By Sam Collentine, Meteorologist Posted 7 years ago November 11, 2016

The Importance of Wearing a Helmet When Participating in Alpine Sports

The number of skiers and snowboarders who wear helmets on the slopes has increased, but not everyone has been convinced to put on head gear to protect themselves. If you are heading out on the slopes, you should be aware of multiple studies that have shown the benefits of wearing a helmet and how it can significantly reduce the severity of head injuries. While helmets cannot complete prevent you from suffering an injury, they can reduce the impact of head trauma, which can be a life-changer.

What Research About Helmets for Snow Sports Tells Us

A study led by Johns Hopkins University proved that helmets save lives of snowboarders as well as skiers. During the study, researchers found that 10 million Americans hit the slopes to snowboard or ski every year. About 600,000 injuries are reported with as many as 20% of those being head injuries. Head injuries are usually the result of snowboarders or skiers falling or striking inanimate objects such as the ground, rocks, or trees. Out of those reported head injuries, 22% are severe enough to result in a concussion, a loss of consciousness, or worse head trauma. The researchers learned that many of those who suffered head injuries were not wearing a helmet.

Sportgevity focuses on studying the benefits and use of helmets during snowboarding and skiing. The organization has pointed out that it wasn’t until a study released in 1983 suggested that children younger than 17 years of age should wear helmets that wearing helmets on the slopes wasn’t considered. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that evidence was provided to support the use of helmets. Sportgevity said that the most current snow sport helmet studies, especially the Johns Hopkins study, prove the benefits of wearing a helmet when participating in alpine sports are significant.

Accidents on the Slopes

There have been several high-profile accidents on the slopes that have gotten the attention of researchers and the media. On New Year’s Day 2009, a German politician who had on a ski helmet collided with a woman who wasn’t wearing a helmet on an Austrian ski slope. The man survived the crash but the woman died. Natasha Richardson, a British actress, died after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a fall on a bunny slope in Quebec during March 2009. Researchers claim a helmet could have prevented her death, which resulted from a slow fall backwards in which her head struck the ground.

These two highly publicized incidents got attention as noted by the research published by the British Medical Journal. Here are some of the after-effects of those accidents:

  • Following the accident involving the German politician, 15% of neurosurgeons in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland purchased helmets for alpine sports.
  • Since the winter season of 2009-2010, most provinces in Austria made wearing helmets on the slopes mandatory for children younger than 16.
  • The weeks following Richardson’s death saw visits to the emergency room at Montreal Children’s Hospital increased by as much as 60% because parents were concerned after children hit their heads during falls.

How Helmets Work to Protect Your Head

If you are on the slopes and you have an accident, your brain can be injured by the impact or in many cases by the brain’s momentum — your head has stopped, but the brain keeps moving. In this way, it isn’t the crash that hurts you, it’s the short stop, and helmets can slow down the crash. The foam layer on a helmet compresses to control the crash’s energy by extending the stopping time of your head by about six-thousandths of a second, which reduces the brain’s peak impact and reduces the severity of the injury.

Thicker foam is better because your head is given more room inside the helmet and it has more time to come to a stop, which in turn, reduces the severity of the blow. As an example, foam that is 10mm thick will stop you in half the distance of 20mm thick foam. This does have its limits, as having an improperly fitted or overly large helmet can also cause injury in a crash by altering the angle where your head hits the ground. Because if this, it’s a good idea to make sure your helmet is a good fit and is rated for a crash – the organizations that rate helmets include the European CE, the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the Snell Group, and rated helmets will usually have a sticker applied to them that indicates what group rated it and what standard it meets.

This Article was written by Personal Injury Help, however this article is not intended to be legal advice nor should it be construed as such. To learn more about Personal Injury Help, you can visit their website at or email them at [email protected]

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About The Author

Sam Collentine


Sam Collentine is the Chief Operating Officer of OpenSnow and lives in Basalt, Colorado. Before joining OpenSnow, he studied Atmospheric Science at the University of Colorado, spent time at Channel 7 News in Denver, and at the National Weather Service in Boulder.

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