How safe is safe?

Having returned from a recent skiing holiday I was struck that for the first time since I started skiing I was now the minority on the slopes skiing without a helmet. For the past few years skiing with a helmet has increased steadily to a point where anyone who doesn’t looks somehow out of place, but I remember a time when the opposite was true. This got me thinking as to why we are all compelled to wear such safety equipment and how effective it actually is.

I have been skiing all my life and consider my abilities above average but I have never, until now, considered the need to wear one. But peer pressure aside, what are the benefits for wearing one, especially when the rest of my body isn’t protected as I travel at 50 mph + down an icy slope on a pair of wooden planks? Obviously if I am involved in an accident and my head gets hit then I am going to be thankful for wearing it, but while a number of recent tragedies have made the headlines, surly a head injury is just one of many potential hazards while skiing?

My girlfriend was wearing a helmet for most of the week but when she removed it and skied without it she was amazed at how much more aware of the slopes she was in terms of people around her and noise. Obviously we were concerned about tempting fate, but it is an interesting point that in a world of health & safety and the need to protect ourselves are we going one step too far and trying to make something inherently dangerous look safe? Could I argue that by wearing it you are in fact less aware of the potential risks and therefore take more?

It is amazing how much busier ski slopes have become as its popularity has grown and with modern piste bashing and advances in equipment we are travelling faster than ever. So maybe I have answered my own question in that this is the motivation to wearing a helmet, but in fact reducing ones awareness of those around you is not what should be happening on a busy slope. I am sure the day will come when I am compelled to buy a helmet (well just to fit in) in the same way I did for my bike but in the world of safety at what point do we accept it is just a risk we have to take?

Bit of a silly example but more than a couple of times last year pedestrians have been knocked down in London by buses. So surely as a pedestrian I should be walking around with a helmet as the likelihood of being knocked by a 40 mph bus is a real and present danger? You never know in a few years it might catch on…


  • Darren Butler says:

    Hi Piers, I hope you’re well. It’s good to see you had a week in the Alps again.
    It’s an interesting subject: Helmets for winter sports. I’m actually quite surprised that insurance companies haven’t yet implemented compulsory wearing of helmets for such activities. I have been wearing a helmet for over 10 years. I skiied for a few years, but was never really good at it, nor found it enjoyable. I was never particarly comfortable with the boots and all the stuff that goes with it, along with people in one piece psychedelic suits, so I decided to learn to board. At first I didnt wear a helmet, but on my second week I took a nasty fall, really banged my head and my vision went double whilst I was sat reacovering on the side of the piste. This incident really scared me and I called in at a shop on my way back to my chalet, bought a helmet and havent had a day without it whilst boarding since that day. I felt it was a wake up call and I was incredibly lucky that day. If I break my limbs surgeons can fix me with nuts and bolts and plaster of paris etc, but a trauma to your head could mean the end of your life in the blink of an eye.
    I’ve spent 3 winter seasons in the alps, so I can get around quite well, (as you’ve seen on my facebook page) but I do appreciate when people are beginners and being aware of others around you. I frankly can hear perfectly well, infact I don’t notice much difference when I’m wearing my helmet.It certainly can be unnerving when you hear scrapping of ski’s and boards around you. To be honest I don’t get that much now as I tend to be travelling at a fair rate of knots!
    As people progress and get more confident that unnerving of others around you diminishes, so your girlfriend is certainly doing the right thing by wearing one.
    A friend a few years ago asked me ‘Why do you wear a helmet?’ I found this the most ridiculous question and replied ‘Why wouldnt I?’
    I’m a keen road cyclist and frankly I couldnt ride with the NCCC without one but when I’m out on the road I occasionaly see cyclists (not club members) with their helmets on their handle bars! It astounds me that these people are so very clever that they actually know when they are going to fall off and hit theirs heads and between these periods they merely carry their helemts. Ive seen people on the pistes like it too, with a helmet hanging off their back pack! Quite bizzare!
    With the back country stuff I do now I feel it imperative to wear a helmet. Marked pistes are fairly safe, although somewhat busy, thus I tend to not spend much time on them if possible, but back country we have no real idea of whats beneath us, where snow covered rocks are etc,so along with my transceiver and shovel I wouldnt even attempt it without protective head gear.

    Its all down to choice and I would certainly disagree with any legislation that made helmets compulsory, but for self preservation and how I value the gift of life I cannot recommend them enough.

    Hope to hook up with you soon for some Atom fun :o)



    • Piers says:

      Good points! Yes I think any kind of bad fall is an eye opener, unfortunately all of mine have been knee related but as I say not going to be long before I need to wear one. Yes need to meet up soon, we just need this weather to improve somewhat before we wheel out the atom…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.