Context: Although using a helmet is assumed to reduce the risk of head injuries in alpine sports, this effect is questioned. In contrast to bicycling or inline skating, there is no policy of mandatory helmet use for recreational alpine skiers and snowboarders.
Objective: To determine the effect of wearing a helmet on the risk of head injury among skiers and snowboarders while correcting for other potential risk factors.
Design, setting, and participants: Case-control study at 8 major Norwegian alpine resorts during the 2002 winter season, involving 3277 injured skiers and snowboarders reported by the ski patrol and 2992 noninjured controls who were interviewed on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The controls comprised every 10th person entering the bottom main ski lift at each resort during peak hours. The number of participants interviewed corresponded with each resort's anticipated injury count based on earlier years.
Main outcome measure: Injury type, helmet use, and other risk factors (age, sex, nationality, skill level, equipment used, ski school attendance, rented or own equipment) were recorded. A multivariate logistic regression analysis was used to assess the relationship between individual risk factors (including helmet wear) and risk of head injury by comparing skiers with head injuries with uninjured controls, as well as to skiers with injuries other than head injuries.
Results: Head injuries accounted for 578 injuries (17.6%). Using a helmet was associated with a 60% reduction in the risk for head injury (odds ratio [OR], 0.40; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.30-0.55; adjusted for other risk factors) when comparing skiers with head injuries with uninjured controls. The effect was slightly reduced (OR, 0.45; 95% CI, 0.34-0.59) when skiers with other injuries were used as controls. For the 147 potentially severe head injuries, those who were referred to an emergency physician or for hospital treatment, the adjusted OR was 0.43 (95% CI, 0.25-0.77). The risk for head injury was higher among snowboarders than for alpine skiers (adjusted OR, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.22-1.91).
Conclusion: Wearing a helmet is associated with reduced risk of head injury among snowboarders and alpine skiers.