Should you make your child wear a ski helmet when he's skiing or snowboarding this winter? The answer is a no brainer. Yes! A ski helmet can save your child's life and reduce the risk of a debilitating head injury.
Head injuries represent roughly 22 percent of the skiing and snowboarding injuries in kids under age 15, according to a study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The study also found that head injuries among skiers donning helmets were 50 percent lower than for helmet-free skiers. That research dates back to 1999; since then other studies have confirmed that number.
"If anything, it's a low estimate," says Robert K. Williams, M.D., associate professor of anesthesia and pediatrics at the University of Vermont and Vermont Children's Hospital, himself the father of three competitive skiers/snowboarders. "Personally, I've treated a child who died from a skiing-related head injury." And we can't forget actress Natasha Richardson who died in 2009 of complications from a head injury after falling during a beginner's ski lesson at the Mont Tremblant Resort in Quebec. "There's every evidence to suggest that she would have survived if she had had a helmet on," Dr. Williams says.
In addition to the possibility of a death, a non-lethal concussion from a fall on the slopes or from running into a tree or person can be almost as bad because the ill effects, such as dizziness, can linger. "There's no such thing as a minor head injury," Dr. Williams says.
To date, New Jersey is the only state to mandate helmet use for skiers and snowboarders under age 18, whose parents will be fined $25 on the first offense and $100 for every offense thereafter. But because helmet wearing is tough to police, education is more effective, Dr. Williams says.
Laying down the law
With younger kids, it's easy to make helmet use mandatory. "Tell your child that if he doesn't wear a helmet, he doesn't get to ski or snowboard," Dr. Williams says. The rule should apply to teens too but because they're old enough to ski on their own, they're more apt to shed their head gear, especially if they see ski patrol and ski instructors going helmet-less. "Uniformed ski professionals serve as role models for helmet wearing," Dr. Williams says.
Some ski resorts now require their staff to wear helmets, so make that part of your criteria when booking at a ski lodge. Ask if the resort requires helmets for the staff. If it doesn't, keep calling around until you find a resort that does before making reservations for your family.
You can rent a ski helmet at most ski resorts or bring your own. Your child's bicycle helmet doesn't count, it needs to be an official ski helmet. Ski helmets are made for winter use and, together with goggles, help keep a child's head and the rest of his body warm, since lots of body heat escapes through the head.
When buying or renting a helmet, have a salesperson or ski staff help you choose the right size and adjust the helmet to your child's head. A ski helmet should fit snugly and cover your child's entire forehead so no skin is exposed to the wet or cold. Have your child try a helmet on with her goggles to make sure the helmet and goggle combo is comfortable and doesn't impair your child's vision. To be sure the helmet you choose for your child is safe, look for an inside label that states that the helmet conforms to a ski/snowboard helmet standard, such as Common European Norm, ASTM or Snell. For more ski helmet help, check out Familyskihub.com.