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Helmets keep you safe, even on the bunny slopes.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
According to the National Ski Areas Association, 67 percent of skiers and snowboarders regularly wore helmets on the slopes of the U.S. in the 2011 to 2012 seasons. But, only 77 percent of ski patrollers wear helmets on a regular basis, according to a 2009 report published in the вЂњInternational Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion.вЂќ Patrollers set an example for other skiers who could benefit from wearing a ski helmet to prevent traumatic brain injury. Patrollers argue, as do some recreational skiers, that wearing a helmet can negatively affect skiing behavior and increase the risk for other injuries. While wearing a helmet does have some cons, the life-saving potential of helmets leads most experts to recommend them.
Head and Brain Injury
The primary pro of wearing a ski helmet is to save your life. In the November 2012 issue of the вЂњJournal of Trauma and Acute Care SurgeryвЂќ Johns Hopkins University researchers reported that approximately 600,000 ski- and snowboarding-related injuries occur in North America annually, of which 20 percent are to the head. Head injuries lead to brain damage, hospitalization and death. The researchers reviewed 16 studies on the efficacy of helmets and concluded that wearing a ski helmet significantly reduces incidences and severity of head injuries. In 2013, "The New York Times" noted that this reduction is as high as 60 percent.
Impaired Senses and Discomfort
Ski patrollers cited impaired hearing as one of the reasons they did not like to wear a helmet. This could be an issue for these officials, who need to hear calls for help. For the average skier, however, a slight impairment in hearing should not outweigh the protective benefits of a helmet. Some skiers also say a helmet affects their ability to see the slopes clearly. Approximately 25 percent of patrollers surveyed also felt the helmets were uncomfortable. Dozens of models of helmets are available, and if you measure your head properly, you can find a helmet that fits well. A study published in the June 2011 issue of вЂњWilderness and Environmental MedicineвЂќ found that wearing a helmet did not negatively affect reaction time or sensory perception any more than a wool cap.
Ski patrollers express concern that helmets give recreational skiers a false sense of safety, so they feel they can be more reckless on the slopes. A 2010 study published in the вЂњBritish Journal of Sports MedicineвЂќ determined, after studying more than 500 skiers and snowboarders, that wearing a helmet did not markedly increase risk-taking behavior on the slopes. Younger male skiers who have a low body mass index and a high-degree of skiing skill are more likely to take risks, regardless of headwear.
Concern exists that helmet wear can increase the torque and whiplash experienced when a skier falls, which increases the risk of neck and cervical spine injury. The Johns Hopkins researchers found, however, that in practice, helmets do not increase this risk.