Background/objective: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in skiing and snowboarding. Although previous studies have advocated the use of a helmet to reduce the incidence of TBI, only a minority of skiers and snowboarders wear helmets. The low use of helmets may be partially due to controversy regarding their effectiveness in a high-speed crash. The protective effect of a ski helmet is diminished at the high speeds a skier or snowboarder can potentially obtain on an open slope. However, ski areas have undergone significant changes in the past decade. Many skiers and snowboarders frequent nontraditional terrain such as gladed areas and terrain parks. Since these areas contain numerous physical obstacles, we hypothesized that skiers and snowboarders would traverse these areas at speeds slow enough to expect a significant protective effect from a helmet.
Methods: Speed data were obtained via radar analysis of 2 groups of expert level skiers and snowboarders traversing a gladed woods trail and terrain park.
Results: A total of 113 observations were recorded. Forty-eight observations were made of 9 skiers and snowboarders in gladed terrain, and 65 observations were conducted of 21 skiers and snowboarders in the terrain park. In 79% of the cases in gladed terrain and 94% of the instances in the terrain park, observed speeds were less than 15 mph.
Conclusions: Skiers and snowboarders navigate nontraditional terrain at speeds slower than on open slopes. At the observed velocities, a helmet would be expected to provide significant help in diminishing the occurrence of TBI. Medical authorities should advocate the use of helmets as an important component of an overall strategy to reduce the incidence of TBI associated with skiing and snowboarding.