- Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 50% or more but are most effective at preventing mild concussions and non-life threatening injuries and not severe brain damage/fatalities. There has been no reduction in ski/snowboard fatalities since the introduction of helmets but a 43% reduction in head injuries among kids up to age 15.
- Head injuries account for 10%-20% of all ski/snowboard related injuries with much higher rates among children. It is estimated that 7,000 head injuries each year are prevented by helmet use on the mountain.
- Helmet use can reduce the cost of public healthcare. Fewer injuries on the mountain mean less, or at least, less severe emergency room visits that are often subsidized with public money. In Canada, it is estimated that every dollar spent on a helmet saves the Canadian public healthcare system an average of $29 a year. The average daily cost of caring for someone with a severe brain injury is, $2,868.
Twenty years ago when the first helmets were introduced to skiers and snowboarders, many doubted that the idea would ever catch on. Throughout my childhood in the 90's I remember being forced to wear the heavy, hot, uncomfortable, and above all, visually unappealing piece of safety equipment. In the last decade however, public perception has drastically changed concurrently with the evolution of the product into a practical, fashionable, and functional mountain accessory. Today, almost 60% of ski area visitors are wearing them, an increase of 140% from just eight years ago.
Despite the explosion in popularity of helmet use, many lawmakers and government officials are still not satisfied and are pushing to legally require some winter sports enthusiasts to use them. Their concern, that not wearing a helmet poses too much of a significant health hazard to the general skier/snowboarder public, raises the question, how much governance is too much when it comes to regulating our own personal freedoms? In other words, should we be free to consciously make potentially hazardous or life threatening decisions while pursuing our passions or should the government control the degree of our individual risk in order to protect the public at large?
Already some states have taken legal action regarding the issue. The New York state legislator is currently looking at a bill that would require children under 14 to use helmets while skiing and riding. Massachusetts is in the final stages of approving legislation that would demand ski areas provide free helmets to anyone who rents snow-sports equipment.
In the latest and most far-reaching reaction to this issue, California's state senate voted in favor to require anyone under 18 to wear a helmet at a state ski resort. SB-105, which stipulates fines and ski pass suspension for infractions, is currently in the process of going before the State Assembly before reaching the desk of Governor Jerry Brown who has already signed a similar bill into effect requiring bike helmets. (And yes, we're also curious about how the new law will be enforced at Heavenly, a mountain that straddles the border between CA and NV).
Arguments to consider: