Skeptics of the benefit of wearing a helmet now have less reason to doubt. A new study has reported that because of the changes to ski areas in the past decade, from open slopes to more non-traditional terrain such as gladed areas and terrain parks, skiers and snowboarders are going slowly enough that a helmet would provide significant protection. The study is published in the latest issue of Wilderness Medicine magazine.
Nearly 60 million skier visits occur annually in the United States alone. Of those, an estimated 139,300 skiers and snowboarders sustain injury serious enough to require treatment in an emergency room. Because traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and serious morbidity, the use of a helmet while skiing would seem logical. Rates of helmet use remain low, however, particularly among adults.
Still, controversy exists about the degree of protection a helmet provides, especially in a high velocity crash. The effectiveness of protective headgear is diminished as impact velocity increases. Based on current industry standards, helmet designs offer only limited protection in a direct collision at speeds greater than approximately 15 mph. Reluctance on the behalf of skiers to use helmets is expected, because speeds of 25 to 30 mph can be reached on the groomed terrain of open slopes.
The study’s team of researchers, led by Vermont pediatrician and critical care specialist Robert Williams, took to the slopes to see exactly how fast skiers were going in these non-traditional ski areas. Instructed to ride aggressively, the expert-level skiers and snowboarders were clocked at speeds below 15 mph 87.6 percent of the time. The variation and change of direction needed to navigate non-traditional ski areas requires that skiers go slower speeds. The study indicates that helmet use would carry significant benefits.
Unlike the strong endorsement of helmet use for bicycle safety, the medical community has been slow to endorse the use of helmets for skiing. Health care professionals and other authorities should be aware of the changes occurring within the sports of skiing and snowboarding and adapt their recommendations accordingly, said the team of researchers.
To read the entire study, see: http://www.allenpress.com/pdf/weme_18_205_102_105.pdf
Wilderness and Environmental Medicine is a peer-reviewed quarterly medical journal published by the Wilderness Medical Society. For more information, visit http://www.wms.org.
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