BOULDER, Colo. — Despite the widespread increase of helmet usage in snow sports throughout the U.S., the number of fatalities resulting from skiing and snowboarding accidents has not decreased, according to a speaker here.
Severe head injuries have decreased, Irving Scher, PhD, PE, said at the International Extreme Sports Medicine Annual Congress, but fatalities have stayed about the same.
“Because we see a very minor difference in the potential outcome when hitting a fixed object, our hypothesis is that for fatal injuries that are usually polytramautic, that have high energy, a helmet will not really alter whether a person is fatally injured,” Scher said.
Looking at the data for ski- and snowboard-related fatalities over a 15-year period, the number of fatalities seemed to be unaffected by a dramatic increase in helmet use, according to Scher.
“At least so far with our preliminary data, it looks like we’re not getting any change in fatalities with our increased helmet use,” he said.
During the last 10 years, helmet use has increased to about 73% of snow sport participants, according to 2013-2014 statistics, Scher said, although usage varies by age, gender and location in the country.
Helmets can help reduce severe head injuries when it comes to falling on soft snow or icy snow; however, research has shown that most snow sport fatalities occur when a participant crashes into a stationary object, according to Scher. Thus, the chances of having a severe brain injury are high.
“On hard, icy snow, a helmet helps; on soft snow, it may not be needed, but it’s not a bad idea to use one,” Scher said. “But for hitting a tree, a lift tower, a rock — something where you fall and come out of your skis and slide into a fixed object — it’s not going to make too much of a difference.”
Disclosure: Scher has no relevant financial disclosures.
Reference: Scher I. Helmet in snow sports – Good or bad? Presented at: International Extreme Sports Medicine Annual Congress; June 13-14, 2014; Boulder, Colo.