Are Helmets Required At Ski Resorts?

Are Helmets Required At Ski Resorts?

“Are helmets required at ski resorts?” is a question that every skier eventually ponders.

Simply put, the answer is no!

Neither the national government nor the 50 states require people to wear ski helmets at their resorts. However, there’s much more to the story than meets the eye. If you’re planning your first ski trip in ages or hit the slopes every weekend, there may be something for you in this blog post.

Ski helmets obviously help protect your head from severe injuries during a fall down the slope. But did you know there are actually people who are detractors of the ski helmet? This blog post will dive into what you probably didn’t think was an ambiguous subject and explain why you should still wear a ski helmet (regardless of the optionality). 

Helmet Requirements At Most Popular Ski States?

Generally, certain states or counties make ski helmets compulsory for children and employees at ski resorts. Requirements for all visitors are up to the states and even the individual resorts. Here’s some helpful information on a state-by-state basis.

  • California - In California, skiing without a helmet remains optional for skiers and snowboarders on the slope. But, the state has made more attempts at extensive regulation than other states in the US. In 2010, the California assembly raised a bill on the need to increase safety for skiers and snowboarders within the state. It provided that any skier or snowboarder under 18 must have a helmet while on the slopes. 

Additionally, the bill stated that ski resorts were mandated to ensure compliance with this rule by revoking the tickets of defaulters. A similar bill suggested that parents would be fined up to $25 if their children didn't have a helmet while on the slopes. The California bill also required all resort employees to wear helmets while skiing on the job. 

The NSAA also supported the bill on the condition that the parents and law enforcement agencies, not the ski resort, would be responsible for enforcing the rule. Meanwhile, Mammoth Mountain in California mandates helmets for children aged 12 years and below. 

This also applies to anyone taking ski and snowboarding lessons at the mountain. In Southern California, the Snow Summit Resort also requires helmets for anyone taking ski and snowboarding classes.

  • Utah - With the growing safety concerns, finding people without a helmet on the slope is becoming less common. But considering state rules, do you need to wear a helmet to ski at Utah resorts? Well, if you're under 18 and attending ski and snowboarding school, you don't have a choice. 

State officials require minors and people taking ski lessons to wear helmets while on the slope. Many ski resorts also encourage all skiers to wear helmets for safety reasons. If you're a parent, you may also find it easier to get your kids to put on a helmet if you're wearing one yourself. 

  • Colorado - Although it's generally considered the nation's ski capital, there are no helmet laws in the state of Colorado. The leading ski operators in the state, such as Vail resorts, Aspen Skiing and Intrawest, require kids in ski and snowboarding schools to wear helmets.

It also extends this rule to employees working on the slope and terrain-park riders. You may also see many helmet signs recommending skiers gear up on the slope. Many families rent helmets at the ski resort whenever they're on the slope.

Other states like New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Maine have also contemplated making helmets a mandate for children or adolescents under 18. 

Do You REALLY Need A Helmet To Ski?

For years, there has been ongoing controversy on whether or not a helmet is required for skiing and snowboarding. Some European countries and states within the US make helmet usage optional for visitors. Suppose you're a first-time skier; you may also be wondering, do you need a helmet to ski or not?

The National Ski Areas Association reported that during the 2020-21 ski season, 87% of skiers wore ski helmets at ski areas in the United States. This is an improvement from the 2002/'03 season, where only 25% of skiers wore ski helmets. 

Many studies have found that skiing without a helmet can increase the severity of head injuries. From avoiding small cuts to serious injuries like heavy concussions or skull fractures, there are many reasons why it's good to wear a helmet at the ski resort. 

In addition, a 2014 study found that the rise in helmet use significantly reduced the incidence and extent of head injuries among skiers at the Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont. Another study also linked the skiing and snowboarding cases of Traumatic Brain Injury and concussion to not wearing a helmet while riding. 

Researchers also believe that traumatic brain injury is fatal to skiers and snowboarders, contributing to a 42.5-88% death rate. Many high-profile deaths in which helmets weren't used, like the case of Natasha Richardson, who died of a head injury after a ski-related fall in 2009, come to mind. 

Despite these stats, many free riders find wearing a helmet nothing less than a thrill-reducing drag. There's also a common idea that ski helmets are for children and amateurs who do not know how to handle the slopes. 

As the stats show, skiing without a helmet doesn't remove the dangers and risk factors of skiing or snowboarding. Regardless of your skill, you're at the mercy of other skiers who may collide with you. Some skiers cannot control their speed and run over others on the field. And, not everyone on the slope will follow the responsibility code.

Therefore, skiing without a helmet increases your risk of a head injury during a crash. It can also help protect your head from objects flying around while skiing. You will also be more protected during the fall, especially on the flat terrain where the snow is rough and icy. 

Common Skiing Injuries (That Helmets May Protect You From)  

In truth, with any extreme sport like skiing or snowboarding, the possibilities of injuries are too common. However, no one plans to fall while riding; here are common skiing injuries that will make you think twice about skiing without a helmet. 

#1 Torn Knee Ligaments

Knee injuries are common while skiing and account for one-third of all ski injuries. It can be a major injury around the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or the medial collateral ligament (MCL). Studies show that about 27% to 41% of all ski injuries are knee-related. 

A torn ACL can result from a bad landing, and it may take about nine to 12 months before you can fully recover. It may also require reconstruction surgery to replace the torn ligaments. 

You may wonder, “How exactly will a helmet help protect me from a lower-body injury?” This is purely conjecture, but from experience, skiers go out of their way to avoid head injuries (especially when they’re not wearing a helmet), putting the rest of their body at greater risk.

#2 Concussion

During a crash, a hard impact on the head can cause a brain injury, resulting in loss of consciousness or hard concussions. Studies show that collisions with an object after falling result in 23.1% to 42.5% of head injuries. Another study also confirmed that concussions contribute to 20% of skiing and snowboarding injuries yearly.

The general signs of concussions include vomiting, dizziness, headaches, and disorientation which may clear up after a few hours. However, severe falls can cause more fatalities and even death resulting from a head injury. Therefore, you can remove certain risk factors to avoid head injuries while riding. 

#3 Skull and Face fractures

Several studies have linked skiing and snowboarding to fractures and intracranial injury cases in younger children. A backward fall on the slope can cause severe injuries to the face and skull. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study showing 22.7% of intracranial injuries and 9.1% of skull fractures from reported cases of ski injuries among children. 

Skull and face fractures can have long-term effects of deformities and permanent disability. Some fractures also come with head injuries which can cause more complications resulting in fatalities. 

Does wearing a helmet lead to higher risk-taking? 

The NSAA has released several reports showing that wearing helmets has helped to reduce the risk of some ski-related issues. Still, few skiers argue that wearing a helmet can lead to higher risk-taking while on the slopes. The critics claim that it might lead to a false sense of security, leaving the skiers more careless and open to accidents. 

However, a meta-study stated that wearing helmets had no effects on risk compensation compared to non-helmet-wearing skiers and snowboarders. It is also important to note that wearing a ski helmet won't prevent accidents or injuries. However, skiing without a helmet can increase the likelihood of suffering a severe injury.

How Ski Helmets Protect You 

There are two main helmet designs, namely in-mold helmets and injection-molded helmets. In-mold helmets are sleek, lightweight models that involve attaching the shell and shock-absorbing foam. On the other hand, Injection helmets are made with high-impact ABS plastic to offer durability against falls and knocks.

Some helmets also have detachable ear pads and liners for warmth and protection. They have a shell or outer layer with a rigid surface to reduce the impact during a fall or protect against knocks and abrasions. On the inside, the EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam lining helps to soften the blow and absorb impact.

There are two primary standards in the United States for testing ski and snowboarding helmets to ensure that it's safe to use; ASTM F2040 and Snell RS-98. The ASTM F2040 test involves impacting the helmet against three types of anvils; flat, hemispherical, and edge. It also involves a new helmet's dynamic strength retention test to confirm results. 

Some manufacturers also use the British and European standards for snow head protection when making ski helmets. Most ski helmets are lightweight and easy to put on. The safest helmet to use is one that fits snugly and won't affect your hearing or field of vision. 

Ski helmet tests check the helmet to prove safety and reliability. The test crew imitates a high-velocity fall to see the helmet's performance and the retention system's effectiveness. It also comes with a certification that proves that your helmet has been properly tested for safety. 

On the other hand, a helmet doesn't offer complete protection from all impacts. The standard impact speed testing is 24 km/h, but many skiers go double this speed. When you're going this fast, it's unlikely that a helmet won't stand a chance against impact with a fixed object. In addition, the helmet can't protect you from your head spinning during a collision or fall.   

Make A Personal Commitment To Always Ski With A Helmet 

If you made it this far, you did yourself a great service. Answering the question, “are helmets required at ski resorts” is easy. But answering whether or not you should wear them comes with a few arguments.

If you’ve decided to take your safety seriously and wear a helmet, may we suggest investing in one that meets every skier's needs?

Our Boundary Helmet, coming in Fall 2022, does just that. Join our waitlist to be the first to know about the release because these will sell out fast.

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