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National Ski Areas Association : www.nsaa.org
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Contact: Troy Hawks
NSAA Communications
(720) 963-4215
thawks@nsaa.org

NSAA Helmet Safety Fact Sheet

Updated March 18, 2009 - NSAA and its member resorts promote the use of helmets. We urge skiers and riders to wear a helmet - but to ski or ride as if they are not wearing a helmet. NSAA views skiing and boarding in a controlled and responsible manner - not helmets only - as the primary safety consideration for all skiers and boarders. A skier's behavior has as much or more to do with the safety of the sport as does any piece of equipment.

The key safety message that NSAA and its member resorts communicate to skiers and boarders is adherence to "Your Responsibility Code," a widely known and accepted code of conduct for the slopes that has been in use by ski areas for approximately 30 years. One of the main tenets of "The Code" is always stay in control. NSAA considers responsible and safe skiing and riding as the number one priority and helmet use as an important priority.

HELMET USAGE IN THE U.S.

As a result of industry safety and educational initiatives, helmet usage in the United States has significantly increased over the past several seasons. According to the 2007/08 NSAA National Demographic Study:

  • 43 percent of U.S. skiers and boarders overall wear helmets, up from 40 percent from the year before; in comparison, only 25 percent of skiers and boarders wore helmets during the 2002/03 season;
  • 70 percent of children 9 years old or younger wear ski helmets;
  • 60 percent of children between 10 and 14 wear ski helmets;
  • 59 percent of adults over the age of 65 wear ski helmets;
  • The least likely demographic to wear a helmet are men aged 18 to 24 where only 32 percent wear helmets.

    Notably, helmet usage increases with the skier's ability level. Only 26 percent of beginners wear helmets, 38 percent of intermediates wear helmets while 55 percent of advanced skiers and riders wear helmets.

    In comparison, the National Traffic Safety Administration reports only 20-25 percent of bike riders in the U.S. wear helmets.

    SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING REMAIN A REMARKABLY SAFE SPORT

    Skiing and snowboarding are no more dangerous than other high-energy participation sports. The sport has some inherent risks, but overall the sport enjoys an excellent safety record. During the past 10 years, about 39 people have died skiing per year on average.

    In fact, the number of skiing or snowboarding fatalities (per million participants) is less than the number of fatalities from swimming or bicycling. According to the most recently available data from 2006, there were 2.07 skiing/snowboarding fatalities per million participants, whereas there were 29.4 bicycling fatalities per million participants, and 72.7 swimming fatalities per million participants(1). We are extremely proud of our industry's safety efforts.

    Indeed, you are twice as likely to die from being struck by lightning than suffer a fatality from skiing or snowboarding(2).

    REVIEW OF MEDICAL LITERATURE ON HELMET EFFICACY

    While we promote helmet usage, the medical literature indicates that helmets have significant limitations when a skier or rider is involved in a serious accident and the increase in the use of helmets has not reduced the overall number of skiing fatalities. In fact, more than half of the people involved in fatal accidents last season were wearing helmets at the time of the incident.

    "[E]ven though the prevalence of helmet utilization is rising by 4 to 5 percent per year in the U.S., there has been no statistically significant observable effect on the incident of fatality." See "Do Helmets Reduce Fatalities or merely Alter the Patterns of Death?" Shealy, J., Johnson, R., and Ettlinger, C., 2008), p. 5.

    Indeed, the most recent review of helmet efficacy in ski accidents concludes that "the salutary effect [of helmet usage] was limited to the less serious head injuries, such as scalp lacerations and mild concussions." Id., at p.3. "[N]o significant effect noted for the more serious head injuries such as concussions more severe than mild, closed head injury, skull fracture and death due to head injury." Id., p. 3.

    As the medical literature stresses, "[m]ost fatalities appear to occur under circumstances that are likely to exceed the protective capacity of current helmets designed for recreational snow sports." See "Do Helmets Reduce Fatalities or merely Alter the Patterns of Death?" Shealy, J., Johnson, R., and Ettlinger, C., 2008), p. 8.

    It is true that the most common primary injury in ski and snowboarding fatalities is some sort of head injury - approximately 60 percent of ski fatalities are head injuries(3). However, it is critical to place this into its proper context. "While some sort of head injury is usually the first listed cause of death, most of the fatalities also involve multiple, or secondary trauma sites; single causes of death are not common." See "Do Helmets Reduce Fatalities or merely Alter the Patters of Death?" Shealy, J., Johnson, R., and Ettlinger, C., 2008), p. 2.

    Recreational ski and snowboard helmets are manufactured to a standard to provide protection at 14 mph or less, while most skiers and snowboarders are easily capable of reaching speeds of 25 to 40 mph or more. Studies establish that helmets are of limited value in preventing or reducing serious head injuries and fatalities in collisions with fixed objects at speeds in excess of 12 mph. See "Do Helmets Reduce Fatalities or merely Alter the Patterns of Death?" (Jasper Shealy, Robert Johnson and Carl Ettlinger, 2008). The Shealy study demonstrates that skiing and riding responsibly and in a controlled manner can have a greater impact on slope safety than helmet usage.

    NSAA AND SKI AREAS STRONGLY PROMOTE HELMET USAGE

    In 2002, NSAA launched the "Lids on Kids" interactive website www.lidsonkids.org in an effort to educate kids and parents about helmet use on the slopes. The central message of the website is that helmets are a "smart idea," but guests should ski and ride as if they are not wearing one. Information on helmets is provided extensively in related safety websites and signage at resorts through the Smart Style, Get Smart, Heads Up, A.S.A.P. (Avalanche Safety Awareness Program) and Winter Kids programs. The newly issued Terrain Park User's Guide, terrainparksafety.org and terrain park signage also include key safety messages on helmets. Visit www.nsaa.org for information on all of these safety programs.

    NSAA supported and actively participated in the American Society of Testing & Materials (ASTM's) development of the F-2040 ski/snowboard helmet standard. On behalf of the ski industry, NSAA has also supported, and expended significant resources on, scientific research on alpine sports-related injuries, including head injuries.


    (1): See "Facts about Skiing and Snowboarding Safety," available online here. The data is compiled from statistics from the National Sporting Goods Association (Sports Participation, 2007 edition), National Safety Council (Injury Facts, 2008 edition), and National Ski Areas Association, Kottke Visitation Study, 2007).

    (2): See "Injury Facts," National Safety Council, 2008 edition), p. 132 (43 fatalities in 2006 from lightning, compared to 22 fatalities in 2006/07 season from skiing or snowboarding).

    (3): See "Rates and Modalities of death in the U.S.: Snowboarding and Skiing Differences - 1991/92 through 1998/99," Shealy, J., Ettlinger, C., Johnson, R. (2000), pp. 132-138.

     

     THE NATIONAL SKI AREAS ASSOCIATION, LOCATED IN LAKEWOOD, COLO., IS A TRADE ASSOCIATION FORMED IN 1962 FOR SKI AREA OWNERS AND OPERATORS NATIONWIDE.

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