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Vermont Researchers Urge Snow Sports Enthusiasts to Wear a Helmet

A Fletcher Allen/UVM team is studying helmet use among skiers and riders.

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From press release

“Ski like a local…Wear a helmet. is the slogan for this year’s effort by the Vermont Snow Sports Research Team to get every skier and snowboarder to wear a helmet while on the slopes. The Vermont Snow Sports Research Team is a partnership of Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

The team is in the midst of a multi-year study, funded by the Vermont Department of Health and the Children’s Miracle Network, which is examining trends in helmet use among skiers and snowboarders.

“Ski safety experts feel that a helmet is a safe and effective tool for reducing the chance of a head injury while skiing and snowboarding, says Robert Williams, M.D., study coordinator, pediatric anesthesiologist, and critical care specialist at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care. “We feel that it is our duty to get that message out to as many people as we can.

A 1999 report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission revealed that 7,700 head injuries could be prevented every year if skiers and snowboarders wore helmets on the slopes. More recently, research has shown that head injuries are the type of skiing and snowboarding trauma that is most likely to cause serious injury and disability.

During the first year of a study begun in 2002, approximately two-thirds of young children under age eighteen were observed by the team to be wearing helmets while skiing or riding. The number dropped significantly, however, among adolescents. Only one-third of people over age eighteen wore helmets.


Since the 2002-2003 winter season, this study reveals a significant increase in helmet use among adult skiers, with almost a doubling of helmet use rates in three years. There have also been increases among child skiers and snowboarders, but these have been less dramatic, and the Snow Sports Research Team is concerned that the rate of children’s helmet use may be beginning to plateau at around 70%.

“We still have a lot of work to do, says Dr. Williams. “Helmet use rates remain lower than we’d like to see, particularly for adolescents and adults. The medical community bears some responsibility for the low use of helmets due to past confusion over their effectiveness. However, ongoing research in the field has demonstrated that wearing a helmet can indeed help prevent head injury. In addition, new research has shown that wearing a helmet does not increase the chance of sustaining a neck injury or lead to reckless behavior on the slopes. While helmets can’t prevent all head injuries, they are an important piece of personal protection while skiing and snowboarding.

The Snow Sports Research Team gathered data over the past three ski seasons from nearly 40,000 observations of helmet use by skiers and snowboarders, the largest-ever study of its kind. This data reveals helmet-wearing patterns based on age, gender, and whether the individual is a skier or snowboarder. In addition, the team conducted over 1,000 surveys at Smuggler’s Notch Resort in Jeffersonville, Vermont, to better understand why some skiers and snowboarders choose to wear helmets and others don’t.

The Vermont research team has found some encouraging trends during its research. The team observed that local skiers and riders wear helmets at a much higher rate than resort guests. “This is very encouraging, states Dr. Williams. “The more experienced riders are finding the advantages of warmth and safety in wearing a ski helmet. In sports like skiing and snowboarding, image and style are important drivers of behavior. If the hot riders and locals are wearing a helmet, we believe that tourists and less-frequent skiers will be more likely to follow suit. That’s how we can up with the slogan, ‘Ski Like a Local…Wear a Helmet.’

To help spread its message, the Vermont team has teamed with Smugglers Notch Resort to produce and distribute thousands of informational pamphlets, posters, and stickers promoting the importance of wearing a helmet. The research team adopted “Always ride PHAT as the byline for its multi-year campaign.

PHAT is an acronym for “Protect your Head on All Terrain and “Protect your Head at All Times. It is derived from the slang term “phat, which denotes excellence.