Study by Children’s Hospital Colorado says ski, snowboard helmets work

Tracey Flower
Special to the Daily
Snow Skiing Accident Falling Woman skier skis detaches, loses, falls
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Helmet buying guide

Tips for finding the right helmet for your kid:

1. Choose a helmet that is specifically made for skiing or snowboarding. A bike helmet, for example, should not be used for skiing or snowboarding because it’s created for a different kind of impact; it’s also more ventilated than a ski helmet so it won’t be as comfortable on a cold day.

2. Make sure the helmet meets industry standards for safety and protection. You can find this information in the helmet’s literature. Some industry standards include CEN (least vigorous), ASTM, Snell and RS-98 (most vigorous).

3. The way a helmet fits is very important. It’s helpful to have an experienced sales person assist your child with fit. Know your child’s head circumference. You can learn this by using a tailor’s measuring tape and measuring your child’s head above the ears and right above the eyebrows (widest part of the head from the front to the back). A properly fit helmet will be comfortable with no pressure points.

4. Put the goggles on. There should be adequate space between the top of the goggles and the bottom of the helmet; the goggles should never push on the helmet. Bring the goggle strap over the helmet and secure the strap on the highest part of the head. Most helmets have snaps to clip the goggle straps in place. When purchasing a new helmet, make sure to bring your child’s goggles along.

5. Helmets are one article of apparel that should not be bought with room to grow. Children’s heads grow quite slowly so a properly fitted helmet should last at least a few seasons. It is best to avoid wearing toques or beanies underneath. Most helmets these days are made with adequate insulation and adjustable built-in ventilation systems for maximum comfort.

6. Many ski shops rent helmets, but call ahead first to confirm since supply might be limited.

Sources: and Family Ski Hub

Kids are bound to take a tumble or two on the slopes while learning how to ski or snowboard and, so, it might seem like a no-brainer, if you will, to strap a helmet on your child to protect his or her noggin from a concussion or other traumatic brain injury.

However, researchers have debated the efficacy of helmet use for more than a decade. Some experts often argue that helmet use leads to an increase in reckless behavior on the slopes, resulting in an increase in crashes and injuries.

New research conducted by Children’s Hospital Colorado and published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery has shown, however, that for young skiers and snowboards, helmet use does, in fact, lessen the severity of injuries sustained in skiing and snowboarding accidents. The research found that children who wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding sustain less severe head injuries and lower overall injury severity compared to children who do not wear a helmet.

The research was led by Dr. Steven Moulton, medical director of the trauma program at Children’s Colorado. The study analyzed 16 years of level one pediatric trauma center data from Children’s Colorado and included children ages 3 to 17 years old who sustained an injury while skiing or snowboarding.

“We suspect that Colorado residents have a better understanding of helmet safety and the benefits of wearing a helmet when skiing or snowboarding.”Dr. Steven MoultonMedical director of the trauma program at Children’s Colorado

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“This was a relatively large study with 549 children injured while skiing or snowboarding,” Moulton said. “Of those injured, only 78 children were admitted to the ICU, of which 27 were un-helmeted and 51 were helmeted. Despite these small numbers we were able to show a statistically higher incidence of severe head injury and overall injury severity in the un-helmeted group.”

In addition to showing the benefits of helmet use, the study found that young Colorado residents were nearly twice as likely to be wearing a helmet at the time of injury, compared to visitors from out-of-state.

Head injuries on the slopes

Head injuries sustained on the slopes are generally caused when a skier or snowboarder collides with an inanimate object like a tree or the ground. These injuries can range in severity, from scrapes and lacerations — which, according to the Children’s Hospital study, helmets are very effective at preventing — to concussions and other, more serious, injuries.

“Concussions are the most common form of head injury associated with skiing and snowboarding,” Moulton said. “We did see, however, much more serious head injuries especially among those who were not wearing a helmet. These more serious head injuries included skull fractures with significant intracranial hemorrhage, in some cases requiring surgery. We also saw children who sustained significant facial trauma, while others sustained cervical spine injuries with or without paralysis.”

According to Moulton’s report, 25 percent of children under the age of 16 who sustained an injury while skiing or snowboarding sustained a head injury, but as few as one-third of children who participate in these activities have been found to wear a helmet. And, while head injuries account for a small fraction of skiing and snowboarding-related injuries, they are the leading cause of snow sport-related death and disability.

The National Ski Areas Association promotes the use of helmets on the slopes but urges skiers and snowboarders to ski or ride as if they are not wearing a helmet. While skiers and snowboarders are not mandated to wear a helmet on Vail Resorts’ mountains, helmet use is similarly encouraged. All Vail Resorts’ on-mountain personnel must wear a helmet while skiing, snowboarding or operating a snowmobile, and all kids under the age of 12 have to wear one to participate in ski or ride school.

No excuse for recklessness

Even though helmet use has grown more popular amongst skiers and riders during the last decade or so, and most resorts encourage their use as a safety precaution, the research hasn’t always demonstrated their efficacy. In fact, a 2012 study conducted by the Western Michigan University School of Medicine concluded that skiing and snowboarding-related head injuries increased from 2004 to 2010 at a higher rate than all other ski and snowboard-related injuries despite a significant increase in helmet use during that time.

A 2013 study by the University of Washington similarly showed an increase in head injuries as helmet use grew in popularity, concluding that the number of ski and snowboard-related injuries among youths and adolescents increased 250 percent from 1996 to 2010.

There is, however, a growing body of research, including the Children’s Colorado study, which attests to the benefits of wearing a helmet. For example, a study of helmet use at Vermont’s Sugarbush Resort by the Rochester Institute of Technology and GEAR, conducted during a period of 17 years, concluded that helmets are very effective at mitigating head injuries like skull fractures and scalp lacerations.

While the Children’s Colorado study adds to a growing body of research showing that helmet usage does play a role in lessening the severity of head trauma in skiing and snowboarding accidents, it is unique for a few reasons, Moulton said.

“Other studies have been completed regarding head injuries and ski and snowboard activities,” he said. “Few studies, however, have looked specifically at the correlation between helmet usage, head injury severity, overall injury severity and admission into the ICU. Further, to our knowledge no other study has looked at the usage and understanding of helmet safety on a localized level, like we did for Coloradans versus out-of-state visitors.”

“We suspect that Colorado residents have a better understanding of helmet safety and the benefits of wearing a helmet when skiing or snowboarding,” Moulton added. “This may be because out-of-state visitors ski less often and may not be as familiar with the dangers associated with these sports. In addition, out-of-state visitors may be unfamiliar with a particular resort’s terrain, unaccustomed to the higher altitude, fatigued from travel, or it could be a combination of all these factors.”

At the end of the day, Moulton says it’s important to remember that while wearing a helmet is an important safety precaution, it’s not an excuse for recklessness on the slopes.

“Parents must teach their kids to enjoy snow sports within their own safety limits,” Moulton said. “Wearing a helmet lowers the risk of sustaining a serious head injury but does not prevent other serious bodily injury.”

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