June, 2006-- It
began on the last day of 1997, and from a PR point of view, it
was probably the worst week in ski industry history. Starting
with the very high profile death of Michael Kennedy, son of the
U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate Robert F. "Bobby"
Kennedy, and ending a few days later with the even higher profile
death of singer/songwriter/entertainer/politician Sonny Bono.
Both were killed in head versus tree collisions, Kennedy at Aspen
and Bono at Heavenly Valley. Occurring so close together, these
twin tragedies created a media sensation, dominating news reports
and info-tainment television shows for many days.
Of course the ski industry hit back. The
National Ski Areas Association (NSSA) countered with statistics
suggesting that recreational skiing is safer than swimming or
riding a bike. "Nationally, skiing fatalities are less than
one per one million skier days, while in 1995, there were 17
drowning deaths per 1 million water-sport participants, and 7.1
deaths per million bicyclists," the NSSA said. Then-editor
in chief of Skiing magazine Rick Kahl even dusted off the old
saw about lightening strikes, quoting a figure from the National
Severe Storms Laboratory: "Fewer
people die skiing than get killed by lightning every year. Lightning
takes the lives of 89 people per year in the United States. It's
an incredible fluke that anyone famous gets killed skiing. It's
a fluke beyond flukes that two famous people get killed within
a week of each other," Kahl complained. But the "damage"
(from a PR perspective) had been done... the possibility, or
even probability (it might have seemed), of serious head injury
while skiing had been burned into the consciousness of both skiers
and their non-skiing loved ones.
When Sonny Bono died in 1998 it was rare
to see a skier with a helmet at any resort in North America,
last year about one third of skiers and snowboarders surveyed
by the NSSA were wearing protective headgear. Accordingly, helmet
makers rushed to design and build more skiing-specific helmets
to serve a rapidily expanding new market for their products.
Emerging technical performance standards for these new ski helmets
also began to get more attention.
A New Standard Is Born
At the time of these two infamous accidents
most ski helmets manufactured and sold worldwide were qualified
to the Central European Norm, CE1077 . By August of 1998, the
Snell Memorial Foundation had added a second ski helmet standard
to its list of technical safety specifications for helmets, RS-98:
Standard for Protective Headgear for Use in Recreational Skiing
and Snowboarding. And, a subcommittee of ASTM International
(ASTM) was busy working on a draft standard of its own, ASTM
The ASTM group, known as Subcommittee
F08.53 on Headgear and Helmets, had been quietly working
on a snowsports helmet specification for years, after Kennedy
and Bono interest in getting a new ski helmet standard agreed
upon and published increased significantly. As ASTM member Jim
Sundahl, a senior test engineer at helmet maker Bell Sports,
News in 2001, "Nine or 10 years ago the headgear subcommittee
had less than 20 active members," but as interest in F 2040
peaked, so did the number of professionals who contributed expertise
to the development of the new standard. Sundahl estimated that
more than 100 individuals participated, among them were "helmet
manufacturers, independent test laboratories, consumer advocates,
medical experts, a representative of the CPSC, lawyers (primarily
defense attorneys), principles of the Snell Memorial Foundation,
committee members of the Canadian Standards Association, ski
resort operators, and others who were simply interested in the
subjects that we debated and discussed in all manner of head
ASTM F 2040: Standard Specification
for Helmets Used for Recreational Snow Sports was adopted and published in September of 2000,
giving ski helmet makers three standards, any one or combination
of which they could choose to design and build their ski and
snowboard protective head gear around.
Comparing the Ski Helmet Standards
The Snell Memorial Foundation has identified
four critical elements affecting a helmet's protective properties:
- Impact management - how well the helmet
protects against collisions with large objects.
- Helmet positional stability - whether
the helmet will be in place, on the head, when it's needed.
- Retention system strength - whether the
chin straps are sufficiently strong to hold the helmet throughout
an incident involving head impact.
- Extent of Protection - the area of the
head protected by the helmet.
Central European Norm (CEN): CE 1077--
CEN, the European Committee for
Standardization, was founded in 1961 by the national standards
bodies in the European Economic Community and EFTA countries.
It's major mission today is to establish voluntary technical
standards which promote free trade, as well as the safety of
workers and consumers in the European Union, and European Economic
Of the three standards, CE 1077 is by far
the most rudimentary and the easiest to qualify to. Helmets meeting
this standard are tested using a drop-rig and an instrumented
"headform," approximating the size and shape of a human
head. The specified single drop height is 1.5 meters,
and to pass the test, on impact, peak acceleration imparted to
the headform cannot exceed 250 Gs. The impact surface is a flat
anvil, and it is the only anvil type required of the test. The
specified drop height, headform weight, and peak velocity results
in energy impact equalling 69 Joules for a size medium helmet
(CE 1077 energy impacts vary according to the size of the headform.
The smallest size headform/helmet combo impacts with a force
of less than 48 Joules, the largest impacts at more than 95 Joules).
A retention system (chin strap) test is
included, along with a resistance to rotational force test.
Under CE 1077 a penetration test is also
called for. This is a "drop-hammer" type test where
the helmet and headform is allowed to drop onto a conical metal
punch from a height of .75 meters. (750mm). The helmet
fails the test if the punch makes contact with the headform.
This test is intended to simulate the possibility of a ski pole
tip or tree branch penetrating the helmet. It has been reported
that a revision to CE 1077 is expected to be published in the
coming months, among the changes is a modification to this penetration
test, lowering the drop height by half to 375mm, and also lowering
the velocity at which the helmet strikes the punch by more than
Due to its less rigorous nature, given
a choice, most helmet experts recommend that skiers and snowboarders
avoid buying helmets which qualify only to CE 1077. For $84 a
copy of CE 1077 (aka EN 1077) can be downloaded from the ANSI
ASTM: F 2040-- Formed
in 1898 as the American Society of Testing Materials, this non-profit
organization is now called ASTM International (or more commonly
just ASTM), it brings together scientists, engineers, manufacturers,
user groups and others to develop and produce technical standards
for materials, products, etc. ASTM F 2040 defines performance
requirements for non-motorized recreational snowsports helmets,
using impact protection standards comparable to current bicycle
helmet requirements. Test methods are similar as well. F 2040
calls for evaluation of ski helmets using the basic testing approach
contained in another of its published standards, F 1446: Test
Methods for Equipment and Procedures Used in Evaluating the Performance
Characteristics of Protective Headgear. This is the test
specification used in nearly all of ASTM's helmet standards.
It is referenced repeatedly in the ski helmet standard F 2040,
as in this example:
"Headforms to be used in this specification
are as specified in the section on Test Headforms of Test Methods
There are differences of course, as in
the temperature range specified for the testing of ski helmets
(low: -22° to -28°C, high: 32° to 38°C), but
again, it is important to note that the testing procedures for
ski helmets called for by ASTM F 2040 are comparable to those
specified for bicycle helmets, as documented in ASTM F 1446.
The specified headform for testing is typically
made of a magnesium alloy with an outer shape similar to that
of the skull, it is equipped with a single-axis accelerometer
to provide acceleration data. F 2040 calls for a flat anvil Impact
test drop height of 2.0 meters, with a peak velocity of 6.2 m/s.
To pass, peak acceleration imparted to the headform cannot exceed
300 Gs upon impact. The specified drop height, headform weight,
and peak velocity results in energy impact equalling 98 Joules.
ASTM F 2040 also calls for impact test
drops onto a hemispherical anvil, and a solid steel edge
anvil, with the impact being managed effectively despite the
different anvil shapes. A total of four drops are mandated, two
of the impact sites using the flat anvil, and one impact each
using the hemispherical and edge anvils. Impact
testing can take place anywhere on or above a carefully defined
line, roughly indicted by the red line in the drawing at right.
Retention system (chin strap) testing in
the form of a Dynamic Strength Retention Test is also called
for under F 2040. Hot, cold, and wet helmets are to be placed
in an apparatus which allows a drop weight to slide in a guided
free fall, impacting a rigid stop anvil. A stirrup that represents
the bone structure of the lower jaw is built into the test fixture.
The stirrup is preloaded and an 8kg sliding weight is dropped
from .6 meters, impacting the stop anvil. The retention
system is required to remain intact, and without elongating more
than 30 mm to pass. A positional stability test (roll-off resistance)
is specified as part of the retention system testing. The roll-off
test is performed in both face up and face down simulations using
an apparatus similar to that used to test the chin strap, also
incorporating an 8kg weight, dropped from .6 meters.
Both the chin strap and roll-off tests,
and their performance standards, are identical to the Consumer
Product Safety Council's (CPSC) safety standard and methodology
for testing bicycle helmets. ASTM F
2040 does not require a penetration test.
The ASTM F 2040 standard is available
online and interested parties can download a copy for $29.
Snell RS-98-- The
Snell Memorial Foundation, is a non-profit group that develops
helmet standards and runs its own laboratories for testing and
certification. Since its founding in 1957, Snell has been a leader
in helmet safety in the United States and elsewhere.
The Snell RS-98 standard is the most stringent
ski helmet standard in the world, it is also ignored. For various
reasons addressed later in this report, there are currently no
ski and snowboard helmet manufacturers participating in the Snell
Snell RS-98 specifies strict design and
construction parameters. Aerodynamic fairing is limited, the
retention system must be designed in a way that discourages misuse
("the design use shall be the simplest and quickest to implement")
and the amount of required peripheral visual clearance to the
right and left, as well as up and down, is carefully spelled
out. The required extent of protection to be afforded by the
helmet is also clearly delineated.
Above: a monorail drop test rig
in action. Photo courtesy of Dynamic Research Inc., Torrance,
As in ASTM F 2040, impact testing under
Snell RS-98 is accomplished by placing an appropriate sized instrumented
headform inside the test helmet, and securing the helmet-clad
headform to a drop rig. Again, the specified flat anvil impact
test drop height is 2.0 meters, and to pass, peak acceleration
imparted to the headform cannot exceed 300 Gs upon impact. RS-98
calls for impact energy of 100 Joules, a little more than F 2040's
standard of 98J, but both standards specify four drops onto three
kinds of anvils: flat, hemispherical and edge.
A dynamic test of the helmet's retention
system (chin strap) is also called for under RS-98. Snell's approach
to this particular test is different than that specified by ASTM.
While the test apparatus itself is similar, in Snell's test far
more preload is applied and a much heavier drop weight is utilized,
but the weight mass is dropped in a vertical guided fall a distance
of 30 mm, rather than the 600 mm in the ASTM test. Under Snell
RS-98, roll-off is tested utilizing an inertial hammer and a
weight dropped from .6 meters. The combined weight of
the hammer and the weight must total 5kg, and the helmet, while
allowed to shift, must remain on the headform.
Snell RS-98 also mandates a penetration
test similar to that of CE 1077 except in reverse. A 3 kg, cone
shaped test striker is dropped onto the helmet from a height
of 1 meter. For the helmet to pass the striker "must not
penetrate to achieve even momentary contact with the test headform."
Exclusive to RS-98 is a chin bar test which applies to full face
The Snell RS-98 standard is available for
viewing on the web at www.smf.org
at no charge.
Other Important Differences and a Few
Observations on Standards
CE 1077, and other European Committee for
Standardization (CEN) norms were established as an important
part of CEN's mission to publish "voluntary technical standards
which promote free trade," as well as "the safety of
workers and consumers." Much like ASTM's helmet standard,
the requirements of CE 1077 and subsequent revisions are negotiated
between the organization and different interested parties, including
manufacturers, medical groups and even various government entities
representing industries within the European Economic Community
and EFTA countries. It is considered a "voluntary"
standard, but European manufacturers who wish to successfully
market and sell their helmets throughout Europe, with as little
hassle as possible, must meet the technical standards of CE 1077.
ASTM F2040 is also referred to as a "voluntary"
standard in that no law in the United States currently mandates
that ski and snowboard helmets to meet its requirements, nor
any other standard for that matter. Further, no independent body
is charged with testing helmets which claim to be designed and
manufactured to the ASTM F 2040 or CE 1077. Skiers and snowboarders,
would seem to be in the position of having to rely solely on
the good name and reputation of the manufacturers in order to
have confidence in their claim of CE or ASTM compliance. In practice,
a helmet maker would need to have a corporate death wish, and
be willing to risk very serious legal consequences, if they were
to knowingly or even unknowingly manufacture and distribute for
sale ski and snowboard helmets that don't meet the requirements
of the standard to which they claim to qualify. The beauty of
so-called "voluntary standards" such as ASTM F 2040
are that they are drafted to protect both consumers and manufacturers.
That's why "defense attorneys" play an important role
in their development.
Simply put, helmet makers are highly motivated
to make sure their products meet the standards to which they
claim to qualify. Nevertheless, the value of independent random
sample testing has been proven in many industries down through
the ages. And while Snell and ASTM's ski helmet standards are
similar, it's random testing which sets the Snell Memorial Foundation
and its standards apart from the rest. As part of its licensing
agreement with helmet makers who participate in the Snell
certification program (primarily motorcycle helmet manufacturers
and a few bike helmet makers), the Foundation purchases sample
helmets right off store shelves for occasional testing, insuring
that the manufacturing process remains consistent, and that Snell
helmets in stores continue to meet the Foundation's standard.
Sounds good, doesn't it? So why is it that
no ski and snowboard helmet makers currently participate in Snell's
certification program? In a phone interview with Snell's Executive
Director Ed Becker recently, we were told that there are several
reasons. "Skiers and snowboarders just don't seem to be
interested in buying Snell approved helmets," said Becker.
"Part of the reason may be fashion. Our impact standards
are a little higher which may require manufacturers to design
thicker, bulkier, and heavier helmets in order to pass our tests."
Ed Becker also explained that another reason why the foundation
has had much more success signing up manufacturers of helmets
made for motorsports, than for skiing and snowboarding, is that
"the sanctioning bodies in competitive motorsports very
often require participants to use Snell certified helmets."
In snowsports, competition remains a very small and far less
influential part of the market.
Still another reason: cost. "Manufacturers
have to be willing to pay the fees Snell certification requires,"
said Becker. "Apparently the makers of ski and snowboard
helmets are not willing to do so. It's not a lot of money but
there is definitely some cost to the manufacturer." Indeed
there is. A quick look at the Foundation's Price
List reveals that manufacturers seeking Snell certification
are required to pay for initial certification for each model,
as well as for the Foundation's "approved" labels.
In addition the helmet maker must agree to reimburse Snell for
the cost of the random testing program, including the expenses
incurred in acquisition and testing of the helmets, up to 1%
of of the total number of each model helmet produced. With more
than 600,000 ski and snowboard helmets sold in the U.S. last
year, a manufacturer with significant market share could find
itself on the hook for considerably more than pocket change,
and for a testing service that essentially duplicates its own
necessary efforts. Without demand from individual recreational
skiers and snowboarders, or the groups involved in promoting
snowsports competition, it's unlikely that we will see Snell
Memorial Foundation certification stickers on ski or snowboard
helmets in the near future.
Fortunately, in ASTM F 2040, the industry
has a solid standard upon which it can design and build effective
helmets, and one upon which consumers can rely upon as well.
Still, there will always be room for improvement. As Snell's
Ed Becker wrote in response to our video, and to our initial
inquiry into the lack of Foundation certified ski helmets currently
on the market:
"Most ski helmets in the US these
days qualify to the ASTM's voluntary standard. ASTM is calling
for impact protection comparable to current bicycle helmet requirements.
These helmets will prevent a whole lot of head injuries, but
I believe that skiers and snowboarders can and should wear even
more hat on the slopes.There's no doubt that no matter how much
hat someone takes to the slopes, there will be crashes that will
exceed that helmet's capabilities to protect against severe injury
or death. Any skier who skis away from a head first impact with
a tree owes at least as much to his lucky stars as to his helmet.
But there's certainly nothing wrong with giving your lucky stars
all the help you can by wearing the best helmet possible."
Two Persistent Ski Helmet Criticisms....
and Apparent Myths
One of the most common criticisms of ski
and snowboard helmets is that they supposedly only protect the
wearer from impacts occurring while skiing in the range of 11
to 14 mph (17.7 to 22.5 km/h), while studies have shown that
skiers typically average around 27 mph (43.5 km/h). This conclusion
is derived from the specified impact velocities in the CE, ASTM
and Snell tests. It is often used as part of a highly misleading
argument against the efficacy of current ski helmets. In a word,
it's a myth.
Under the ASTM and Snell standards, ski
helmets are tested in 2 meter drops that achieve about 14 miles
per hour (22.5 km/h) at impact, onto a flat anvil. Motorcycle
helmets are routinely tested using 3 meter drops which acheive
about 17 mph (27.36 km/h), yet it is widely accepted that motorcycle
helmets have proven to provide substantial protection against
brain injury at much higher speeds. It should be noted that the
differential between motorcycle helmet drop rig test speeds and
the average speed of motorcycle riders is far higher than the
differential between the ski helmet test speeds, and average
skier speeds. And yet no one seriously questions the efficacy
of motorcycle helmets, there is simply too much data proving
It should also be noted that bicycle helmets
are tested using the same 2 meter drops as ski helmets, and like
skiers, bicyclists frequently exceed 14 mph in forward speed,
yet the famous 1998 case-control study of the effectiveness of
bicycle safety helmets by Thompson and Patterson, indicated that
bicycle helmet use reduces the risk of head injury by 85%, brain
injury by 88% and severe brain injury by at least 75%. The Thompson
and Patterson study also showed that this protection extended
to crashes involving a variety of causes, and at higher speeds,
including collisions with fixed and moving objects, such as cars
and trucks. In addition, since the time of the Thompson and Patterson
study, there have been at least six independent studies published
which have conclusively shown that bicycle helmets are effective
in protecting against head injuries in a variety of accident
Simply put, both helmet wearing bicyclists
and motorcycle riders routinely ride much, much faster than the
apparent capability of their helmets to protect-- at least as
far as a literal reading of helmet test standards would indicate.
In reality, there is overwhelming real-world data and clinical
experience which has clearly shown that these helmet wearers
benefit from significant protection in collisions, even at much
Another widespread criticism of ski helmets
is the one involving "risk compensation." This is the
theory that people will take more chances when using protective
headgear, that the exaggerated feeling of security a ski helmet
supposedly affords is likely to lead people into increasing their
level of risk-taking on the slopes. The theory posits that skiers
and snowboarders will tend to bring their level of thrill back
up to their own individual, acceptable level of risk.
This has been a favorite theory of one
Dr. Jasper Shealy, a researcher who has been the darling of the
National Ski Areas Association (NSSA) for many years. Dr. Shealy,
who has been quoted as saying that he doesn't wear a helmet unless
it is to keep his head warm, currently shares his thoughts on
the NSSA's Lids
on Kids website. Incredibly, in this article on an industry
site supposedly developed "to help educate parents about
putting helmets on their children while they're on the slopes,"
Shealy allows that he is "not exactly" happy with the
trend of increased helmet use. One of the main reasons he gives
involves the theory of risk compensation.
Yet in a landmark ski helmet study published
in 2004, Brent Hagel, an assistant professor of epidemiology
at the University of Calgary, found that helmet use did not
lead to riskier behavior or increase the risk of severe injury
while skiing and snowboarding. In fact, Hagel discovered that
wearing a helmet out on the slopes may reduce the risk of head
injury by as much as 29 to 56%. Hagel's
study didn't include those who fell and hit their heads but
did not sustain an injury because they were wearing a helmet.
Including those individuals would have increased the documented
protective effect of helmets even more.
Further, in 2005, Dr. Michael Scott of
the California State University at Chico, along with several
others, published a report
entitled "Testing the Risk Compensation Hypothesis for Safety
Helmets in Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding. Dr. Scott and his
group recorded face-to-face interviews with 1,779 adult skiers
and snowboarders at 31 ski areas in Western North America during
January-March 2003. Respondents were asked two questions assessing
risk compensation: do they (a) ski/snowboard faster, slower or
about the same speed, and (b) challenge themselves more, less
or about the same. Helmet wearers compared current behavior to
when they did not wear a helmet; non-wearers, to previous seasons.
The result: helmet use was significantly associated with less
risky skiing/snowboarding, and the study's authors concluded
that increasing helmet use does not appear to motivate more risk
taking. Helmet wearers were said to engage in "less risk
behavior than non-wearers, suggesting that decisions to adopt
helmets are motivated by safety concerns."
Choosing a Ski Helmet
Ski helmets come in various styles and
types, among these are full shell, 3/4 shell, and full face models.
Full shell models provide more coverage and seal out wind and
weather better than 3/4 shell helmets, but they can get hot on
warmer days, this is especially true of the models that lack
effective vents. 3/4 shell lids often feel less confining, and
are cooler. Many 3/4 models come with removable ear flaps for
Full face helmets (with chin bars) have
traditionally been used more in competition then in recreational
free skiing, though they are becoming more popular for everyday
use among the more agro. With their added benefit of protecting
the jaw and the face, full face helmets would seem to be a good
choice for skiers who spend a lot of time in the woods.
This is a good time to note that almost
all ski helmets currently on the market are built to the "single
impact" standards called for under CEN, ASTM and Snell.
There are exceptions. Team
Wendy's "W" helmets with their proprietary "Zorbium"
foam liners are true multiple impact helmets, qualifying to ASTM's
F 1492 multiple impact standard for skateboarding, as well as
to ASTM F 2040 for snowsports.
Pro-Tec says that its exclusively licensed
"Surface activated eXpanded Polypropylene" (SXP) liner
technology makes their snowsports helmets "multi- impact,"
but on their website
Pro-Tec does not claim that their helmets qualify to any standard
other than the single-impact CE 1077 and ASTM F 2040. In any
case, single versus multiple impact helmets is probably not an
issue for most skiers and snowboarders. Riders who spend a lot
of time pushing their limits in terrain parks would seem to be
the main exception.
Once you decide which style helmet fits
your needs best it's time to find a helmet that fits as perfectly
as possible. Fit is, by far, the most critical element in choosing
a helmet. Just as there is much variation in the size and shape
of the human head, so also is there a lot of variation in helmet
size and fit.
Start by measuring your head, or better
yet, get someone else to help you do it, like your friends at
your local retail shop. If that's not possible then use a tailor's
measuring tape and measure the circumference of your head above
the ears, and about two fingers width above your eyebrows. The
biggest mistake people make here is in pulling the tape too tight,
get an accurate measurement by pulling it snug but not too tight
around your head.
Take a look at our helmet
sizing chart page to find your size according to some of
the more popular manufacturers.
Next, try on as many different helmets
as possible to find the one that fits best, one that sits squarely
on your head with the front of the helmet about two finger's
width up from your brow. The helmet's padding should give firm,
uniform pressure all around your head. You will know you have
a good fit if the skin on your forehead moves when you to try
to rotate the helmet from left to right, and from front to back.
Pay close attention to the chin strap retention
system as well. The front and rear straps should form a "Y"
just below and forward of your ears, and when the straps have
been adjusted and the chin strap snapped closed, there should
be no slack in the system.
Finally, if you have a special pair of
goggles you want to continue to use, take them with you to make
sure they are compatible with the helmet you have chosen before
you make your purchase.
Remember once again, fit is key. A helmet
that is too big will not be as effective in protecting your head,
and a lid that is too tight and uncomfortable will probably be
left in the car. Take the time to get it right.
To Wear a Helmet or Not... Making an Informed
If you have read this far it might seem
logical to conclude that the purpose of this article is to advocate
for helmet use by skiers and snowboarders generally, and in particular
by our primary audience in the telemark and backcountry skiing
community. It is not. In fact, the author himself has never worn a helmet
in the more than 35 years he has participated in alpine, cross-country
and telemark skiing. Our goal here is to help our readers make
an informed choice to either wear a helmet, or not, based on
accurate information, presented with as little personal bias
As we have seen, the current crop of ASTM
F 2040 qualified ski and snowboard helmets are considered effective
in saving lives and reducing the severity of head injuries by
a wide variety of experts in the field... even a helmet expert
who's job it is to advance a competing standard agrees with this
view. Recent studies have tended to show that earlier fears of
increased risk of neck injury, or of reckless behavior due to
"risk compensation" have been unfounded, and other
authoritative reports abound. Of particular note in demonstrating
the effectiveness of ski helmets is the the work of Colorado
neurosurgeon Dr. Stewart Levy, who's study "An
Analysis of Head Injuries among Skiers and Snowboarders,
reported Levy's real world experience in treating ski and snowboard
head injury victims:
" In over 400 skiers and snowboarders
with TBIs (traumatic brain injuries) serious enough to warrant
transfer and admission to our level I trauma center, only five
were wearing helmets. All five patients had mild injuries and
made full recoveries despite some very major mechanisms. Our
most severely injured helmeted patient to date was a snowboarder
who went off a 40 foot cliff and landed on his head, cracking
his helmet in half. He sustained a severe concussion (or mild
diffuse axonal injury) with loss of consciousness, but had a
negative CT scan of the head. He did require inpatient rehabilitation,
but ultimately has made a full recovery and is now attending
college. All the rest of the helmeted skiers and snowboarders
had mild concussions and negative CT scans. Among the unhelmeted
only 69% had simple concussions with negative CT scans of the
head. The rest had more severe injuries such as cerebral contusions,
or subdural, epidural or intracerebral hematomas. Severe TBI,
with coma and Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score of 3-8, occurred
in 15% of the unhelmeted skiers and snowboarders with head injuries,
and their overall mortality rate after admission to the hospital
was 4%." (source)
This is not to say that the current crop
of ski helmets have reached the
stage of ultimate perfection, far from it. Many experts, including
Jim Newman, a former Snell Foundation director, believe that
the current helmet standards which allow users to take a 300
G hit to the brain need to be modified downward. Last year Newman
Magazine that it was time to let the helmet makers know that
"300 Gs is not going to cut it anymore. Next year you're
going to have to get down to 250. And the next year, 200. And
the year after that, 185."
New materials and research-driven advances
in construction and design will no doubt mean that helmet standards
will need be revised over time to accurately reflect current
capabilities. While ski helmets can surely be made better and
manage impacts more effectively then they do today, this should
not be seen as a valid excuse not to wear one while out on the
The best, most valid, and perhaps only
real excuse we have heard for not wearing a helmet while skiing
is simply not wanting to wear one. Some may look at the
statistics and decide they are okay with taking their chances.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, in the wake of
the Kennedy and Bono accidents the National Ski Areas Association
(NSAA) pulled up mid-90s data showing that skiing is one of the
safer of the sporting activities enjoyed by large numbers of
Americans, and that has not changed. Today the NSSA claims that
over the last decade around 38 skiers or snowboarders are killed
each year in resort-based accidents. They also say an average
of 41 riders are victims of serious head injuries or paraplegia
per year. With the number of "skier days" (defined
as a single day or night visit to a resort by a skier or snowboarder)
running well over 50 million per year, those are relatively low
According to a recent NSAA
press release, during the 2004/2005 season 45 fatalities
occurred during 56.9 million skier days, a fatality rate of .80
per million skier days. There were 45 serious injuries, also
putting the rate of serious injury at .80 per million
skier days. Lower than the fatality rate per days of participation
(per million) for swimming, which is pegged at 1.26, and
a little higher than the fatility rate for bicycle collisions
with motor vehicles (only) at .38. Other sources of statistics
state that the yearly number of serious skiing and snowboarding
injuries is much higher. Still, by all accounts, skiing and snowboarding
are relatively safe sports, and serious head injuries are rare.
On the other hand, today's ski helmets
are light, comfortable, inexpensive, and effective. They offer
an extra degree of protection over and above the important safe
riding basics of skiing responsibly and in control, as well as
skiing within one's own abilities.
You have the information you need to make
an informed decision. It's your call, now go do what works best
for you, and please, let others make their own call as well.
Have fun out there!