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Mandatory helmets for skiers?

Yes, says Lions Gate emergency doctor
Skiers and snowboarders are equally prone to head injuries, says Dr. Ross Geddes. Photo by Maureen Provencal

Whistler skiers and snowboarders are equally vulnerable to head injuries and both groups should be required to wear helmets, says an emergency room doctor.

“Skiers need to protect their melon just as much as snowboarders,” said Dr. Ross Geddes, emergency physician at Lions Gate Hospital, the North Vancouver hospital that services Lower Mainland as well as Sea to Sky ski areas.

In a 2000-02 unpublished study of 1,144 snowboarders and 610 skiers treated at Lions Gate, Geddes found 7 per cent of both groups incurred head injuries.

A recent Norwegian study in the Journal of The American Medical Association reported helmeted skiers are 60 per cent less likely to suffer head injuries. The study conducted by the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences in Oslo and published in the February, 2006 issue, looked at data on more than 6,000 skiers and snowboarders at eight Norwegian ski resorts during 2002.

“Do as the Olympians do,” said study co-author Dr. Roald Bahr, noting snowboard-cross racer Shaun White is known as “The Tomato” for his flaming red helmet.

“Wear a helmet even if you’re not an elite skier or snowboarder, especially if you’re not,” the researcher said in an Associated Press story.

Whistler-Blackcomb supports that suggestion.

“We encourage people to wear helmets regardless of what devices they have on their feet,” said Doug Forseth, vice-president, operations. “That’s been our approach for several years now.”

But the head of the Canadian Ski Council said there is still some debate over helmets.

“People with helmets ski an average of 10 miles faster than those without,” said Colin Chedore, the council’s president. “And helmet weight on young kids in comparison to their body weight — there is some concern that enhances the chances of them breaking their necks.”

Helmet advocate and former freestyle competitor Richard Kinar said the real issue is helmets sold in Canada need standards.

“There are no helmet standards in Canada and compliance to international standards by manufacturers is voluntary,” said Kinar.

Kinar will meet with a Canadian Standards Act research group in April to discuss drafting preliminary helmet standard guidelines. Kinar thinks federal minister David Emerson should be the key advocate for helmet standards.

“Because he’s in charge of the (2010 Winter) Olympics he should be coming up with the money (for research) saying this is important to Canadians. We’ve got the Olympics coming up in 2010 and we do not have helmet standards and we’re putting kids at risk who might be inspired to take up an alpine sport.”

In his study, Lions Gate’s Geddes also found that snowboarders are more prone to injure upper bodies while skiers injure lower bodies. About one-third of injured snowboarders dislocate their shoulder, 50 per cent fracture their elbow and 75 per cent fracture their wrist.

“If you injure your wrist snowboarding you’re going to break it,” Geddes said.

He also found snowboarders are more likely to injure themselves on their first day of snowboarding and advised that all beginner snowboarders take lessons and wear wrist guards.