Do skiers wear helmets?
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Do skiers wear helmets?

Helmets are an essential accessory and an essential part of skiing and snowboarding attire to protect your most valuable and delicate asset – your head! As the years have gone on and skiing has become more accessible and risen in popularity, helmets have become more popular and more widely used by skiers and snowboarders.

The majority of skiers that you see across the world wear helmets all the time. If you go back to the late 20th century in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when skiing was gaining popularity across the world, you will see a remarkably low number of skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets. This has changed drastically over the years. From an underwhelming and disappointing 5% of skiers opting to wear a helmet in 1995 according to research, this had risen to 76% in 2010, with a correlating 65% reduction in the number of serious head injuries reported in this period as well. The data is very difficult to argue with, as is the evidence and importance of helmets in keeping skiers and snowboarders safe.

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skier wearing helmet

If you visit a ski resort now, you will still see a handful of people not wearing ski helmets. Who knows the real reason for this with the amount of evidence there is to show how important a helmet is. A large part of the reason is because of the style people want on the slopes, and a helmet is not seen as being ‘cool’! Having worked in a ski rental shop for 3 ski seasons around the world, I was amazed at how many people came to me and asked if a helmet was necessary or if they really needed it. The answer to this was always a clear YES from me and my colleagues.

Helmets were first used in skiing by racers, though reluctantly at first, due to the idea that it may negatively impact upon their aerodynamics. At no point did anyone ever consider that the risk of head injury was far more important than the 1 or 2 mph slower speed the racer might have to sacrifice. This mind set was in part due to the lack of properly testing and research conducted in the early 19th Century. It wasn’t until 1930’s that proper testing of head injuries and helmets began. Slowly but surely the development of protective helmets came on leaps and bounds, with the production of fibreglass helmets to dampen the blow suffered by any crashes.

There were a number of different reasons for skiers and snowboarders choosing not to wear helmets, with the main reason being ignorance. This wasnt the fault of the skiers, it was because there had not yet been extensive research or experiments done to establish the need for helmets. In addition to this, in the early days of skiing, skis were not optimised for speed nearly as well as they are nowadays. With the addition of metal edges on skis and the compacting of snow on pistes, the speed of skis increased dramatically, as did the risk of serious injury. As these risks became clearer, helmets became more and more popular amongst skiers.

Do I have to wear a helmet skiing?

Different ski resorts around the world take different approaches to looking after the safety of their guests on the mountain. It began with a variety of ski resorts around the world making helmets compulsory for children and teens. Today, certain countries and areas around the world have different laws.

  • In Canada, certain regions such as Nova Scotia have made helmets compulsory for ALL skiers and snowboarders regardless of age in all ski resorts. This is a very unique law, and few in any other resorts around the world make helmets compulsory for adults.
  • In USA in resorts such as New Jersey, wearing a helmet when skiing or snowboarding is compulsory for anyone under the age of 18.
  • Italy has made it compulsory for all children and teen skiers and snowboarders up to the age of 14 to wear a helmet.
  • In 2009, two of the largest ski resort companies in USA have made it compulsory for minors to wear ski helmets in each of their resorts. This includes Vail Ski Resort. Vail Resorts owns 41 ski resorts across the world in the USA, Cananda, Australia and in Switzerland. The most recent acquisition was the 55% stake purchase of Andermatt-Sedrun in Switzerland. A big step forward for ensuring the safety of skiers and snowboarders around the world!.

The ski resorts which are owned by Vail Ski Resort where it is compulsory for minors to wear a helmet are:

  • Beaver Creek Resort, Colorado USA
  • Vail ski Resort, Colorado USA
  • Breckenridge, Colorado USA
  • Keystone Resort, Colorado USA
  • Heavenly Mountain Resort, California USA
  • Northstar, California USA
  • Afton Alps, Minnesota USA
  • Mount Brighton, Michigan USA
  • Kirkwood Mountain Resort, California USA
  • Park City Mountain Resort, Utah USA
  • Perisher Ski Resort, Australia
  • Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia Canada
  • Wilmot Mountain, Wisconsin USA
  • Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont USA
  • Stevens Pass, Washington USA
  • Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Colorado USA
  • Mount Sunapee Resort, New Hampshire USA
  • Okemo Mountain Resort, Australia
  • Falls Creek, Australia
  • Hotham Alpine Resort, Australia
  • Alpine Valley, Ohio USA
  • Attitash Mountain, New Hampshire USA
  • Big Boulder, Pennsylvania USA
  • Boston Mills, Ohio USA
  • Brandywine, Ohio USA
  • Crotched Mountain, New Hampshire USA
  • Hidden Valley, Missouri USA
  • Hunter Mountain, New York USA
  • Jack Frost, Pennsylvania USA
  • Liberty Mountain Resort, Pennsylvania USA
  • Mad River Mountain, Ohio USA
  • Mount Snow, Vermont USA
  • Paoli Peaks, Indiana USA
  • Roundtop Mountain Resort, Pennsylvania USA
  • Snow Creek, Missouri USA
  • Whitetail Resort, Pennsylvania USA
  • Wildcat Mountain Ski Area, New Hampshire USA
  • Hidden Valley Resort, Pennsylvania USA
  • Laurel Mountain, Pennsylvania USA
  • Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Pennsylvania USA
  • Andermatt-Sdrun, Switzerland

How many skiers wear helmets?

The percentage of skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets in ski resorts around the world has increased dramatically over the past few decades. In the last couple of years, skiers and snowboarders choosing to wear ski helmets has risen to a staggering 83%, and even 89% in some parts of USA. Given that the proportion of people choosing to wear helmets in 2003 was as low as 25% in some resorts, this is a massive improvement, and the number of serious head injuries has dropped to reflect this. Unfortunately, it has taken a number of large profile victims of head injuries to draw attention to the need for helmets as standard for winter sports. Take Michael Shumacher for example who had a very serious head injury in 2013. Michael Shumacher was wearing a helmet and still tragically suffered a serious head injury despite this. This is all the more reason to make sure you are wearing a helmet for fear of the damage that can be caused even with a helmet on.

  • In USA the percentage of skiers who wore a helmet in 2021/22 was 90%
  • In Switzerland the percentage of skier who wore a helmet in 2021/22 was 95%
  • In France the percentage of children skiers under 12 who wore a helmet in 2019/20 was 97%

Do helmets prevent ski deaths?

There is no question that wearing a helmet in any sport will protect your head and help provide injuries and also sometimes deaths. All you have to do, is look at the gradual decrease in head injuries and deaths caused by head injuries while skiing, to see the effect of wearing helmets while skiing and snowboarding. Between 2002 and 2010, substantial head injuries decreased by 13.1%, and in the same period of time, the number of people wearing helmets almost tripled!!! This tells you there is a direct link between wearing a helmet skiing, and a lower chance of having a head injury. The chances of getting a serious head injury fell by 15% for those wearing a helmet.

A separate study conducted over the course of 8 years found that although serious head injuries such as skull fractures decreased dramatically with the wearing of helmets, the prevalence of other head injuries such as bleed of the brain didn’t fall as dramatically. Two different conclusions can be drawn from this information – that helmets don’t make you immune to injury and head injuries are still very possible for skiers, and also that wearing a helmet gives skiers and snowboarders a sense of invincibility and led them to take bigger risks, in the belief that they were protected from their helmet. For this reason, it is difficult to directly compare the head injury figures for those wearing helmets and those not wearing helmets, as arguable wearing a helmet affects people’s behaviour and leads them to ski more dangerously than they would if they weren't wearing a helmet.

Head injuries are relatively common injuries for skiers and snowboarders. Research shows that of the 600,000 skiing injuries recorded in the United States, 20% of these injuries were recorded as head injuries.

Should you wear a helmet snowboarding?

As a helmet is important for skiers, a helmet Is equally important for snowboarders. Skiers and snowboarders travel at speeds of up to 100 km/ hour, they fall over an equal amount (I would even argue that snowboarders tend to fall more often!), so why would snowboarders not need a helmet?! The classic way that snowboarders end up falling on the mountain is when a snowboarder ‘catches an edge’ which is when the metal edge of the snowboard catches in the snow because the snowboard is not positioned properly. This is very easy to do as a beginner, and this causes you to instantly fall to the ground – this is not a gradual fall at all. There comes with this a large risk of your head hitting off the ground as well.

The majority of ski schools around the world have made helmets compulsory for both skiers and snowboarders, both for the instructors and those learning, so if you were hoping to take lessons and werent planning on wearing a helmet, you may be in for a surprise. A published study in the National Library of Medine shows that snowboarders were found to be 6x more likely to suffer from head injuries than skiers were. This trend was also evident for beginners in skiing and snowboarding.

Can I wear a bike helmet for skiing?

No you shouldn’t wear a bicycle helmet for skiing. There are helmets specifically designed for skiing and snowboarding, and bicycle helmets wont provide you with the same protection. Ski helmets are far superior to bicycle helmets for the following reasons:

  • Ski helmets protect a larger area of the head than a bicycle helmet
  • Ski helmets are much more stable on your head than a bicycle helmet. For this reason, it is much better to buy a helmet designed for snow sports. Wearing a bike helmet for skiing isnt a good idea because it could easily slip off your head due to it not being as secure. Cycle helmets also have less protection for the side of your head if you were to fall and hit the snow at the side of your head.
  • Ski helmets are stronger and more protective than bicycle helmets. Skiers travel at much faster speeds than cyclists, therefore if you fall and hit your head when you are skiing, you will cause a lot more damage and hit it a lot harder than if you feel of a bicycle. For this reason ski helmets are made out of stronger material than bicycle helmets and will give you much better protection. Both cycle helmets and ski helmets are made of a tough outer protective covering with an inner layer of EPS (expanded polystyrene). The main difference between the level of protection offered is that ski helmets are made out of a tougher outer shell than cycle helmets, therefore offering more protection.
  • Ski helmets are better insulated that cycle helmets and will keep your head far warmer on a cold winters day.