Trauma experts from the Montreal General Hospital have launched an initiative targeting head protection this ski season, visiting over 25 hills.
Last week, the experts stopped by Mont St-Bruno, Ski Bromont and Mont Sutton to promote helmet use while skiing and snowboarding.
Tara Grenier, injury prevention coordinator for the Montreal General Hospital said educating the public is key to getting helmets on heads. “If people are aware, they can make educated decisions,” she said.
Response to the program has been positive so far, Grenier said, noting the success it has had in opening the eyes of adults to the fact that they should be leading by example.
Dr. Tarek Razek, trauma surgeon and director of the trauma centre at McGill University Health Centre, regularly sees the devastating toll even minor falls can take on skiers and snowboarders.
Experiencing any impact to the head, even when travelling at relatively slow speeds “can very easily be a fatal event if you’re not protected,” he said.
According to Razek, traumatic brain injuries sustained on ski hills are common, with over 20,000 occurring each year in North America.
As a skier himself, Razek said the risk of injury should not deter people from partaking. “You’re not going to live your life without taking any risks,” he said. “But it’s a matter of modifying those risks.” A simple way to do this on the hills is by sporting a helmet, he said, noting that wearing a helmet reduces the chance of injury by between 35 and 50 per cent.
Enforcing helmet-wearing has, for a long time, been a contested issue among the skiing community. While about 90 per cent of children wear helmets on ski hills, only 60 per cent of the ridership as a whole is taking the safety precaution, according to Grenier. But it looks as though the trend might be picking up.
Alexandra Strickland, president of the Concordia Ski and Snowboard Club, is a helmet-wearer herself and has noticed more people seem to be making the same choice. “I think it took a lot of people hearing about deaths caused from injuries to the head that could have been prevented with a helmet to actually go out and buy one themselves.”
As a kid, Strickland didn’t exactly enjoy having her parents force her to wear a helmet. But she has since come to appreciate the value of the decision. “It has definitely protected me before. I have fallen and hit my head, and am positive it would have been a lot worse without the protection of a helmet.”
Others at CSSC agree with Strickland.
Political Science student and free skier Tyler Hewitt started wearing a helmet when he started pushing himself into more difficult areas, a decision he said has definitely paid off. “I’ve hit my head numerous times, and so have many of my friends,” he said. “Without helmets, more severe concussions and injuries would have occurred.”
Similarly, Adi Derkson, a masters student in Public Policy and Public Administration, started wearing a helmet after his first concussion and it has since come in handy. “I fell down on my head pretty badly one time and the helmet protected me,” he said. “It was worth its weight in gold at that point.”
But not everybody at the club agrees; others don’t see helmets as a widely applicable necessity. A few CSSC members said they did not wear helmets because they did not ski or snowboard on dangerous terrain or put themselves in any serious risk. This common assumption of safety is dangerous, according to Razek. “The problem is that it’s not always going to be up to you what happens. A crash can occur to anybody at any time, it’s unpredictable,” he said, adding that even the most experienced skiers can crash after being cut off or just losing their balance.
The helmet campaign is a collaborative effort between the Montreal Children’s Hospital, SacrÃ©-Coeur Hospital and the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke as well as the Quebec Ski Areas Association. It runs until March 7.