The Truth About Ski Helmets & Brain Injury

Skiing accidents are not a rare occurrence. Zipping down mountains at incredible speeds is not a hobby without risk. It’s because of this risk that the use of ski helmets have become more prevalent in recent years. But the latest high-profile ski accident has some people questioning whether or not ski helmets are all they’re made out to be. But we say not so fast…

Here’s the story. Michael Schumacher, one of the world’s most successful Formula One racers, was recently in a serious skiing accident. He survived, but is currently in a French hospital being treated for a traumatic brain injury sustained during the accident. Schumacher was wearing a ski helmet, yet he still sustained a TBI. Does that mean helmets are worthless? Even bad? The following comes from an article in The New York Times:

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.

Experts ascribe that seemingly implausible correlation to the inability of helmets to prevent serious head injuries like Schumacher’s and to the fact that more skiers and snowboarders are engaging in risky behaviors: skiing faster, jumping higher and going out of bounds.

In summary, the argument is that the use of helmets provides skiers with a false sense of security, causing them to be more reckless and sustain more injuries. And while there may be some fault in that logic, the winter sports industry has certainly embraced (and promoted) more extreme experiences and risky behavior. Nina Winans, a sports medicine physician at Tahoe Forest MultiSpecialty Clinics in Truckee, California told The New York Times that “there’s a push toward faster, higher, pushing the limits being the norm, not the exception. So, all of those factors — terrain parks, jumping cliffs and opening terrain that maybe wasn’t open in the past — play into some of these statistics with injuries.”

So here’s the final word. Should you wear a helmet while skiing? Yes, absolutely. But wearing that helmet does not make you invincible. While your helmet can protect you from less serious head injuries, they cannot protect you from everything, especially when you are clocking an incredible speed. And, yes, it’s true that Michael Schumacher sustained a brain injury while wearing his helmet — but if he had not have been wearing it, he likely would not have survived.

Just remember that with every extreme, X Games-worthy move you make, you are increasing your likelihood for injury and seriously reducing what your helmet can do for you. Play it safe so you can enjoy the slopes for years to come.

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