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Helmet safety for downhill sports


When skiing, one of the most important pieces of equipment you can invest in is a ski helmet.
When skiing, one of the most important pieces of equipment you can invest in is a ski helmet.

Jill Colton, staff writer

January 1, 2011 — One of the most important things to do before you carve the slopes is to put on a helmet.

Novice skiers and snowboarders are most susceptible to injury.
Novice skiers and snowboarders are most susceptible to injury.

With the winter season in full swing, people are excited to participate in their favourite downhill sports. Activities such as skiing and sledding may be enjoyable, but they can also be extremely dangerous if the proper safety precautions are ignored.

Every year thousands of people in Canada are admitted to hospital with head injuries. About 2,000 of those are children who hurt themsevles while sledding. Health Canada recommends all children strap on a helmet when tobogganing.

Although head gear is regulated for league hockey players, it's not the case for those speeding down a snow-covered hill on skis or a sled.

“Helmets not only play a major role in injury prevention but they also help to reduce health care costs in the long run across Canada,” explains Harry Zarins, Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Canada.

Zarins says when it comes to wearing a helmet, teenagers and adult males pose the biggest challenge. However, he is quick to note the 'uncool' stigma attached to wearing head gear is changing. “After the unfortunate death of actress Natasha Richardson (two years ago) there was a rise in helmet use on the ski hills the following ski season. I sense people are becoming more conscious of donning a helmet.”

Risky riders should always wear helmets.
Risky riders should always wear helmets.

At this point, there's no mandatory helmet legislation for ski hills. In contrast, many cities have a bike helmet law in place. “It's basically up to the ski resort owners to start enforcing helmet regulation and making sure their patrons wear one.”

Getting children to use a helmet can be difficult. Zarins has some suggestions for parents. “It should be considered part of the ski outfit so a child doesn't know the helmet isn't an option.” Parents can also encourage by example. “If the family that skis together, wears the helmets together, (and it's part of the equipment), with no second thought about it, it then becomes part of the sport itself.”

Although helmets are a way of protecting the head, they're not always one hundred per cent effective. Zarins says other factors come into play including speed, weather, surface condition, etc. “You can't always say you're going to be fully protected...but a helmet will reduce the possibility of a traumatic brain injury.”

When it comes to fit, Zarins says it's critical to get the proper size. “You have to understand that helmets have a life span of three to five years. You have to make sure you know the expiry date. Also, never buy a second hand helmet or rent one that might be out of date.”

SYMPTOMS OF A HEAD INJURY

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Continued headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory of events surrounding injury
  • Drowsiness or lack of responsiveness

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