Today the most important part of your gear on the slopes -- as important as quick-release bindings -- is a helmet.
Helmet sales have more than doubled in the last five years. In the United States, most of these have been bought by parents for their skiing and snowboarding children.
Skiing and snowboarding enjoy a relatively small incidence rate of injuries compared to other sports.
Serious head injuries account for less than 3 percent of all skiing and snowboarding injuries. However, the proportion of head injuries to all skier/rider injuries is rising. The percentage of serious head injuries for skiers under the age of 17 rose from 2.6 percent to 4.9 percent according to Jasper Shealy, Ph.D. and professor of engineering at Rochester Institute and Minnesota.
Shealy recently completed a 25-year study examining the effects of wearing helmets while skiing. Findings indicate that wearing a helmet can be effective in protecting against or reducing the severity of the most common types of head injuries occurring in skiing; concussions, lacerations and bruises.
A helmet may also prevent skull fractures and closed head injuries. Shealy notes that parents must be careful about choosing the right helmet for their children, as a helmet increases the weight and mass of a child's head and therefore may increase the potential of neck injuries in certain falls. Results of the Shealy's study have contributed to the American Medical Associations' recent resolution encouraging the use of helmets by children and teens.
Today's helmets are typically made with highly resistant plastic shells, built to take multiple impacts and avoid penetration by sharp objects. The outer layer is usually injection molded polycarbonate, a shatter- and impact-resistant plastic. Some companies manufacture shells made of lighter-weight composite materials.
The most important layer is the second layer, known as the impact management liner. This liner is usually made of expanded polystyrene. Polystyrene is available in various densities. The higher the density, the higher the speed or greater the impact the helmet will protect against. The third layer is another liner which provides warmth, acts as a weather shield, and can compensate for slight size variations.
Helmets for recreational skiing and riding cost between $80 and $135, professional racing helmets can cost more than $250. Currently, there are no U.S. safety standards for ski and snowboard helmets. Most helmets on the market comply with the European standards called the Central European Norm (CEN). The American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), which tests and provides standards for a variety of products expects to publish American standards this year.
Lids On Kids is a helmet safety program introduced during the 2002-2003 season to educate skiers and snowboarders about the benefits and limitations of helmets.
Lids on Kids believes informed people are better able to make good decisions about wearing helmets and having this children war them.
Dr.Robert Williams, MD, a pediatric anesthesiologist and associate director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Vermont Children's Hospital and associate professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and avid skier, is the medical adviser for Lids on Kids. He gives these ten tips:
Ski and snowboard as if you weren't wearing a helmet
All skiers and boarders should ride responsibly and in control at all times. Helmets may help prevent head injuries in the event of certain types of accidents, but if you're out of control, they cannot protect you in high-speed, head-on accidents any more than motorcycle or other helmets can in other sports. That's the reason helmets are called "brain buckets" when cyclists lost control of their bikes.
Use a helmet designed specifically for skiing or snowboarding
Each sport has its own type of impact and accidents. A bike hlmet should never be worn for protection in skiing just as a skiing helmet should never be used for protection in biking.
Take time to ensure the helmet fits properly
Get a ski helmet that fits now. Don't plan on growing into it. Work with a knowledgeable salesperson at a reputable store regarding appropriate fit for a helmet and to answer your questions.
Buy a helmet that meets industry standards
There are various helmet standards in place including CEN (the least rigorous standard), ASTM and Snell (far and away the most rigorous and hard-to-meet standard for certification). Be sure to review product literature for the helmet to find out which standard the helmet meets.
Adults should serve as role models for children
This is an easy one. Parents are role model. If you want your children to wear helmets, wear them ourselves.
Establish a firm rule regarding helmet use and skiing/snowboarding
If a parent decides that helmets should be worn, establish a rule, such as "No helmet equals no skiing or snowboarding." Encourage children to follow the lead of professional atheletes, whose academies have rules requiring helmets.
Bring your child's or your goggles in when you buy your helmet
A well-fitting system will provide great protection for the face and forehead from cold wind and snow and still allow adequate ventilation for the goggles.
Keep goggles and helmets attached together
Some parents may find they recoup the cost of the helmet by not having to replace lost goggles (and hats!) as often.
Use stickers and similar decorations to personalize and make helmets cool
Let the kids get into decorating the helmets with stickers and make the helmets personal expressions of their experiences or dreams or just creativity.
Provide incentives for good helmet behavior
Reinforce helmet wearing with posters of famous skier and snowboarders who wear helmets.
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