Ski helmets – wear them properly for optimal safety
SUMMIT COUNTY – Though ski helmets can help with some types of accidents, they don’t always save lives. And proper use is key to optimum safety. When looking for a helmet, one must pay attention to fit (it must be the right size), use (it must be designed for one’s specific sport), and it should be replaced after a crash for the best protection.”I see it like this – helmets can help a snow rider be safer, just as a seatbelt can help a driver be safer,” said Dr. Marc Doucettte, medical director for St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s emergency department. “But a helmet, like a seatbelt, does not provide complete protection from injury and should not provide a ‘false sense of security.’ Yet, this is not a reason not to wear one. Snow riders, like vehicle drivers, must also use other safe practices, such as staying in control, limiting speed, not riding while intoxicated and not exceeding their abilities.”Arapahoe Basine’s ski patrol director Patrick O’Sullivan, agreed, saying: “They’re great to wear, but ski like you don’t have one on. Still use your brain and make the right choices. Lots of people have all these excuses – I can’t hear, they’re too hot or too cold. I don’t believe in any of that. You just need to select a good helmet and find one that works well for you.”Doucette said St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s emergency room sees several patients daily during ski season with head injuries or concussions caused by skiing or snowboarding – some with helmets, some without.”We suspect that patients with head injuries who were wearing a helmet may have sustained a less-severe injury had they not been wearing one,” he said. “As a specific example, I have seen patients who have sustained significant scalp lacerations, say from a ski or snowboard edge hitting them in the head, which clearly would have been prevented by a helmet.”Doucette also said the incidence of certain orthopedic injuries (like lower extremity fractures) in skiers have lessened over the years – probably due to improvements in equipment technology and safety. Even so, the incidences of head injuries haven’t shown the same decrease.”I suspect that this may be related to the advent of snowboarding, terrain parks, and the more extreme nature of the sport as pursued by the younger generation of snow riders,” he said.
Summit County Coroner Joanne Richardson said helmets are helpful if a skier or snowboarder falls on the slope and hits the back of their head, or takes a tumble in the snow.Yet “when people hit trees with their heads, a helmet will seldom help,” Richardson said. “This is due to the mechanism of the crash. It takes a perfect storm of events – how fast you are going, how you hit the tree with your head and how hard you hit it. For instance, those who died while wearing helmets either were several feet in the air during a jump and they landed on their heads directly, or they hit the tree with their forehead or top of head.”Richardson also said that almost half the helmets worn when people were killed from “skull fractures” were the “wrong type of helmet for the use.””One helmet was used for snowmobiling and it was rated for non-motorized sports,” she said. “Another couple of helmets (look like ski or snowboard helmets) were only for bicycle use. I am not sure why people use them. Perhaps they are lighter or they think they will protect them.”
According to Richardson, any time you crash with a helmet on, the helmet should be replaced. “I find this is not often done,” she said. Secondly, it is recommended that helmets be replaced every five years as the technology keeps getting better and better. She said older helmets begin to break down.Giro, a helmet manufacturer, said the first step to finding the right helmet is size. Giro suggests sizing one’s head by measuring its circumference. It provides comprehensive helmet-fit information on its website: http://www.giro.com.”If the helmet you own now doesn’t fit on your head snugly but comfortably, you should replace it with one that does,” Giro’s website said. “You should always wear the helmet positioned low enough in the front to protect your forehead, but not so low that it hinders your vision.”The website also recommends adjusting the chin straps and buckle for the best helmet fit.”Fasten the chin strap buckle and tighten the straps until the helmet fits snugly,” it said. “You should be able to open your mouth wide enough to eat. Make sure the chin strap is well back against the throat, not on the point of the chin. Straps worn on the point of the chin increase the chance of a helmet coming off in an accident. … Always wear the helmet with the chin strap buckle fastened and the strap pulled tight.”Giro’s site also noted that once the wearer thinks he/she has achieved the proper fit, they should grab the helmet with both hands and twist it to the left and the right.”If the helmet fits properly, the skin on the forehead will move as the helmet moves. If it does not, the helmet is too loose. Also, grab the helmet with both hands and try to remove it by rolling the helmet forward and backward as far as you can. Make a serious effort. … If you can roll it off the head completely in either direction, roll it forward so far that it blocks vision, or backward far enough to expose the forehead, it doesn’t fit correctly.”For more information about helmet fit, visit http://www.giro.com/en-us/support/faqs.To read the National Ski Areas Association full helmet policy, visit: http://bit.ly/6a2Eak.Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at email@example.com.
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