the crash. But you can’t predict that as those circumstances vary a good deal. So by definition a helmet is a compromise.

    Varying the EPS density of the helmet liner addresses part of the need for different parts of the helmet to perform in different ways.

    Rotational forces are starting to be addressed: first by neck braces and second by neck air-bags, but third in helmet design by having two layers of liner that can move in relation to each other. The first two are impractical for the recreational user but the 3rd shows promise.

    Helmets are consumables. They do their job once. One blow and the EPS is compromised and the unit should be tossed. Also the EPS hardens over time and 5 years is a practical limit to its use.

  220. Pierre askmo October 13th, 2013 4:29 pm

    Ziggy, that is one imformative contribution. Thanks for that, I learned a lot in just those few paragraphs! I had never viewed these as consumables, this makes POCs concept a lot less foreign to me.

  221. Steve October 17th, 2013 1:07 pm

    So Lou, my friend’s son, a HS senior quarterback with 2 concussions already this season (I know, I know), was recently on our local news wearing a Guardian football helmet cover. I was interested in your take.

    Basically, it’s a “soft shell” that goes on over the “hard shell” regular helmet and has a bunch of cushioned pods. The idea seems to be that the cushioned, slippery cover might absorb and mitigate some of those rotational forces that the MIPS tries to address. They (Guardian) do go to great lengths to make sure you understand that they’re not claiming their product reduces concussions. But it does seem like in some cases the design could work and my friend’s son feels it makes a difference.

    Sure, the current design would probably be laughed off the ski hill. But it could get around the problem of certification since you’d wear it over top of a certified helmet.

  222. Lou Dawson October 17th, 2013 1:29 pm

    Steve, super interesting. Sorry to hear about the concussions. Isn’t the rule of thumb you only want three over your whole lifetime, ideally?

    The concept of an add-on is intriguing. Just think, you’re on the ski hill and you’ve either got a stylish padded hat (known as a ski helmet), or you put the add-on cover over it for something that’ll really protect you. Hmmmm


  223. Steve October 17th, 2013 2:35 pm

    That’s the rule of thumb I’ve also heard. At least in Idaho high school sports, apparently it’s 3 strikes and you’re out. If he gets another one he’s ineligible for any more high school sports, not just football. The potential for long term damage is pretty scary really, my sons play lacrosse which has a pretty high concussion potential as well. I’d consider the helmet cover for them.

    For skiing, the current product looks to have pretty significant drawbacks – bulk, ventilation, snow accumulation potential, etc. But I agree it’s an intriguing idea worth looking at.

  224. Kevin October 23rd, 2013 5:27 pm

    I choose to wear a bern hard hat to protect my skull. Latest findings are showing that helmets don’t protect against concussion. I find the hard hat nice to keep my head warm and dry at the very least.

  225. Dave October 29th, 2013 9:13 pm

    I sometimes use my bike helmet with a raincover if I am riding the lifts. Seems to me that a bike helmet is designed for pretty much the same sort of impacts encountered while skiing, and the helmet cover makes it quite warm and snowproof. Plus, I already own the damn thing and it just sits there most of the winter!

    I don’t use a helmet in the backcountry (lower speeds, weight, bulk in the pack, etc.), though on some mountaineering-style outings it would clearly make sense to do so. I think the bike helmet would make even more sense then, being lighter and with excellent venting for the uphills. I bet it would do about as well as a climbing helmet in rockfall as well. Climbers, feel free to disabuse me of that idea…

    Anyone else using a bike helmet while skiing?

  226. stephen October 30th, 2013 3:52 am

    “Anyone else using a bike helmet while skiing?”

    Not yet, but I might do so for BC skiing in future now the idea has come up. What I have done is used my Giro ski helmet for cycling in winter; fit is pretty much the same as my cycling helmet (also a Giro) but it is much warmer.

    I suspect cycling helmets would be pretty worthless against rockfall as they’re not really designed to stop small objects penetrating. All those vents wouldn’t help, especially on the high-end road racing models.

  227. Lou Dawson October 30th, 2013 8:24 am

    I was just turning my attention to the latest POC helmets with MIPS. As with any helmet I think they need to offer more G-force protection for the brain by simply being thicker as there is no other way G force can be reduced than by increasing distance available for deceleration (basic physics?), but they’re a step in the right direction. Interesting to track. We’ll be testing a few, hopefully just for comfort and how the chin strap works (grin). Lou

  228. Ziggy October 30th, 2013 1:16 pm

    I would be wary of using cycle helmets where they employ only a thin shell. The purpose of a shell is to resist intrusion by sharp objects and to spread the load from a blunt object blow. Thin shells aren’t up to that.

  229. Dave October 30th, 2013 2:36 pm

    On using cycling helmets skiing: How are the forces or sharp objects encountered by a skier significantly different than those faced by a cyclist? We have similar speeds and similar terrain objects (for mountain biking). If a thin shell is insufficient for skiing, then why is it OK for biking?

  230. Lou Dawson October 30th, 2013 2:54 pm

    Answer: helmet weirdness encouraged by different certification standards. In reality, it certainly seems like both a ski and a MTB helmet should be similar, though there is the fact that hitting snow as a glancing blow with your head causes less Gs than hitting something with more friction. But sharp objects, direct impact, same. Truly, for an MTB helmet to offer top protection it would be nothing less than a motorsports helmet.

  231. Ziggy October 30th, 2013 3:30 pm

    Yes indeed. I shiver when I see road cyclists hurtling down a blacktop mountain road with what’s not much better than an eggshell on their head (and only lycra on their body!). At those speeds on the motorbike I’m covered with full-grain leather and a helmet that probably complies with its reasonable standard – and I say probably because most helmet testing regimes do not use randomly selected units from retailers’ shelves.

    So: is the helmet standard appropriate to its intended use and does any given example comply with the standard stated on the sticker inside?

  232. stephen October 31st, 2013 3:18 am

    ^ This isn’t a great comparison. Motorcycles are capable of vastly higher maximum speeds, average speeds are a lot higher, and the mass of the motorcycle is immensely greater than that of a bicycle (say 125-400+ kg versus 6-15kg for road bikes ). Most cycling falls occur at much lower speeds than with motorcycles. Note that I’m not saying cyclists never crash at reasonable speeds, but experience to date seems to show that cycling helmets *DO* work adequately to save lives in almost all cases. I know quite a few people who have survived horrendous crashes wearing cycling helmets, and nobody who has suffered serious brain damage from cycling, though I have no doubt this has occurred.

    Also cyclists generate a lot more heat than motorcyclists and thus need much better ventilation; this isn’t optional, assuming one actually intends to ride anywhere other than downhill on cold days.

    Some crashes simply aren’t survivable, and designing everything for the worst case scenario – even if possible – isn’t going to help if doing so results in products which seriously discourage participation. This applies especially to cycling helmets!

  233. Ziggy October 31st, 2013 4:27 am

    Your last paragraph is spot on. As per my first post in this thread, you can design the perfect helmet if you know the crash it’ll have to deal with.

    Your other points about motorbike crashes? My last was head-on with another rider (he’d lost control btw); effective impact was around 80-100 kmh. Total mass didn’t matter as bodies are like stiffened sausages and I got pushed off. That bled away some energy. Thankfully my helmet took the blow from his mirror (otherwise I’d have lost my lower jaw) but his bar trashed my wrist.

  234. stephen October 31st, 2013 4:33 am

    FWIW, I was thinking total mass was an issue due to the potential for crushing injuries; ~200kg is going to be a lot more problematic there than ~10kg…

    I hope you’ve recovered as well as possible from your mishap. It’s sometimes hard to do anything when others behave in a seriously unpredictable manner. 🙁

  235. Ziggy October 31st, 2013 5:16 am

    Yeah, if the focus is on heads then probably crushing in ski accidents would be one of the lesser worries.

    Thanks. If the orthopod in the country hospital had been more competent I’d have better function in the wrist but the profession protects its own.

  236. Mike December 30th, 2013 9:58 pm

    These levels of g force reduction are unimpressive at least if they are meant to represent the deceleration of the skull (as opposed to brain). Deceleration is v^2/x where x is stopping distance. The distance with no helmet is close to zero so the deceleration “g’s” should be very high without one, and the real deceleration is limited by the brain structure itself and probably by some velocity/kinetic energy that the brain can relatively safely absorb itself.

    If you increase x from 0 (let’s imagine 0.5mm skull deflection?) to some large number of milimeters “g force” (not really force at all but acceleration) should go down drastically, not just a factor of two (look at the math)UNLESS the helmet is either drastically to stiff (barely compresses at all so just like a second skull) or is seriously (I suspect) to soft thus fully compressing long before the head motion is stopped. It’s hard to tune this exactly right because you don’t know when designing the helmet how much force is needed to do the stopping because you don’t know how much of the body mass is behind the impact or what the velocity is. Still, I’d wonder if on the whole these helmets are too soft. A dual or progressive compression would likely help to limit damage in minor accidents or high speed collisions not supported by body weight, while having a high compression force region to deal with heavier blows. I’d think it’s far better to be too stiff than too soft though. Better that x is small than leave some residual velocity left over for that near zero x direct skull impact. I’m sure good engineers work on this stuff, but I bet there’s room for improvement.

  237. Stefan January 13th, 2014 6:21 pm

    Another related to snowsports helmets issue is with the goggles: they does not absorb energy and, I might be wrong with this, breaking your nose absorbs, but with goggles the energy goes all over the frame, preventing it from breaking. I had a low speed accident where i fell down on my goggles with my whole weight from 1-2 meters. The goggles saved a few teeths, but a meter higher and I was going to be with a concusion. It makes no sense to me. Ok, fullface helmets are a possible answer, just make them cool enough, it’s not that hard, really! I can’t picture myself wearing Cortex DH MIPS while riding a snowboard.

  238. Lou Dawson January 14th, 2014 2:40 am

    I noticed something said above about a helmet is supposed to “spread the force.” This is pretty much wrong. Yes, a bit of spreading of impact always occurs and reduces chance of injury in minor impacts, but the main purpose of a helmet is to SLOW DOWN THE DECELERATION OF YOUR HEAD WHEN IT ENCOUNTERS ANOTHER OBJECT. It’s supposed to _absorb the force_ with any spreading being secondary to the main purpose. Spreading out the force can actually interfere with that process! For example, imagine you could encase your head in a steel cask which would perfectly “spread the force”, just imagine how ineffective that would be as hitting the steel on something would just in turn cause your head to decelerate against the interior of the steel. Add a crushable liner and it gets better, but if the liner doesn’t crush all it does is transfer the force to your head, and “spreading out the force” could just exacerbate that. Clear as mud (grin)?

    Again, the only way to slow down the deceleration of the head to a significant degree is to add more space between your head and the stationary object you are hitting, and add some kind of material to that space that does a controlled slowing down (deceleration) of your head. Thus, the only way helmets are going to make any quantum leap in protecting is if they’re thicker (either thicker all the time, or thicker due to a reactive airbag system or something else high-tech.) In other words, you can make a helmet out of steel, or the most amazing unobtanium honey comb Kevlar who-ha stuff and if it doesn’t have room for your head to decelerate in any meaningful way, it’s all just PR chatter.

    I should add that MIPS technology sounds like it’ll help make helmets better, but the reality of physics remains. The head has to decelerate slowly during impact or your brain slams into the inside of your skull and causes either death or concussion, and you’re only allowed a few concussions in your whole life span.


  239. Ziggy January 14th, 2014 1:58 pm

    Yes; but the helmet (the shell) also functions to limit intrusion by pointed objects. You might call that a version of dissipating force of one type.

  240. zippy the pinhead January 14th, 2014 8:32 pm

    BBC had an article about a guy who makes bicycle helmets made out of corrugated paper arranged in a honeycomb. The chambers in the honeycomb act as “mini-airbags” that he says absorb force in a fall. Apparently the mini-airbags pop with impact.


    The article says that the helmet has been tested to european standards, and performs significantly better than a standard polystyrene helmet at reducing the G-force experienced by the brain in a crash.

  241. Ziggy January 15th, 2014 12:26 am

    There’s lots of work going on to minimise the deficiencies of orthodox designs. I like the Australian work on liners that shows that an inner and outer EPS that are somewhat independent offer the most protection from blunt impact and rotational force.

    We need to keep in mind that there will never be one design that’s optimal for all circumstances.

    You pays your money and takes your choice.

  242. marcia January 23rd, 2014 2:15 pm

    Just found this site while looking for info on the best helmut technology available for downhill skiing.

    Two years ago Jan 5th, I crashed and hit my head hard enough on the ground to cause a concussion (was 54 yrs at the time). I’d landed on my head skiing 3x in the couple yrs prior w/out noticing concussion symptoms. At the time, it seemed mild, and in ignorance, I didn’t take it seriously enough, didn’t rest for the following week … shoveled snow the next day despite feeling something was wrong with my head, went to the chiropracter, but still performed (my job) at a couple birthday parties 2 days after. Over a few days, the symptoms increased until I was dizzy and nauseous and scared, but not enough to rest properly. (Did get a CT scan…. ) It was “just a concussion” and I tend to push myself and rarely just lie on the couch. The last couple years have seen a huge increase in concussion awareness just as I was dealing with my own….

    Once I realized how messed up I was, the recovery process became an unending struggle – even embarrassing. Due to my own accident-prone behavior – moving too fast and not paying attention, I kept re-injuring my head, knocking it sometimes lightly, sometimes harder on stupid things like car openings or low beams and ceilings at home. These incidents, no matter how small, would set off a cascade of symptoms lasting wks. No headaches, thankfully, but dizziness, thick muddy feelings processing info and difficulty with executive planning. I just wasn’t myself any more and felt my life was shut down.

    Working with an osteopath and my chiropracter, doing cranial sacral work, I am finally feeling “healed.” Now if I get a tap to the head, I might feel symptoms for a day or so, but it’s not severe, and it clears right up.

    So after missing 2 seasons, I’m finally feeling ready to ski again – I think! My non-skiing friends think I should wait another season. My skiing buddies (a few are level 3 instructers) are after me to get out with them. I live 10 minutes from Hunter Mtn, NY – a decent ski area and am passionate about skiing – was distraught last year to sit out – but am I crazy to return to it? I know it’s a personal choice.

    My osteopath thinks with the right kind of therapy, you can truly heal from a concussion. The mainstream medical community seems to know so little ….. (I did see a neurologist and consult with a head injury rehab doc) Your warnings about only being allowed a few concussions in a lifetime are truly scary and certainly I’m aware that the medical community believes they are cummulative. I am so grateful I didn’t kill myself or suffer a more severe head injusry…… Skiing with more caution is a no brainer (no pun ..), but might not be the answer since everyone falls sooner or later – I can go 20-25 days without a fall but… When I crashed, it was on easy terrain as we were about to head in; I wasn’t tired, just crappy foggy slushy conditions….

    The new Poc Cortex DH MIPS helmut looks like the best I can get for myself and I’m willing and ready to spend the $. I can’t help but wonder about the mouth guard – seems intrusive. I was a hold-out for a while on wearing a helmut, but as I began skiing faster and more aggressively, I am glad I started wearing one. But as you make clear (and I already know….) they can only do so much!

    Thanks for reading this and any feedback!


  243. marcia January 23rd, 2014 2:19 pm

    Looking back on my comment, should I not have given you my last name? Can you delete it please if you allow my overly long comment to go through? Thanks! Marcia

  244. Lou Dawson January 23rd, 2014 11:39 pm

    Leaving last names on our comment threads is a nice gesture but not required. Main rule of internet is don’t leave your last name if you’re writing stuff that you might not want to have associated with you 20 years from now, otherwise, again, it’s a nice gesture that shows you care about what you write and about being authentic to the people who read it.

    I’ll check the moderation box, stuff gets held there for a variety of reasons, usually no big deal.


  245. Lou Dawson January 24th, 2014 2:34 am

    Marcia, sorry to hear about your troubles with head injury. It sounds like you are indeed a victim of multi impact multi concussion. I’ve known a few other folks in your situation and to be safe they’ve had to give up velocity/ballistic sports, and even be careful when hiking and walking on ice and such. I’d be very careful if I were you. As I’ve written at length about, today’s ski helmets do very little to protect you from concussions.

  246. Ziggy January 24th, 2014 4:03 am

    Cumulative concussion effects are now a major focus of injury reduction in competitive body-contact sports.

    I’m not aware of any data that shows they’re reversible.

    I’m astonished to read than any head injury sufferer in snowsports has not immediately resorted to head protection.

    In terms of cost/benefit ratio, a helmet (note, not ‘helmut’; the correct spelling will provide more useful search results) may provide limited protection but at no or little wearer disadvantage. In economists’ terms, there’s little opportunity cost.

  247. louis dawson January 24th, 2014 6:45 am

    Ziggy, the issue is that some cumulative head injury folks should not ski at all, helmet or not, because helmets don’t provide enough protection. I have a friend in that exact situation. Lou

  248. marcia January 24th, 2014 10:57 pm

    Thank you Lou for taking the time to read and comment on my lengthy story. I get it, I probably should never ski again – Your advice is sobering. Seems so many skiiers just don’t get it – most seem hell bent on never giving up the sport unless they are incapacitated. Perhaps I am no different, since still not sure if I want to or am ready to make the choice to give the sport up — I really feel so much improved….. but I know another hard hit could be devastating. It sucks, since so much of my world is focused around skiing and the community up here. I feel nothing else is ever going to have that “wheeeeee!” fun factor. I’ve been skiing since I was 12 yrs and thankfully it’s not my whole world, but has always been something I’ve made time for. In the last 6 yrs or so I became a bit of a ski bum, skiing midweek 40 or so days a season. Yes, I am now super cautious hiking and for whatever reason, have not had any kind of fall or head bump out hiking which I regularly do. Guess I should be grateful I can walk and talk and stop whining!

    Ziggy, you misunderstood my comments about helmuts. I actually never had any kind of head injury impact in all the years I skiied without a helmut. The first time I did land on my head skiing, I had a decent expensive helmut on (Giro). Once I started skiing with a helmut, I never skiied again without one. But as Lou said, they really don’t offer protection against concussions. I actually had my helmut on while working in my basement with a super low central beam when I lightly hit it and it almost seemed that the helmut amplified the impact. I now always wear a big furry hat down there which keeps me aware and brushing up against something lightly doesn’t create an impact. I’ve covered the beam with swimming pool noodles( unfortunately my washer dryer is on the other side of the beam!).

    I spoke to a Poc customer service rep on Thurs. – my local store owner seems to be kinda ignorant – has a model he ordered for me coming in next wk but can’t tell me what it is….. says he trusts his rep. This despite showing off the old helmut from his major crash….. The MIPS system does seem to be the best choice, but yeah, probably not gonna really eliminate the risk now that I have had mulitiple concussions. I do wonder though weather the kinds of treatments I received from my osteopath have indeed helped to heal in a way that most don’t. I had some heavy metal shelving fall on my head in May 2013 and though I figured when it happened, I was done for (went to the ER freaked out), my recovery was swift. Who knows, angles of impact, etc, can affect the brain differently. No way to predict for sure…..

    Lou, would love to hear more about the skiier you know who is facing what I am facing……


  249. marcia January 24th, 2014 11:02 pm

    PS – Reviewing what I wrote, gotta wonder if head issues do still exist when I “wonder.. weather” instead of “wonder…whether”! Yikes! Caught myself making those kinds of mistakes a bunch lately!

  250. Lou Dawson January 24th, 2014 11:22 pm

    Marcia, the guy I know was a bit reckless, had a bunch of head impacts over ski career, and eventually had to quit due to chance of one more. There is really not much more to the story. Sorry to hear about what’s going on with you, but it sounds like you’re figuring it all out. Lou

  251. marcia January 26th, 2014 6:55 pm

    Thanks Lou! I much appreciate the chance to get feedback here and think it all through! 🙂

  252. Ziggy January 26th, 2014 7:47 pm

    I notice in the news about the current big outdoor gear show that a couple of makers have developed sensors that can be fitted to helmets indicating impact severity. One can communicate with a smartphone in the event of serious impact and the phone will text a contact that info with coordinates.

    Look for ICEdot and Reebok Checklight.

  253. chris February 14th, 2014 1:17 pm

    I’m still going to wear it. the protection is offers against slight knocks to the head (e.g. safety bar or low-speed tree branch) is plenty of an upside to offset the literally no downside to wearing it. Of course no helmet is going to prevent every injury and I think it would be foolish to ever think they would. The data on concussions, due to higher awareness, are too noisy to be conslusive in my mind. For all we know, increased helmet use maybe preventing some brain injuries that previously would have gone undetected.

  254. marcia February 14th, 2014 5:13 pm

    Well, I bought the Poc Fornix Backcountry MIPS and skiied 10 runs the other day – no falls, but well aware of the risk – felt great to be out and skied well – flat easy conditions. Watching the Olympics has me wondering…… I see these horrible crashes and of course it’s hard to watch heads bouncing off the ground and obstacles. Then I see figure skaters (who aren’t required to wear helmuts!!!) fall hard but their heads hardly touch the ground. I watched Donna Weinbrecht ski her gold medal mogul run – no helmut!!! I never hit my head in close to 40 years of skiing until I began wearing a helmut. Of course they will protect you from serious injury when colliding with an object such as a tree, but is there something in the weight and size that leads the head to hit the ground more during a fall? I have a friend in his 60s, a retired level 3 instructor who refuses to wear a helmut and swears that they can lead to increased risk such as snapping your neck from the weight. I noticed while recovering from my concussion, that wearing a helmut in my basement, where I have a dangerous low central beam, seemed to amplify any contact I might have with my surroundings and actually caused more concussion symptoms – relapses. Now when I go down there, I wear a big furry hat. Just thoughts……. I will continue to ski with a helmut – when I do ski……. stinks to be at higher risk…. forever!

  255. bilman February 17th, 2014 5:22 pm

    Most people ski most or all of their lives without a serious injury, but accidents happen. Met a few people recently who had that odd accident for the first time in their long lives – so decided a helmet might be good.

    Started with this article by Lou which really got me thinking, then looked at studies from various sports. Football concussion “severity” apparently went down significantly with better designed helmets but have since plateau’d – basically sounds like it supports that point that you can only do so much without going thicker. Basic point would be that helmets reduce number and severity of concussions but they don’t help on really hard decelerations.

    Second point was that rotational impact MAY cause concussion at lower impacts which supports the MIPS design – just doesn’t look well investigated.

    Climbers seem to have the same issues and similar discussions on better protection. Petzl has said that it is highly risky from a litigation perspective to offer anything that doesn’t align with the 40 year old regulations currently in place. Climbers are calling for and putting their money down on lighter helmets but not safer helmets.

    I’m also beginning to think that some of the modern, lightweight climbing helmets might be a better choice for backcountry skiing where many people don’t want ear bugs built in, may not use goggles and don’t want the typical ski helmet designed to keep someone warm while freezing on a lift. That being said, the only negative I have found so far might be little side impact protection on a climbing helmet – but I don’t see that being as big a hazard for skiers as for climbers.

  256. Lou Dawson February 17th, 2014 7:47 pm

    I use a climbing helmet for spring ski mountaineering. Much better than a ski helmet in many ways…. But yes, I would like all helmets to offer more protection. Lou

  257. Trent February 18th, 2014 8:09 am

    Lou, what do you wear for winter skimo?

  258. Lou Dawson February 18th, 2014 8:17 am

    You mean racing? I don’t race, I watch, racing days are over.

    But if you’re asking about helmet for skiing in winter, I usually don’t wear one but I do like the CAMP and use it on occasion.


  259. Trent February 18th, 2014 5:19 pm

    Lou, thanks. I did not mean racing. I meant general back country use in cold temperatures. Do you triple up on the hoods – base layer, insulation layer and shell all hooded? Double up?

    And by Camp, you mean the Camp Speed?

    Thanks, appreciate the beta.

  260. chris Kurowski March 10th, 2014 3:05 pm

    My son who skis and a friend of mine who figure skates both had the same sort of fall they were slowly coasting and fell backwards. My son fell on hardpack and my friend fell on ice at the arena. My son shook the impact off with no ill effects but a stiff neck and my friend is still suffering from concussion symptoms two years later. It seems helmets can have an effect.

    Have the ski statistics been scaled against numbers of skiers and level of risk taken? Are the statistics scaled against types of impact? I’d go with shock force reduction stats rather than stats from physicians who aren’t mathematicians anyways.

  261. Jack March 10th, 2014 3:33 pm

    Chris – I read a study (years ago) that found that most of the impact/acceleration in cycling (human powered) comes from the fall from upright to pavement, not forward movement. My personal hardest head smacks have come from “land flat on back, slap head down”. My belief (without formal reference) is that we are just not prepared by reflex to protect our head and neck in that scenario. A Judo student would probably do better. Hard side and front (face plants) have never resulted in a jarring head impact for me.

  262. Ziggy March 10th, 2014 4:20 pm

    You don’t have to be a mathematician or statistician to do quality research. You stick to standard principles to guide data interpretation. That said, this kind of research is difficult as if it involves humans it can only be retrospective, ie., data from cases, and the lack of controls makes generalising difficult. If you have enough of it you can do some inductive generalisation with appropriate qualifications.

  263. aviator March 12th, 2014 6:24 pm

    There is a disturbing lack of understanding basic physical principles all over this write up and in the comments, yes I’m looking at you Lou, LOL.

    The helmet needs to distribute the impact not to “save the helmet”.

    The helmet needs to distribute the impact to do a better job “absorbing and decelerating” with the thin foam that is a necessity in any helmet..
    We can’t have helmets thicker than a few inches and even that is too much for obvious reasons.

    We can’t have airbag helmets also for obvious reasons.

    Distributing AND absorbing and decelerating IS what is happening in all helmets. Soft and hard. Better in some than in others.

    The skull is soft and concussions are disturbingly local even WITH distributing.
    We need distributing helmets.

    The idea that softer helmets without any distributing would work better at any speed is ridiculous. Where did that even come from initially?

  264. See March 12th, 2014 7:11 pm

    I’m gonna guess it came from the idea that the best a helmet can do is protect the wearer from relatively minor impacts.

    I didn’t know that “concussions are disturbingly local.” Can you cite some sources so that I can learn more about this important topic?

  265. Lou Dawson March 12th, 2014 7:12 pm

    Aviator, it’s somewhat of a thought experiment, the idea is to get people past the common misconception that the primary role of a helmet is to “spread out the impact” by providing a hard shell.

    As for concussions, you sound mis-informed. A concussion is caused by the brain impacting the inside of the skull when the skull decelerates and the brain keeps moving. Like hitting the windshield in your car when you’re in a crash without your seatbelt or airbag. The primary role of a helmet in preventing concussion is to slow down the deceleration of both skull and brain. How hard or soft the shell is has little to do with this, provided everything works together in concert and does “crush” or otherwise absorb energy. The only thing that can slow down deceleration is more distance combined with resistance. Basic physics. The perfect hard shell helmet with the perfect liner, say one inch thick, still only has one inch distance to do its job. My take is the helmets need more distance, or else active components such as airbags.

    Distribution of force with a hard shell will reduce trauma type injuries, but has nothing to do with changing how fast your head decelerates inside the helmet. To get the point, thought experiment, just envision your head in a perfectly fitted steel helmet, with no padding. Sure, this would prevent skull fractures and cuts, but would do nothing to prevent concussions upon impact.


  266. See March 12th, 2014 7:32 pm

    My take on shells is that it’s more about intrusion prevention– protections from pointy rocks, curbs, etc.– than about distribution.

  267. Charlie March 12th, 2014 8:37 pm

    Right on, Lou.

    Other than skiing slower, the only way to decrease the acceleration associated with an impact is to spread the impulse over time. The only way to do that is to increase the distance over which braking occurs.

  268. aviator March 12th, 2014 8:42 pm

    Traumatic brain injury, concussion, brain bruise, contusion, hematomas, etc etc, we should probably all be much more specific what we are talking about. But it gets real complicated with the definitions real quick.

    I should have said brain injury when I said concussion.

    But Lou, you declared up top that it all results in “concussion” when the brain gets “bruised an damaged”.
    Now you wanna hit me with a stricter definition. LOL.

  269. aviator March 12th, 2014 8:44 pm

    I was talking about what Robert M., Ph.D physicist, explained in his comment, March 30th, 2011 .
    “…similarly a brain bruise isn’t the entire brain being damaged but just a small part. Small brain damage is still brain damage and could be highly debilitating. Spreading out the impact should still help reduce brain injury a lot, by decreases the amount of tissue that undergoes plastic and shock deformation-level forces…”

  270. Lou Dawson March 12th, 2014 8:55 pm

    Yeah, this is supposed to be blogging, not the Journal of Medicine. The main thing is I stand by my take that ski helmets could easily offer much more protection. For example, one centimeter more of crush-able thickness is a significant percentage increase. But no, instead we get head injury victims promoting helmet use. Something is not right with that picture. I want the Vonn would have had no concussion, not that the helmet “saved her from worse injury.” Am I an idealist (grin)?

  271. aviator March 12th, 2014 8:55 pm

    Lou said:
    “How hard or soft the shell is has little to do with this, provided everything works together in concert and does “crush” or otherwise absorb energy.”

    A helmet IS designed for the shell to work together with the foam.
    A harder shell and harder foam for a helmet for higher speed impacts.
    These wont work as well for lower speeds.
    A softer shell and softer foam for lower speed impact.
    The shell always distributes force to a larger area of foam, so a thinner layer of foam can take more force than without a shell.

  272. aviator March 12th, 2014 9:07 pm

    I respect your stand Lou, you want better helmets.

    But there is no magic extra thick soft helmet with no shell with a magic foam and airbags and propellers that the stupid helmet makers didn’t think of that will be perfect at all speeds.

    I don’t think you actually want a helmet that would have saved Vonn from brain injury.
    It would be way too hot, big and heavy. You would never use it.

    My main thing is this is about chosing the right helmet for the right situation.
    For most of us that is something very light and not too hot and designed for low speed impact.

    Do they need to change how they test, certify, market and inform us about the helmets they are selling? Hell yeah.

    It’s very important to understand a helmet can only be perfect at a certain impact speed. If it’s designed for 20mph it wont work as well at 10 or 30.
    THIS I think is the imprtant bit that most people don’t think about enough.

  273. aviator March 12th, 2014 9:22 pm

    To understand what the shell does in a helmet, think about this:

    You are jumping from a building down on a thin layer of small thin cardboard boxes.

    You can chose to have some stronger thicker firmer flat cardboard on top of the boxes to spread the impact or not.

    I know for certain I would chose that extra layer.
    What would you do Lou?

  274. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2014 8:29 am

    Aviator, I get your point, of course spreading the force is important to some degree, the extreme example is if you hit your head on a smaller blunt object that would otherwise crush the foam too easily and damage your skull underneath.

    More, helmets also have to resist penetration from sharp pointed objects. So yes, some sort of shell is necessary.

    But again, what I’m trying to do here is make the point that the shell does nothing _special_ to prevent concussion. Again, consider a hard shell helmet with no padding. Sure, it spreads out the force of a blow over a greater area, but does nothing to slow down the deceleration of your skull in the event of a fall and impact during skiing or other speed sport. The padding crushable layer is what’s most important, same as with an automobile crush zone.

    My point is the crush zone needs to be thicker, and since it can’t be much thicker, then the conclusion is that ski helmets are not very good protection nor can they be with current technology (decades old concept of crushable foam).

    Another way of looking at it: skiers regularly ski at 50 to 60 mph these days. The crush zone in an automobile to protect a driver at these speeds is what, something like a half a meter or more? Then we have helmets with crush zone measured in centimeters? For the same speed impacts?

    Again, sure, a helmet needs some sort of shell, but the shell does noting in of itself to prevent brain concussion from the brain impacting the inside of the skull during declaration

    Check this out, it pretty much says what I’m saying, with a nod to hard shell unpadded helmets being good for when someone drops a hammer on your head, but other than that not doing the correct thing to protect from brain injury in a fall. The article also mentions, as you do, that a helmet that protected much better would be too thick to wear.


    Due to basic physics the only solution for increasing safety with current helmet technology is to make the helmet thicker. (And to repeat, a small thickness increase could actually be noticable in the tests as it would be a significant percentage increase). But due to thicker helmets being impracticable the futurist has to conclude that other technology will have to be used, such as an airbag system on the helmet that inflates microseconds before impact and thus increases “padded distance” to slow down the deceleration rate.

    As for helmets working for different speed impacts, in my view that is a very easy thing to improve, but again the helmets would have to be thicker and more expensive.

    Ski helmets these days are obviously a fashion item as much as anything practical. The small amount of protection they offer is welcome and I’m glad people wear them when desired, but we all need to be realistic and realize that they’re rather ludicrous in how little protection they really offer. This especially true during backcountry skiing in mellow terrain with low avalanche danger, when the weight, expense and hassle of using a helmet can be rather absurd.

    Just to be clear, I wear a helmet on occasion and own a variety of them for different sports. But just like I don’t trust ski bindings using archaic decades old technology to always prevent leg injury, I don’t think much of helmets either.

    One other thing: What’s holding helmet improvements back is not lack of desire on the part of helmet makers, but rather a certification system that doesn’t award improvements but rather enforces a status quo. It also doesn’t help that the ski helmet has to look “good.” We need a helmet certification system that rates the helmets on an open ended scale in terms of concussion prevention, based on deceleration. That would open some eyes and set the helmet industry into a tizzy.

  275. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2014 8:33 am

    And check this out! Easily applies to ski helmets.


    They write: “Somehow we have to provide a greater effective thickness for the helmet’s protection, to give the head longer to slow down…”


    “Any physics text will tell you that the Law of Conservation of Energy means that the energy of the crash cannot be “absorbed” but can only be converted to some other form of energy. So we refer to what a helmet does in a crash as “energy management” rather than “absorbing” energy. To confirm that, hit a piece of styrofoam with a hammer. The indentation will be warm to the touch. So some energy was converted to heat. But the blow was very hard and concentrated on a very small area the size of the hammer head, and the warmth you feel is not extreme. Even so, the blow of the hammer is blunted and the sound is deadened.”

  276. Daniel March 13th, 2014 8:39 am

    As long as the perfect helmet is not available, I take what fits well, doesn’t look too stupid and is reasonably light. Camp Pulse for me. Thin outer shell so maybe a low speed helmet. Great, I ski at very reasonable speeds. Have used it for resort skiing and gnarlier tours so far, will use is more or less always from now after having suffered a minor concussion in a bicylcle accident on monday, which would likely have been avoidable with a helmet on.

  277. aviator March 13th, 2014 9:30 am

    Lou, I agree with most of what you wrote in your 2 last comments.
    Especially about certification.

    I agree with how people think helmets do more than what they do. But I think a bigger problem is people not wearing them. Shouting about how useless they are and how impossibly big they should be does not really help.

    About skiing at 50mph and expecting a 50mph impact to your head.
    No magic helmet can do anything when you crash into that tree head on, no matter how thick, the g’s are just too much.

    Read the Robert M. March 30th, 2011 12:09 pm comment on deflection.
    You fall skiing at 50mph but your head does not hit the ground at 50mph due to deflection angles.
    The shell def helps with deflection.

    Also in a comment above: motorcycle helmets are designed for 15-25mph impact. That is not because they make them wrong, that is because that is the expected head impact in many/most cases, crashing at very high speeds.

    Curious about airbag helmet idea, how is it supposed to be triggered? I don’t see it.

  278. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2014 10:25 am

    Why is people not wearing helmets a problem? If the helmets were more effective I could see this, but present helmets may not make much if any difference in preventing concussions, so yes, in many cases it’s a reasonable choice to not wear one.

    Skiers also die and are injured with cervical damage, including broken necks. Skiing with a neck brace could be very effective in prevention. Should all skiers also wear neck braces?

  279. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2014 10:36 am

    Aviator, helmet airbag could be triggered with a combination of accelerometer and some sort of radar or other type of proximity sensor. They do it with automobiles. It’s not science fiction. This type of evolutionary product design is happening at a furious pace that will only speed up, we’re only seeing the beginning.

  280. Ziggy March 13th, 2014 12:58 pm

    There are almost instantly inflatable ‘neck bags’ used in motorcycle racing. They are built into the jacket and pop out to provide a collar to limit head rotation on the spine.

    Returning to the Bicycle article, the conclusion provided after stat #3 is speculative IMO. Another explanation is increased rates of diagnosis of what could still have been a static or declining frequency of concussion. Possible reason: the players were becoming more aware of concussion risks and so were more likely to check for it. And as the article said, diagnosis is not black and white and the growing practice of ‘defensive medicine’ may drive ER doctors in the direction of applying the label just in case.

  281. Jack March 13th, 2014 1:03 pm

    As a reminder: The MIPS system for absorbing torsional (rotational accelerations) is looking close to the leading edge of helmet design. Football people are instrumenting their helmets to measure accelerations. Some kind of simple system that would do this would generate good field data and allow objective measure of how hard the knock was. I know two people who were knocked unconscious from falls to hard snow, at modest speeds, while wearing ski helmets. They were both out for a few minutes, which my reading says implies there are, at a minimum, at the lowest level of Traumatic Brain Injury. One of the two took > 1 year to recover and was unable to work for months.

    this stuff is serious.

  282. aviator March 13th, 2014 1:56 pm

    @ziggy, how do they trigger exactly?

    @lou, air bags in cars only trigger on impact that I know of. obviously that is too late in a helmet.
    “combination of accelerometer and some sort of radar or other type of proximity sensor”
    Please explain more in detail. I really don’t see how that could work without tons of false and dangerous mistriggering.

  283. aviator March 13th, 2014 2:02 pm

    People can not wear neck braces for the same reasons they cannot wear ridiculously big helmets.

    People not wearing helmets is a problem because they die from it.
    Or they suffer much worse brain injury than they have to.
    This is fact. Not opinion.

    No matter how bad helmets are they are better than not wearing one.
    As all these people pointed out above already, ALL the stats you posted yourself prove this if you read it correctly.

  284. SR March 13th, 2014 2:24 pm

    The interesting thing about Leatt neck braces (and similar models from other manufacturers) is that the stats show a clear benefit from wearing them. They do markedly reduce one type of broken neck mechanism. The MTB community and related community of bmx is beginning to see more wide-spread adoption, but they are hot and inconvenient and even scary-looking.

    Helmets, by contrast, do not in practice yet work well when used by a population engaged in an actual sport (as opposed to staged falls or staged impacts). I do agree that focusing on low-speed, low-energy impacts is the way to go for sports like skiing. Given issues with whiplash, broken necks, etc. from larger, heavier helmets designed to make higher-energy impacts marginally survivable, on current tech that may be a dead end. I do agree that mini airbags may soon be a way to crack that nut, though.

    It’s kind of stating a conclusion, but there’s also a lot to be said for simply not hitting your head. That includes knowing how to fall, being respectful of trees, and also being very wary of thin or bony snowpacks, gullies, etc. that might have snags or rocks you don’t expect. (Obviously there are snow safety reasons to likewise be mindful of this, not to mention leg injuries from snags.)

  285. stephen March 13th, 2014 2:32 pm

    I suspect this has been posted already, but just in case: http://www.hovding.com is an example of an airbag bicycle “helmet.”

    Apart from what’s on the site I know nothing about the product, but it certainly looks interesting, especially since I’ve seen very, very few European utility cyclists waring helmets in the last 2 months or so, and that’s across several countries.

  286. Ziggy March 13th, 2014 4:04 pm

    @aviator: http://www.dainese.com/us_en/d-air/

    Another option in this game is dual standards (for those jurisdictions that are a bit more responsive than the US). This is already being done with EU back protectors. The initial standard transmitted too much force to the back in high impacts but persists alongside a more compliant standard. Expanded metal (aka honeycomb) is used here too by some makers.

    One of the problems however good the protection is, is to get folk to throw it away after one impact. Or make friends with a radiologist and get a CAT scan done on it.

  287. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2014 4:22 pm

    Aviator, if there is any risk homeostasis at all from people wearing helmets, it might be canceling out and benefit. In my opinion, this is very likely, based on what I see in the real world.

    So I’d say “wearing one is better than not” could be false. I believe that if people are wearing these minimal helmets, blithely convinced they do much more than wearing a padded hat, then taking even a bit more risk as a result of feeling protected, any benefit could easily be canceled out since the helmets really offer so little protection.


  288. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2014 4:44 pm

    Um…. New York Times anyone?

    “Schumacher’s injury also focused attention on an unsettling trend. Although skiers and snowboarders in the United States are wearing helmets more than ever — 70 percent of all participants, nearly triple the number from 2003 — there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sports-related fatalities or brain injuries in the country, according to the National Ski Areas Association….”


    To me, this and Vonn, Sarah Burke, etc indicate that current helmet design is lame. Sure, wear one, I do on occasion, but any increase in safety is minimal to non existent. Come on man, instead of accepting the lame norm that’s enriching helmet makers, let’s cry out for something at least 20% better! By my math, that’s only three millimeters thicker on a helmet with a 15 millimeter liner (just measured one). We could still mount our Go Pros and look cool!

  289. SR March 13th, 2014 5:03 pm

    What’s amazing to me is how un-remarked upon the massive waste of money here is. Tripling the helmet-wearing population since ’03 on the slopes is a really big $$ number, not to mention more stuff for skiers to load in the car, have to watch out for if they have kids, etc. And it is worthless, so far. Skiing is a good, healthy sport, whether lift-served or not, and a helmet that in the aggregate isn’t saving lives is one more obstacle to participation. You can again look at the bike stats: helmet laws have at least coincided with kids not riding their bikes much anymore. Not to mention again having been a huge waste of money.

  290. aviator March 13th, 2014 5:11 pm

    Risk homeostasis, the very beat up dead horse.
    Stop using your phones, radios, avalungs, air bags, beacons, probes.
    Stop using your life vests, seat belts, car air bags.
    Life is full of homeostasis inducing gear to get rid of.
    Yes it’s real and yes people are stupid.
    Always be aware but don’t use it as an excuse not to use safety gear, that will never make sense.

    You don’t think helmets are better than nothing, fine, it is you against all the stats, all the research.
    All due respect Lou, but you do sound more and more like crusty old dude looking everywhere for excuses not to wear his helmet. Just saying. 😛

  291. SR March 13th, 2014 5:29 pm


    There’s gear that seems to work, even with risk homeostasis. Examples: airbag packs, and Leatt neck braces. Or cams in climbing.

    And there’s gear that as of yet doesn’t: helmets for a wide variety of sports.

    That’s what the numbers actually reflect.

    Certainly individuals can choose to not ski faster or take more chances. Collectively, however, this is what is happening.

    Also, individuals can decide helmets are too much hassle, and not do the sport.

    This is also happening.

  292. Ziggy March 13th, 2014 5:54 pm

    Sorry Lou but ‘no reduction’ doesn’t justify the conclusion that helmets are lame. Not unless you control for skier miles (we can assume they’ve increased), and any increases in speed and other risk-taking (may be compensatory behaviour, may not).

    For me the physics data reported in the Bicycle article and your reasoning from first principles are more convincing.

  293. aviator March 13th, 2014 5:54 pm

    You are reading the numbers wrong, they show helmets are working.

    -More people are skiing/biking harder, faster, more aggressively, more stupidly than ever. A few might do this because of their helmets but I think there are other reasons this is happening.

    -Deaths and injuries should go up, but do not go up, because more and more people are using helmets.

    You can call this collective homeostasis, but for the individual not increasing risk, it shows helmets do work.

  294. Lou Dawson March 13th, 2014 6:29 pm

    Ok, enjoy that warm feeling of safety as you don your helmet. Yes, of course they have an effect. They “work.” But I continue my stand that they are lame and don’t work well enough. Me, I’m hoping for something that actually works more effectively than a padded hat. (grin).. Lou

  295. Ziggy March 13th, 2014 7:07 pm

    I’ll drink to that!

    The flip side is worth a thought though too: what’s the opportunity cost? There’s the money of course. There may be a false sense of safety. And there’s the matter of whether a hard hat makes certain kinds of crashes worse. This last was a big issue when full face m/b helmets came on the market. There were concerns about the chin bar working as a bottle opener (erk). I’m not aware of any data on this but it’s possible to imagine how it might work. And we poor sportsbike riders have to add heavy leathers with knee, elbow and shoulder protectors, gloves and boots. Riding with that kit on a 40+ C day tests your taste for adrenaline I can tell you 🙁

  296. See March 13th, 2014 7:20 pm

    I’m surprised that we don’t see more thin carbon/kevlar shells. Seems to me that this would distribute more force, protect better against intrusion, and provide a harder smooth surface that is less prone to “catching” on impact, without increasing weight or bulk too much compared to the ubiquitous polycarbonate “microshell.”

    It would significantly increase cost. But given the price of some of the (IMO) heavy, poorly ventilated, and overly complicated high end products out there, I don’t think the price would render a superior product uncompetitive.

    And, maybe helmet use hasn’t correlated with a reduction in injury because all the gopro mounts are increasing injury from glancing blows (sorry, not a laughing matter, I know).

  297. Lou Dawson March 14th, 2014 8:06 am

    See, no doubt stronger shell materials would make for lighter helmets… but we need to get away from this idea of the importance of “distributing force.” As we’ve discussed ad infinitum above, some protection and “distribution” by the helmet shell is part of how a helmet works, but it’s not of primary importance. What’s important, again, is that the helmet somehow slows down your head’s deceleration as you hit something with your head. The only way this can occur with current helmet technology is for the helmet to “give” or “crush” just like an automobile crush zone. The shell of the helmet has to help with this, not hinder it. In other words, a helmet could actually be too strong!

    What is more, if force is “distributed” rather than absorbed by the crush, where does it end up? Could be your neck.

  298. See March 14th, 2014 9:01 am

    Understood, but intrusion protection, minimization of “rotational” forces, and some degree of distribution (especially in case of impact with something pointy) are still important even if the “primary” function is energy absorption. That’s why I specified that the shell be thin like current “microshells.” A very thin (single layer?) carbon shell over foam would “give” as well as the performing the secondary functions listed above.

  299. Lou Dawson March 14th, 2014 9:24 am

    Sure, sounds good. E.g., POC includes Kevlar for better intrusion protection without making helmet too ridged or heavy. Always seemed like a good idea…

    Another issue with helmets is the shell can’t be so thin as to become dented in normal storage. In this respect the liner is again so important, due to the fact that the shell is probably almost always too rigid to provide much in the way of energy absorption.

  300. Jan March 27th, 2014 5:49 pm

    MIPS is only marketing. And now already scientific proofed.
    Snow is sliding so MIPS works only if you hit some “non-sliding” object. Additonaly we all have our own MIPS system – our skin.

  301. Lou Dawson March 27th, 2014 6:35 pm

    As I keep hammering on, no matter what fancy stuff is included in a helmet the one thing is they need to be thicker, as distance given for deceleration is the only thing that can reduce G forces, in a macro world governed by the laws of physics. Too many skiers are getting hurt while wearing helmets… just heard of another one a few days ago…

  302. See March 27th, 2014 7:45 pm

    Lou, I agree with the point you keep hammering. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that a helmet provides only an incremental improvement in safety. People will still get hurt even with big soft super helmets. I’m all for better helmets, but (as I’ve said before) maybe we should also consider cultural factors. The best protection is the thing inside your cranium.

  303. marcia March 27th, 2014 9:23 pm

    Just skied my 5th day after sidelined for 2 yrs w/ concussion (I wrote about in this blog earlier). One spill so far, no serious falls, no hits to the head, but I am under no illusions that my Poc MIPS technology will save my brain. I love skiing so see it as my job right now, that if I’m going to take this risk, I have to ski smarter, stay focused, never chase after my friends if it means putting myself on the edge of control, do everything I can not to fall. People ski fast and aggressively on my mountain and I am kinda miffed at how many people leave no room for error dusting me (and I ski reasonably fast). Yes, and I need to pay attention to who’s behind me. I ski midweek and the mountain is not crowded – no lines, but the culture of speed has become pervasive. A newcomer to the mountain today noted how many great aggressive skiiers there were today – reminded him of a hot shot group skiing a mountain out West (this is the closest challenge to NYC). A friend (a level 3 instructor) also commented today on the culture of a group of Europeans (the country will go unnamed) who ski so fast it’s crazy dangerous – they lost one of their group a couple years ago – died on the mountain, but it did not have an effect on the speed at which this group likes to ski. Most everyone I talk to seems surprised that I incurred such a serious concussion wearing a helmut. Bottom line: the sport is dangerous, many participants seriously underestimate the extent of the risk, the limits of helmuts, and the fact that concussions are “real” injuries. It is a personal and social responsibility to ski safe, yet we are in the midst of an escalating culture of pushing the boundaries of risk and often recklessness. I would love to see better helmut technology, but I wonder if our ski patrols need to, in addition to picking up the fallen and safeguarding the condition of the slopes, perhaps do more to enforce safer behavior on the slopes. I know this would not be a popular option – to be policed, but growing up at the municipal pool or the beach, dangerous behavior was curtailed by “lifeguards”. Perhaps we need to look at the statistics and decide, since technology is not preventing death and life altering injury, if we need our lives to be guarded on the mountains, by rules that are enforced by patrollers – “lifeguards”. (This might not do much to decrease certain risk factors, but it might help.) Otherwise, if we want our freedom to play, to bomb the mountain, to ski off-piste, to do as we please, we have to accept that along with that, comes the loss of a few lives and serious injuries at every mountain, every season.

  304. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2014 6:20 am

    I like where this discussion is going. Thanks guys. Yes, I’ve been focusing on the actual helmet engineering as being meager (which it is), but indeed it all really comes down to respecting your own body and other people’s as well. We’re fragile, we like to have fun in the physical — physical/fragile can blend beautifully and technology can help with that, but how successful we are with the blend eventually comes back to our own behavior and skills, not how thick our helmet is. When I observe all the helmet hype, it bothers me because it does seem to ignore the simple points that See and Marcia bring up.

  305. Pablo March 28th, 2014 8:24 am

    Lou, what do you think about this?: http://www.hovding.com/how_it_works/
    Could it be the future for ski helmets too?

  306. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2014 8:43 am

    Pablo, that’s been brought up several times over past months (years?), yes I think that’s where helmet tech is going to go if it’s actually going to prevent injury to the extent many people now think it does, but actually doesn’t. Big glitch is neck injury due to the large helmet/balloon catching on things, so neck protection will need to be incorporated as well. Another thing is that current helmets do offer a bit of protection (as I’ve acknowledged in the past), and a 20% increase in protection doesn’t require very much in the way of increased thickness. Thus, the airbag probably doesn’t need to be a thick and large as the Hovding idea, and perhaps could be more sleek so as not to cause neck injury. Since helmets are now a style peice, perhaps what’ll happen is the helmets will remain thin, with protective shell for sharps, but also have an airbag system to take them to a level of protection that really works to prevent concussion or worse in hard impacts.

  307. FasterDave February 11th, 2015 1:16 am

    Helmets work. They will improve.

    Look at MotoGP motorcycle racing and Formula1 car racing. Racers crash at 100-200mph, and survive and often walk away. Neck protection and now airbags inside racing suits for motorcycle racers are part of the solution. But helmets have come a long way. Granted these are single crash helmets that cost $700-$5,000.

    I’ve crashed while racing motorcycles at over 100mph and walked away to race again later that same day. Without a helmet I’d have been dead.

    I have hit hidden rocks buried under powder head first, and fractured my neck, but without my helmet my head would have been split open.

    The originally quoted studies show significantly less force transmitted to the head. This is less trauma. It needs to get better, and if existing helmet manufacturers dont do it, then there will be startup companies to innovate and fill this void.

    The study didn’t look at common dangers such as hitting rocks at low speeds, where skull fractures are as much a part of the danger as concussion.

    Yesterday my wife crashed at low speed and hit a rock under powder with the back of her head. Minor concussion. The foam in her helmet cracked to absorb impact. Without her helmet it would be her head direct on a rock, with topical damage, probable skull fracture and a worse concussion.

    Are ski helmets as advanced as motorcycle racing helmets? No way. But they are much better than no helmet for a vast array of impacts. And the industry or new companies will design better helmets learning from F1 and Motogp, and with improved slow speed impact absorbtion.

  308. dmr June 4th, 2015 12:43 am

    I just came across this:

    It’s a cardboard helmet whose design is inspired by a woodpecker’s skull. Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

    “He engineered it into a double-layer of honeycomb that could then be cut and constructed into a functioning helmet.”

    “If you crash at 15 miles per hour in a normal helmet, your head will be subjected to around 220G [G-force], whereas the new design absorbs more of the impact and means you experience around 70G instead,” says Surabhi.”

    Any interesting development for helmets (in this case one designed for biking in an urban environment).

  309. Brad December 14th, 2016 1:57 pm

    Lou, you seem to like the work that helmets.org has done, and here they have a good critique of the bicycling article you referenced in the main post.

  310. Lou Dawson 2 December 14th, 2016 2:30 pm

    Hi Brad, I’ll take a look, thanks. I noticed my linked blog post about helmets is a bit dated, which happens. I’ll look at updating. Main change seems to be more companies using MIPS. I did find a study a while back that showed the bicycle helmet standards might be the most robust, as compared to skiing and climbing helmets. That was interesting. Lou

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