Visit a resort this season and see for yourself: more snowboarders and skiers are wearing helmets. A recent announcement by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recommending the use of helmets may add to the growing trend.

The announcement came from a study done by the commission which concluded that helmet use could prevent or reduce the severity of 44 percent of head injuries to adults and 53 percent of head injuries to children under the age of fifteen.

The findings of the study show a dramatic increase in the number of head injuries in snowboarding over the last four years, (1,000 in 1993 to 5,200 in 1997) while the number of head injuries related to skiing have remained relatively unchanged (13,600 in 1993 to 12,700 in 1997). But according to renowned Alpine injury researcher Dr. Jasper Shealy, the study should not be taken at face value. “There’s been no dramatic increase in the number of snowboard injuries,” he says, “if you take into account the increase in participants which occurred at approximately the same time.”

Regardless of the growth rate of head injuries, recent sales figures from SnowSports Industries America show a 25 percent increase in helmet sales annually for the past five years. During the 1995/96 season approximately 66,000 helmets were sold. In 1996/97, close to 81,000 were sold.

Safety is an important part of snowboarding and skiing, and along with this increase in preventative equipment sales, the National Ski Areas Association continues its efforts in promoting education and safe mountain use. In the December ’98/January ’99 Member Update published by the National Ski Areas Association, a report entitled Skier Fatalities Dip in 1997-1998 Season NSAA President Michael Berry says, “Ski areas nationwide have always and will continue to expend tremendous energy and expense in educating their guests about skier and snowboarder safety.”

The report also states the percentage of fatalities per million skier/snowboarder visits during the 1997/98 season decreased by 28 percent when compared to the previous season. With 54.1 million skier/snowboarder visits during the 1997/98 season, the fatality rate converts to .48 per million skier/snowboarder visits compared to .69 per million skier/snowboarder visits the year prior.

“Snowboarding is particularly less dangerous if you’re referring to dangerous as risk of death,” Shealy says. “The risk of injury, once you gain control and become more proficient in snowboarding, the rate of injury between skiing and snowboarding is comparable, approximately 2 1/2 percent per 1,000 skiers.”

Snowboarders are mostly at risk of ankle, knee, and wrist injuries. “There is a higher rate for these injuries for snowboarders rather than skiers,” Shealy says.

–Robyn Hakes