Skiers warming up to helmets
January 16, 2007
Aspen, CO Colorado
PORTLAND, Ore. ” For decades, many skiers considered wearing helmets for safety “uncool.” But more recently they seem to be warming to the idea.
Safety experts now estimate that an average of 40 percent of skiers and snowboaders use them.
The issue arose anew after Geoffry Bradeen, 45, of Portland died of a head injury Jan. 5 while skiing at Mount Hood Meadows. Investigators say he apparently was hit from behind by a snowboarder as he was getting up.
A helmet would likely have saved Bradeen, who died of a skull fracture, said Dr. Karen Gunson, Oregon’s medical examiner.
But studies show such collisions are rare and account for only 6.4 percent of reported ski accidents, said Jasper Shealy, who has studied skiing and snowboarding injuries and fatalities for 35 years.
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He said most skiing and snowboarding deaths are caused by hitting a tree or other fixed object at high speed, resulting in chest or torso injuries.
“Frankly, you’re going to need more than a helmet to prevent that fatality,” he said.
Shealy is chairman of the American Society for Testing and Materials International’s skiing committee and a U.S. technical delegate for the International Standards Organization relating to skiing.
He and others looked at 562 deaths from fall 1991 through spring 2005, finding that 60 percent were the result of a skier or snowboarder hitting a tree.
Hitting the snow is the second-biggest killer, with 9.7 percent, and hitting manmade objects, such as lift towers, is third, at 7.6 percent.
The researchers also found that helmet use is up by up to 5 percentage points a year but that the number of deaths still averages 38 a year, unchanged.
A U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission study concluded that 44 percent of 17,500 head injuries to skiers and snowboarders in 1997 could have been prevented or reduced in severity with helmet use. It suggested that helmets could prevent an average of 11 deaths a year.
The agency said skiing-associated emergency room visits declined between 1993 and 1997 but that snowboarding injuries nearly tripled and the number of snowboarding head injuries increased fivefold.
However, the number of people snowboarding during that time increased just 30 percent, to 2.5 million, the National Sporting Goods Association said.
“There’s really no helmet currently on the market that is designed to decrease the rate of minor concussive injury,” said Dr. Mike Murray, director of the Mountain Medical Clinic at Mount Hood Meadows.
Bradeen’s death raised questions about whether the ski area does enough to prevent accidents. This year, Mount Hood Meadows is more aggressively revoking passes from people who ski or ride dangerously, President Dave Riley said.
Since Bradeen’s death, many Meadows users have said that snowboarders pose a greater risk to others, particularly on crowded weekends.
Murray said snowboarders use the hill differently than skiers by weaving side to side. And because they are riding sideways on their boards, they have a blind spot when they turn toward their heels.
“The more snowboarders you see, the more head injuries you’re going to see,” Murray said. “Eighty to 90 percent of the head injuries we see are snowboarders.”