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Should you wear a helmet? This could be one of the most important questions you ask yourself when you next hit the slopes. While some might argue that wearing a ski helmet isn’t a necessity, I believe that it is one of the most important pieces of equipment for every skier at every level.
Wearing a ski helmet will help to protect your head from serious injury more times than not wearing one. It keeps you warm, keeps your goggles in place and gives you more confidence on the slopes.
Why I decided to start wearing a helmet
According to the NSAA helmet use is up from 22% to 83% in the last 15 years (source). Even if you’re a complete beginner on the baby slopes, let’s not forget that you’re essentially an evolved chimp sliding down a steep mountain.
What could possibly go wrong you might think? Well, you could hit a tree, a rock or another person head-on. Most serious head injuries happen when skiers hit into these three things. Head injuries are rare, but when they happen they cause 60% of deaths in snow sports. (source)
Many people have skied their entire lives without wearing a helmet and are just fine. However, it just takes one bad fall to change your life forever. Personally, when I started skiing, I didn’t wear a helmet. Truth be told I enjoyed the feeling of the wind between my hair.
I didn’t make an active decision NOT to wear a helmet. The fact is no one recommended or told me that I’d be better off wearing a helmet. There’s so much to learn when you first go skiing, everything is new and wearing a helmet VS not wearing a helmet, wasn’t something that even crossed my mind.
There’s no legal obligation (in most resorts) to wear a ski helmet and beginners are often lulled into a false sense of security; if others aren’t wearing a helmet, then why should I? (this is more of the case in Europe than it is in North America wear helmet use is more common).
Depending on where you are in the world, different countries and different resorts have different norms and attitudes. In some places, most people wear helmets, in other places not so much. At my local ski station in Granada, Spain (where I currently live) I’d say that less than 20% wear a helmet. In the USA & Canada, the helmet adoption rate is significantly higher and up to 70% or more people wear them.
Personally, I thought it would be worth investing in a ski helmet after watching a programme on the BBC about people living with the effects of head injuries. It was clear to me that it wasn’t worth taking risks with my body, no matter how invincible you think you are. Buying a helmet in time for the next ski season was an obvious choice for me.
I think wearing a helmet is like wearing a seatbelt. It wasn’t mandatory until the ’90s in many countries and it was socially acceptable to wear one at your own discretionWhilst it’s not the law to wear a helmet, it’s becoming less and less socially acceptable to hit the slopes without wearing one. Especially for young kids -- the demographic where helmets are most effective at preventing injury.
Personally, I don’t think it should be a requirement that you wear a helmet, because I believe in the freedom of personal choice and responsibility. However, I do think all skiers, especially beginners should be strongly encouraged to wear helmets by their peers.
Oftentimes the patterns you set as a new skier remains with you as you develop (for better or worse). The more people that are introduced to helmets, the more people will wear them and the safer the slopes will be. There have been numerous documented ski accidents where a helmet would have likely saved that person from serious injury or death (Natasha Richardson). There have also been numerous cases that ended badly and the person WAS wearing a helmet (Michael Schumacher).
Now, I don’t want to put you off skiing if you’ve never been before and you’re thinking of taking up the sport, but it’s important that you are aware of the risks that come with hurtling down slippery snow at speed.
Luckily for us, ski helmets have never been more accessible, comfortable or affordable. From the basic to the advanced, from €20 to €200, helmets now come in all shapes and sizes for babies, kids, teens, and adults. Helmets, not only keep you safe but with modern tech like walkie-talkies and built-in Bluetooth headphones, they can add even more fun to your day on the slopes.
Here are my favorite reasons that I love to wear a helmet when I go skiing:
#1 Helmets are safer
According to the NSSA, head injuries account for up to 20% of the 600,000 ski and snowboarding-related injuries in North America annually (source).
Wearing a helmet is a smart choice, studies show that it has reduced head injuries by 30-50%. However, at higher speed collisions, helmets are not as effective at reducing brain damage which reminds use to ski at the level of speed and terrain steepness that matches our ability.
For a full overview of the most recent literature read: Efficacy of Safety Helmets in Reduction of Head Injuries in Recreational Skiers.
#2 Helmets keep you warm
You might think of a helmet like an advanced ear warmer, except that rather than just keeping your ears nice and toasty it locks in heat around your entire head.From those chilly winter mornings up on the ski lifts, all the way to the last piste run of the day -- helmets keep you nice and warm.
Hot air rises and body heat escapes from your head the fastest, a helmet is a perfect defense for that frigid high-altitude air. Every skier can tell you from experience, being cold out on the slopes ain’t no fun.
If you want to know my top tips for staying warm read my Skiers Ultimate Guide to Staying Warm
#3 Helmets give you more confidence
When you know your head is protected it can give you more confidence on the slopes, especially if you’re relatively new to skiing.
In my case when I was learning to ski, I seemed to fall the most when I was going slow or lacked confidence in my ability to make the turn on a steeper section. it’s easier to make a turn when you have some speed. When you’re new to skiing and looking down the slope, making that parallel turn to weave yourself down the mountain can be quite daunting.
Oftentimes you can hesitate and then stop midway on a slope to regain your composure. Pushing off from a stationary position back into skiing can be nerve-wracking if the part of the piste you’re on is steeper than the rest. You know you’ve got to have both skis facing down the mountain before you make the next turn, you need the confidence to know that you’ll be fine if you just trust your ability to make that turn.
Having more confidence actually makes you a better skier, because you’re less inclined to panic and tense up your body which can cause awkward movements that lead to falls. In my own experience, when I’m relaxed, my legs flow into position better and my turns are more fluid.
Now that’s not to say that because you’re wearing a helmet you can ski dangerously or significantly faster than your level or ability of skiing.
A helmet is not a free pass to throw yourself down a red or black run. But if you know your best protected as well as you can be, skiing is more relaxing and more enjoyable. And these two things make you a better skier.
P.S although people against helmet use cite over-confidence as a primary reason for not wearing a helmet, the evidence suggests the opposite -- that people who wear helmets are more cautious and less prone to injury elsewhere on the body.
#4 Make you easily identifiable on the slopes
Helmets come in every available color, black or bright colors contrast against the white of the snow keeping you easily identifiable on the slopes to friends and family. You can customize your or your kids helmet with stickers distinct colors and patterns, so it’ll be hard to lose your family member or buddy on the slopes again.
in my experience, it can be all too easy to lose people on the slopes and it’s no fun spending precious skiing minutes looking for others on a busy mountain. Wearing a bright helmet has another added benefit, it makes you more visible to other skiers and boarders and you’re less likely to be involved in a collision.
#5 Keep your goggles in place
Every helmet comes with a clip on the back which allows you to securely fasten your goggles so they never fall off your head. Simply undo the buckle slip on the strap to your goggles, then tighten the strap for a firm fit.
Your goggles are now snugly attached to your helmet and you can now raise them on or off your face easily without worrying about dropping or losing your goggles.
The top rim of the helmet is often shaped ergonomically so that the top rim of your goggle fits snugly against it keeping your face protected from wind and snow.
The snug fit means you won’t need to keep adjusting your goggles or worrying about them coming off if you fall.
The other day I wore my goggles all day and didn’t once stop to adjust them.
At lunchtime when I took my helmet off, my goggles didn’t wander off anywhere -- so it’s one less piece of equipment to worry about.
Some advanced helmets even have built-in goggles. Worth considering if you want an even better fitting experience and you want the entire top of your head covered from the elements.
#6 Allow you to attach camera mounts
One of my favorite things about owning a helmet is that I can easily attach accessories for filming.
Helmets are a great base for attaching camera gimbals and stabilizers to film yourself and friends on the slopes. My GoPro came with a camera mount that attaches nicely to the top of my helmet.
I simply peeled off the paper covering the glue and stuck the mount on in a few seconds.
Now whenever I want to do some filming I screw in my GoPro (it takes about 20 seconds), connect it up to my phone with Bluetooth and hit record.
The footage is great for making videos and taking photos, from wide-angle fish-eye shots of our ski group to panoramas of the mountain.
My wife has the same GoPro mount and throughout the day we can move the camera over to each other’s helmets so that we can film each other skiing.
We use the footage to see how we ski and can improve. The footage gives us a much better view of how our parallel turns are shaping up and how we can shift our body position to be a better skier.
It’s amazing what you notice when you see footage of yourself skiing that you just don’t have any idea about when you’re looking down at your skis yourself.
Reasons against helmets
Some skiers argue that helmets prevent you from hearing what’s around you and for that reason can be dangerous to wear.
Yes, it’s true that helmets definitely reduce what you can hear. However, in my own experience, I’ve not found it to be that significant of a difference.
I can hear just a bit less than I could if I was wearing a beanie for example.
To support my claim a study by the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore conducted in 2012 found that helmets do not impede your hearing enough to negatively affect your riding. (Although if you’re using the built-in headphones then it definitely would)
Have accidents happened because someone was wearing a helmet and didn’t properly hear as a skier approached them from a blind spot? Sure.
Should you rely on hearing to know whether someone is about to hit you? No, if you’ve got a reason to believe that someone is approaching or you’re making a turn into blindspots on or off a run, you should always look to make sure it’s clear.
Don’t just rely on sound.
Skiers behind you have a responsibility to avoid you (the person in front) and you have a responsibility to avoid those in front of you.
If in doubt, always check your blind spots to avoid a collision.
Helmets are not a magic bullet
Despite all the reasons I’ve outlined above, helmets are by no means a magic bullet. Plenty of people suffer life-changing injuries even whilst wearing a helmet.
As this article in the Guardian explains;
Despite helmet use rising to 70%, In the US between 2004 and 2010 head injuries from snow sports rose from 9,308 to 14,947 (source: Wilderness and Environmental Medicine).
Now that’s likely due to more people taking part in snow sports, but it’s clear that helmets are not the only factor in preventing injury.
Most accidents come down to people’s behavior on the slopes. You can have all the right gear but still be just as likely to be involved in an accident, so always be vigilant.
The more that people follow the skier’s code of conduct, the safer everyone on the mountain will be. (Check it out if you haven’t read it before)
How to choose the right helmet for you.
There are many different types of helmets out on the market. You don’t need to spend top dollar if you’re just starting out, but there are definitely better helmets out there that will be more comfortable and longer lasting and worth a small investment.
The most important thing is to make sure that it fits your head snugly. You don’t want it too tight or you’ll never use it.
And if it’s too lose a fit, it’s going to annoy you and it won’t be as protective. Even worse it could restrict your visibility or fly off when you most need it.
Before you order one, grab a tape measure and get your head measurements accurately written down.
Now you’ve heard the arguments, it up to you to make your own decision. You should know that if there is one item not to be thrifty with, it’s your helmet.
A small investment upfront could save you pain, anguish, and expensive medical bills. Look-up, breathe in the mountain air and enjoy the wonderful journey that is learning to ski.
Remember the more you ski, the better you get & the more fun it becomes. Here’s to you and many more seasons in the mountains.
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When should I replace my ski helmet?
There are few reasons to change your ski helmet and they all have to do with making sure it’s still protecting your properly. Here are the main reasons you should look at buying a new ski helmet:
- It no longer fits properly -- too loose or too tight (causes a headache).
- It is older than five years or more (check manufacturer for specific recommendations).
- It was involved in a heavy crash.
- It has visible signs of damage (missing foam or cracks).
I cover all this in much more details over on When To Replace Your Ski Helmet.
Is skiing dangerous?
Skiing is relatively safe when compared to other high action sports or even everyday activities like driving. That’s not to say skiing is risk-free and the possibility of injury or death is present. However, if you take the right precautions and ski on trail colors that match your level of skill the risk of injury is low.
Reasons to wear ski goggles?
- UV protection from the sun (even in whiteout conditions).
- Less glare.
- More contrast.
- More comfortable.
I go into much more depth 6 Major Reasons You SHOULD Really Wear Ski Goggles.