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Heather Burke

Should you wear a ski helmet?

I donned a ski helmet this ski season for the first time in my 40 years of skiing. My ski blog, facebook, twitter feed blew up with banter about my new lid look. "What took you so long?", "About damned time," and "Thank you for protecting your beautiful brain, finally" were a few comments. Truth is, I resisted the brain bucket brigade because I dislike the concept of putting on body armor to participate in my favorite outdoor sport. I don't think of skiing as a contact sport, it's not the NFL folks. I am not doing inverted aerials, sliding on metal rails in terrain parks, or racing roller-derby style in skier cross. We fitted our kids with ski helmets, they were learning, small, vulnerable...when they came of age we gave them the option and they opted to wear ski helmets. Their choice, smart choice.

RevelstokeTo me skiing is freedom, the snow below, the wind in my hair, unencumbered. Inside a helmet, I feel like I'm in fishbowl, with an eerily audible echo. But as a ski reporter and oft-photographed role model, I thought it best to acquiesce, while silencing my critics. It's actually very warm, and I don't look ridiculous (please don't correct me if I'm wrong on this point). Frankly, I am still surprised that so many people care what I wear on my head.

I have done the studies, skiing is far less dangerous than driving, canoeing and dancing according to The National Safety Council. As far as injuries, skiers are much more likely to experience knee injury than head injury. I am living proof of that, having fractured my tibia my 43 ski season at Crested Butte, Colorado. Should I wear knee braces too? How about hand and wrist guards to prevent the common skier's thumb? Does skiing now require head to toe pads, shin and wrist protection, plus plastic head gear?

Dr. Mike Langran, president of the International Society For Skiing Safety, says "head injuries account for less than 20 percent of all ski slope injuries, and there is a limit to the protection a helmet can provide. Your brain can't be protected against certain forces."

Some heady facts, ski and snowboard helmet usage in the US is now at 80%, 93% among kids under 9 years old, these percentages have doubled in a decade, but there has been no reduction in the number of ski and snowboard related fatalities or brain injuries according to the National Ski Areas Association. A University of Washington study in 2013 concluded that ski and snowboard head injuries among youth has actually increased 250% in the past fourteen years. More terrain Ski Jumpsparks tricks, backcountry blazing and risk taking is a likely explanation.

My concern, kids and free skiers don helmets then think they are invincible. Just because you have a plastic lid designed to lessen impacts at 15-20mph doesn't mean you can go inverted off a jump and land safely on your head. Trees and lift towers are going to beat out helmets in any high speed collision.

On a lighter note, I still think its hysterical when I get on a ski lift, the safety bar comes down and the skier that's leaning forward gets bonked in the noggin and says, "that's why I wear a helmet." Really?!

So when do you remove your helmet? Probably not when you driving home from the ski slopes. The slippery bath tub or shower? These daily activities are statistically far more treacherous.

It's a free country and skiing is a sport of self expression on snow. Is it necessary to nag the 20% that choose not wear a brain bucket? I still say my head - my choice. I think it's far more valuable and vital to encourage everyone to know and practice to the 7 Point Skiers Responsibility Code to prevent injuries and collisions.

So I suggest you wear a ski helmet, but ski like you are not wearing one.

Family Ski Safety

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