Safety on the slopes

 May 19, 2015

There's a lot to love about skiing – some say it's the closest you'll ever get to flying – but there's no question that hurtling down a mountain can be dangerous. From twisted knees to head injuries, a day on the slopes can have serious unintended consequences. Of course every skier and snowboarder will tell you that slowing down and knowing your limits are important, but are there other things that you and your family can do to be safer on the piste this winter?

Ski Hero

Minor collisions are a regular occurrence at every major ski field. There is not that much you can do to avoid being side-swiped by an out-of-control beginner except being aware of your surroundings at all times. However, even experienced skiers sometimes overlook the golden rule, which is to always look uphill before setting off.

Experts say that incorrectly adjusted ski bindings count for most leg and knee injuries and, while you are reliant on a shop technician to do this correctly for you, it's important to remember that they need accurate information about your age, ability and weight.

The single biggest safety decision you'll make is whether or not to wear a helmet. While some people claim ski helmets are nothing more than a fashion item, there is no denying their popularity compared with a decade ago. In the US, 70 per cent of skiers now wear helmets and Australia is not far behind with a 2014 survey of more than 50,000 skiers by the Australian Ski Areas Association showing helmet usage is up to 67 per cent.

Most serious head injuries occur when skiers or boarders hit trees or rocks, and one of the most troubling and persistent myths about ski helmets is that they reduce your peripheral vision. In fact, while they slightly impair hearing they have little impact on vision, which is the most important factor in avoiding collisions.

A 2012 Canadian meta-study that summarised the results of every major study on ski helmets, reported by The Guardian, showed helmets may reduce head injuries by 21-45 per cent. Other studies have shown that helmets may be particularly effective in reducing head injuries in children under 10, possibly because they usually ski at a slower speed. The Australian Ski Areas Association says helmets can be most effective in collisions under 20km/hr, and they recommend recreational skiers wear them.

So given that there is very little to lose from wearing a helmet (except for the cost, usually $99-200)-and growing evidence that they could reduce the severity of head injuries by up to half in certain types of collisions – most experts recommend you cover your head with more than a woolly hat before heading down the slopes this winter.