“Taking head impacts is more than just a cracked skull. It’s your brain you’re talking about. And when you talk about your brain, it’s the color that you like. It’s the music that you listen to. It’s the friends you have. It’s everything.” Tom Feiten, founder of Hip-Tec.
In the past decade or so, growing attention has been given to the use of helmets for snowboarding and skiing. The movement toward education and safety is winning out. Every year the percentage of riders and skiers donning helmets is growing. I, for one, think this is a fantastic trend.
Since my first day on the snow, a helmet has been part of my equipment. It wasn’t ever an option, just something that I wore. In that regard I’m probably lucky because none of the common arguments against wearing helmets resonate with me. Like seatbelts, helmets are not absolute insurance that something bad won’t happen and that you won’t hurt your head or get a concussion. But they reduce the incidence of head injuries by up to 60%. They cannot stop you from hitting your head, but in most cases they make any head injury that you do suffer less severe.
Brain injuries are cumulative. When you have had one, you are more likely to suffer from more and they are likely to be more severe. You can be slower to heal, and over time, you might suffer some degree of brain damage from them. Helmets cannot prevent concussions (yet) but they can lessen the severity of them greatly. Lots of times that is the difference between a catastrophic injury and one you can walk away from. Helmets are also extremely effective at preventing blunt force traumas that crack the skull and/or cause impact lacerations.
Football and boxing are getting a lot of attention because the lasting damage caused by repeated blows and falls is being more widely studied, and it’s pretty scary stuff. They are beginning to find links between cumulative concussions and degenerative brain disease. While studies of head injuries from snow sports are in their infancy, the results are expected to be the same.
In 2011, I saw a video about Danny Toumarkine, a snowboarder from NH, who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while riding in Montana. He was not wearing a helmet when he caught an edge and hit a tree on a jump he had done successfully a bunch of times before. He spent over a month in the hospital. Many days his friends and family didn’t know if he would live. If he did live, there was no way to know the extent of brain damage he could suffer. He had 4 brain surgeries, LOTS of rehab and plenty of struggles along the way. In the end, he was lucky. He recovered and is even able to ride again. But he is far from forgetting what his family and friends went through. The consensus is that if he had been wearing a helmet, his injuries would have been much less severe. He has since become a spokesman for wearing helmets so hopefully no one else will have to go through what he went through.
There are other stories all over the news about similar incidents…Kevin Pearce had a training accident and suffered a TBI. He has been told that if he has another TBI it will be catastrophic. He still struggles from the affects of his accident 4 years later. The movie about him “The Crash Reel” was all over HBO a couple of months ago. There is a new film, #HelmetsAreCoolfeaturing Mike Schwarz who was doing a routine trick when he hit his head. He also suffered a TBI. Without his helmet, Mike probably would not be alive today to tell his story. The movie about Danny is “Moving Forward”, but there are highlights of his story in #HelmetsAreCool also.
Some of the arguments for wearing a helmet are pretty obvious
1-Helmets reduce your chances of serious head injury by up to 60%
2-They keep your head toasty warm, even on the coldest days
3-Your level of snowboarding is irrelevant…when you are starting out, you are guaranteed to fall-a lot! As you get better and try new things, you are also guaranteed to fall. You never know when that fall can result in hitting your head.
4-You never know what people around you are going to do or when some freak accident can occur, even if you are confident in your own abilities. Catching an edge happens in a heartbeat. Someone shooting out from the woods in front of you, or making an unexpected turn or stop right in front of you can cause a fall.
5-It’s a place to mount your “helmet” cam
6-It will protect you from chairlift hits
The arguments against wearing helmets include
1-They are not cool… There are lots of new styles and colors out there that are much cooler than they used to be. They are much cooler than brain damage.
2-They are uncomfortable. There are so many helmets available today, that it’s unlikely that there’s not one that would be comfortable for you. Try on as many as you need to find one that fits right and feels good to you. A helmet is a lot more comfortable than being laid up in bed indefinitely with a head injury.
3. They reduce peripheral vision. Studies have shown that the reduction in peripheral vision is negligible.
4. It’s “one more thing” to remember. You wouldn’t go snowboarding without your boots, bindings and board…your helmet is just as important
5. They are expensive. There are a wide variety of price points. You don’t need the most expensive one. Any American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) certified helmet can help protect you. Hopefully you will never need it, but in case you do, it will be money well spent. Time in the hospital and rehab, missed work, and compromised mental faculties are all much more expensive than a helmet.
It is still up to you whether you wear a helmet or not. And we are certainly not judge and jury. But if you need more convincing, I recommend you check out the stories of Danny Toumarkine, Kevin Pearce, and Mike Schwarz. If these do not make you at least consider it, you might already have already hit your head one too many times.
Coming soon…what to look for when choosing a snowboard helmet.
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