A chill is in the air and fall is here, which means winter is right around the corner. Millions of Americans will soon take to the slopes on skis, snowboards and more to participate in these popular winter sports. As with any active sport, there is some risk of injury, from minor to severe. Head injuries are common in winter sports and can range from a bump to a mild concussion to a more serious traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Accidents can happen on the mountain, but there are ways to prevent them from occurring as well as protect yourself in the event of an accident.
Tips for Skiing and Riding Safely
In addition to protecting your head with a helmet while skiing or riding, here are additional tips from the #RideAnotherDay campaign, which is promoted at more than 300 ski areas around the country:
- Be ready to avoid objects and other skiers.
- Maintain a safe speed and always ski in control.
- Stay alert to what’s going on around you, especially other skiers and riders.
- Plan ahead and ease up at blind spots, check uphill when merging onto trails and give others plenty of room when passing.
- Know your limits and don’t ski terrain that is beyond your level. And if you’re tired, take a break or call it a day. It’s better to quit and come back out when you’re refreshed than risk an injury because of fatigue.
Protect Your Noggin — Always Wear a Helmet
One of the best ways to protect the head is to wear a helmet when participating in winter sports. As an avid skier, ski racer and one of the early pioneers of adaptive skiing programs, Dr. Thomas E. Balazy, medical director of Craig Hospital, a world-renowned rehabilitation and research hospital in Denver for people who have sustained a brain and/or spinal cord injury, is a strong proponent of helmets while skiing and riding. “Helmets can definitely help prevent head injuries, and I would never ski without one,” he said. “It goes without saying that helmets are key to helping prevent head injuries, but responsible, safe skiing and riding is the best way to prevent serious injuries on the mountain.”
Each year Dr. Balazy treats people who have sustained a TBI through a variety of accidents and injuries, including skiing and snowboarding. “There is some good news in that helmets are more and more common today,” Dr. Balazy said.
According to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), 84% of all skiers and snowboarders wore helmets during the most recent ski season. This is a sharp increase from when the ski association started tracking helmet usage in 2002 when just 25% of skiers and snowboarders reported wearing helmets. However, there’s one age group that’s lagging behind, and that’s 18- to 24-year-olds, where only 76% wear helmets today.
Today’s helmets are more comfortable, warm and stylish than their predecessors, so the most important factor is to find one that fits you snugly and comfortably. If you don’t already wear one or are planning a ski vacation this winter, now is a good time to visit sports stores, ask questions and try on helmets to find one that’s perfect for you.
What If a Head Injury Occurs?
If you’re with someone who has had an accident and appears to have a head injury, the most important thing is to call for help from ski patrol or first responders immediately. Keep the injured person as still as possible and watch for any change in consciousness or breathing.