Posted by: Salvatore J. Zambri, founding member and partner
The recent high-profile skiing accident of Formula-One World Champion Michael Schumacher’s has re-ignited the long-standing debate over the necessity of wearing helmets while participating in winter sports.
Should skiers and snowboarders wear helmets? Outdoor winter sports allow speed and an adrenaline rush that appeals to many. Predictably, higher injury risks accompany those higher speeds. Skiers and snowboarders generally travel at speeds that are much faster than the average bicyclists. Bicyclists are becoming more accustomed to wearing helmets and many states have mandated their use. A number of published studies indicate that the incidences of serious brain injuries or deaths in ski collisions are increasing. However, owners and operators of snow sports resorts do not require helmet use, rationalizing that the decision should should be an individual choice.
In addition to the obvious risks associated with skiing and snowboarding, participants in other winter sports should understand the dangers of not wearing helmets, especially for children. For example, snowmobiles can reach speeds of over 100 miles per hour. With children as young as eight years old allowed to drive them and no state helmet laws, the risks of serious accidents and head injuries increase. Even sledding and tobogganning have their share of collisions.
Increased helmet use for winter sports in recent years has directly had an effect in protecting users injuries, ranging from lacerations to skull fractures. However, evidence indicates that helmets are not able to offer enough protection against more serious injuries such as “tearing of delicate brain tissue,” according to Jasper Shealy of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Although helmet manufacturers are working to make helmets safer, some medical professionals actually believe that wearing a helmet can give skiers and snowboarders a false sense of security. Experts tend to believe advanced equipment and resorts creation of more extreme terrains allows more risk-taking behaviors.
“The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends the following safety guideline to improve winter sports safety:
- Parents or adults should supervise young children during all winter downhill slope sports activities at all times.
- Avoid slopes that end in a street, gravel road, drop off, parking lot, river or pond.
- Make sure people at the bottom of the slope have cleared the slope path prior to allowing another sled to go down the slope.
- Use well-lighted areas when choosing evening activities.
- To protect from injury, it is important to wear helmets, gloves and layers of clothing.
- Helmet Use
- The National Ski Patrol recommends wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding. Studies show that helmets offer considerably less protection for serious head injury to snow riders traveling more than 12-14 mph. Safety and conscientious skiing and riding should be considered the most important factors to injury prevent, while helmets provide a second line of defense against head injuries.
- All participants should sit in a forward-facing position, steering with their feet or a rope tied to the steering handles of the sled. No one should sled headfirst down a slope.
- Do not sit/slide on plastic sheets or other materials that can be pierced by objects on the ground.
- Use a sled with runners and a steering mechanism, which is safer than toboggans or snow disks.
• Snowboarding and Skiing
- Warm-up the muscles that will be used in skiing with exercise activities to help prevent injury such as knee lifts, heel raises, abdominal twists and squats. When done, take a few minutes to stretch out your muscles (hamstrings, arms and calves).16
- Use proper ski and snowboard equipment such as properly fitting boots and adjusted bindings that attach the boots to the skis/snowboard—bindings are set to skier classification, height and weight and should only be set by a certified technician to help prevent injuries during a fall.
- Participants should ski on trails within his or her skill level.
- Obey trail closure and other warning signs. Do not go off-trail.
Individuals with pre-existing neurological problems may be at higher risk for injury. If you have a pre-existing condition, you should talk to your doctor before participating in these activities.”
As with any behavior that is inherently risky, participants should exercise common-sense behavior and use whatever safety equipment is available to them. Wearing a helmet should not be used as an excuse to engage in overly-extreme or unnecessarily dangerous behavior.
About the author:
Mr. Zambri is a board-certified civil trial attorney by the National Board of Trial Advocates and a Past-President of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. The association recently named him “Trial Lawyer of the Year” (2011). He has been rated by Washingtonian magazine as a “Big Gun” and among the “top 100” lawyers (out of more than 80,000 attorneys) in the entire metropolitan area. The magazine also describes him as “one of Washington’s best–most honest and effective lawyers” who specializes in personal injury matters, including automobile accident claims, premises liability, product liability, medical malpractice, and work-accident claims. He has successfully litigated multiple cases against truck and bus companies, the Washington Metropolitan Area transit Authority, and other automobile owners. His law firm, in fact, has obtained the largest settlement ever in a personal injury case involving WMATA. Mr. Zambri has also been acknowledged as one of “The Best Lawyers in America” by Best Lawyers (2014 edition) and has been repeatedly named a “Super Lawyer” by Super Lawyer magazine (March/April 2013)– national publications that honor the top lawyers in America.