In 2010, 57% of U.S. skiers and snowboarders wore helmets according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA).
Today, that number is 80%, with 89% of kids under age 17 (and a full 93% of children under age 9) sporting helmets every time they ski or ride.
And, most impressive, the growth in helmet use has been largely voluntary.
Only New Jersey requires helmets for kids. While many resorts require children in lessons to wear helmets, the message that helmets are a good thing has been heard and families are acting on it.
And the Data Says…
While there will always be naysayers, a 2015 analysis from the University of Rochester (New York), show that ski helmets are extremely effective at reducing skull fractures and eliminating scalp lacerations.
Helmets are also effective at preventing serious concussions. Three-quarters of all skiing and snowboarding-related head injuries are mild concussions requiring minimal treatment. Without helmets, these mild concussions could be much more serious.
A Eurosafe study, using Canadian data, found that helmets reduce head injuries by 21%-45% with the greatest benefit for children under the age of 10 (a 50% reduction).
A Parent’s Guide to Helmet Safety
1. The Right Fit. In order to offer protection, ski and snowboard helmets must fit. Never buy a helmet for your child with “room to grow.” Instead, look for kids’ helmets with adjustable dials and straps fit snugly and allow for some growth.
Check the fit of your children’s helmets before you buy (or rent) and recheck it throughout the season.
First, measure your child’s head with a soft tape that shows centimeters. Place the tape about 1” above the eyebrows and ears. This will help you choose the right size.
Next, try it on. A well-fitting helmet should neither tight nor loose. It should be snug, but without pressure points. There should be no excess space between the helmet and the head.
Ask your child to shake his or her head. The helmet should stay put, without independent movement. Push the helmet up and down, to the left and to the right. It should stay in place and the skin of the head should move with the helmet.
Also be sure to check your child’s goggles. They should fit snugly against the helmet, with no gap.
These same tips work for adults, too.
2. Replace When Necessary. While it would be nice if helmets lasted forever, they do not. Age takes a toll on helmets, with the cushioning and dampening materials loosing some of their effectiveness after 3-5 years.
If you’ve got a helmet in that age range, replace it. For the same reasons, don’t buy used helmets.
Also, you should always replace a helmet after any accident involving the head and helmet. Our son recently took a hard hit to his head. While he didn’t have a concussion, and his brand-new (of course) helmet didn’t appear damaged or cracked, ski patrol told us to toss it.
It’s a matter of better safe than sorry.
3. Ski Safe. Ski Smart. A few years ago, a report showing an increase in head injuries alongside increases in ski and snowboard helmet use was published in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine. While a supposed correlation between helmets and head injuries got the most attention, the study found additional factors at play including crowded slopes, increased risk-taking and better brain injury detection.
This means its important to teach your kids about skiing safety. The most serious brain injuries come from accidents involving trees, rocks and other people. Avoiding collisions is paramount.
So is skiing safely. The best place to learn about skiing safety is the Skier’s Responsibility Code. Don’t assume your kids understand the rules of the slopes. Have a discussion about safety and lead by example.
4. Make Helmets a Habit. Recently, our family watched some ski movies from the 1960s and 1970s.
These films were enlightening for several reasons. First, the athletes were doing amazing moves on really bad equipment. Second, they were hardly wearing any layers, prompting my son to ask if temperatures were actually warmer back then (they weren’t, so we decided that the bad equipment forced skiers to work harder and stay warmer).
Third, and most importantly, no one was wearing a helmet, not even when sending it from rocky precipices and chutes. My sons, one of whom falls into the category with the least helmet usage (ages 18-24), were shocked. It terrified them to think of the risks these skiers were taking.
It was music to my ears.
Start your children off right by wearing helmets from day one.
Model excellent behavior and always wear your helmet, too.
Be smart, ski smart and stay smart!
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