If you know someone who point-blank refuses to wear a helmet and another person who point-blank refuses to take theirs off then you will know what I mean by the Helmet Debate. You can read about it HERE, but we've summed it up for you below, too:
The helmet-wearer will say: Why aren’t you wearing a helmet? I don’t understand why you’re not wearing one, there’s any number of unforeseen dangers out there and a helmet will save your life.
Then the non-helmet-wearer will shrug and say: I just don’t see the point. When I’m not wearing a helmet I’m more aware and I don’t hit my head, but when I do wear a helmet I always hit my head. Plus they're super expensive.
Then the helmet wearer will say: But how can you possibly know what will happen when you’re least expecting it? [insert name of celebrity/friend/pro rider here] was/wasn’t wearing a helmet and they STILL sustained a really gruesome head injury. Not wearing one is surely going to culminate in CERTAIN DEATH.
And the non-helmet wearer will say: [insert name of doctor/study here] has proven that wearing a helmet doesn’t make you any safer, in fact it makes you feel indestructible and behave more recklessly. And [insert name of different study here] states that the amount of head injuries hasn’t changed even though more people wear helmets nowadays. So there.
And then the helmet-wearer will say: You should still wear one anyway.
Then there will be an awkward silence until somebody changes the subject.
It’s a widely accepted fact that in this modern day and age, a lot of people who go skiing and snowboarding wear helmets. In a few resorts it’s compulsory, and in others it’s not; in Italy it’s compulsory to wear a helmet in snowparks, in the UK you’re not allowed to ride in the domes unless you’re wearing one, and they’re mandatory in most major slopestyle and halfpipe contests. Yet it still seems to be a huge point of contention. Whether it’s an angry skier dad in the lift queue loudly stating that helmets should be compulsory everywhere or the ‘really cool’ person smoking and wearing a fishing hat saying that compulsory helmet wearing takes away our freedom of choice, everyone has an opinion.
But whatever peoples’ opinions, wearing a helmet still remains a personal choice (for the most part), and whatever your choice may be, we think it’s only right that you should be properly informed with some good old statistics. So, firstly, what does a helmet actually do?
Obviously it protects your head, keeps it a bit warmer and helps your goggles stay on. But helmets work by absorbing and spreading out the shock wave that is the result of a hard impact. The main thing a helmet does effectively is protect against surface injuries like fractured skulls, head and facial lacerations. In fact, this type of injury has been reduced by up to 50% from 2003 according to this article in the New York Times.
Numerous studies have been conducted, mainly in the USA, into the actual effectiveness of helmets in preventing the likes of serious brain traumas, the results of which were published in the same article. The studies cited by the New York Times claimed that while the amount people wearing a helmet had gone up from 25% of people in 2003 to 70% in 2013 (study by the National Ski Areas Association of America) the amount of head injuries hadn’t gone down.
However, what most non-helmet-wearers will neglect to mention about this fact is that while wearing a helmet doesn’t make you immune to head trauma (of course it doesn’t, you’re still hitting your head, there’s just a layer of polystyrene and plastic in the way) the statistics HAVE shown that in a lot of cases, a helmet reduces the severity of the injury. That’s why the number of head injuries hasn’t actually reduced. The main issue brought up from the study by the NSAA is that a helmet can only protect you up to a certain point, which usually isn’t mentioned by helmet activists such as your parents, the media and your helmet wearing friend. But more on that in a minute.
There are a multitude of common excuses people like to use for not wearing a helmet: they're not cool, too clunky, impair your senses... The New York Times (and many non-helmet-wearing friends) would have us believe that wearing extra protection gives us an inflated sense of confidence that makes us more likely to get into an accident. However, a study by the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore conducted in 2012 suggests that this is not the case, stating that the research involved in the study found that helmets do not reduce your visibility or hearing enough to negatively affect your riding, and that helmets don’t cause whiplash or other neck injuries when you fall over – the benefits of wearing one far outweigh the risks associated with not wearing one.
But the problem still remains that wearing a helmet will not actually stop you from sustaining a head injury if you hit your head hard enough, which some experts have attributed to their design and the testing process. Currently, most helmets are tested using linear force impacts, ie. dropping it from a great height or propelling it into a wall, which means they are pretty ineffective against rotational forces, which reflects the way we usually fall when we’re skiing or snowboarding. But they will protect your head really well if a rock falls on it. This article even points out that concussion and serious brain injuries are caused by your head hitting something at a high speed and then stopping abruptly, causing your brain to bounce around inside your skull, so for high speed collisions, wearing a helmet will do nothing to help prevent a nasty concussion.
It’s for reasons such as this one that it’s not compulsory to wear helmets for recreational skiing in most ski resorts – there isn’t enough associated benefit to force people into wearing one. On the flip side, there isn’t enough associated benefit to advise people to not wear a helmet either, and so it remains a personal choice issue. In our opinion, there is nothing to lose by wearing a helmet (unless you just can’t bear to leave the house without your fishing hat) and we can only advise others to wear one, too. But we won’t get all up in your face if you don’t want to. However, whether you choose to wear a helmet of not, it’s really important to always be super aware of what’s going on around you and to know your ability level – that way you can be more likely to avoid an accident all together.
For some more helpful information about the effectiveness of helmets and other snowsports safety products, check out this website, it's really useful! Or if you're thinking about buying a helmet (or already have one that you hate) take a look at our guide to buying the perfect helmet.