On the slopes, helmets cut head injury risk by a third

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© Erik Isakson/Tetra Images/Corbis

Wearing a helmet when you take to the slopes is commonly considered a good idea, but just how much of a difference does it really make? A big one. According to an analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, for skiers and snowboarders, wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury by more than a third. And while, previously there have been claims that helmets might offer somewhat of a safety trade off—decreasing the risk of head injury while increasing the risk of neck injury—this latest study found no evidence that protecting your noggin ups the risk for neck injuries.

To size up the true benefits of head protection for snow sports enthusiasts, researchers from the University of Calgary analyzed the findings from 12 previous studies conducted in Europe, Asia and the U.S. that included both experimental and control groups—people with or without helmets. Eleven studies analyzed head injuries, five analyzed both head and neck injuries, and one study only focused on neck injuries. In the end, the researchers concluded that wearing helmets reduced the risk of head injury by 35%, and that, increased helmet use could prevent between two to five out of every 10 head injuries.

Of course, while these findings are encouraging, the researchers emphasized that helmets are not a foolproof way to prevent injury. As they point out, in fact, if wearers develop a false sense of security about their safety, helmets could even prompt more reckless behavior. Previous study has yeilded mixed results—some research indicates that helmet-wearers do tend to be more aggressive, and while other investigations found that helmets encouraged more caution. But even without academic consensus, a common sense approach to ski safety is clear: when taking to the slopes, wear a helmet and use your head.