When Michael Schumacher fell and struck his head on a rock while skiing off-piste in Méribel, France just over a week ago, one piece of information quickly came to light – that wearing a helmet may have saved his life.
The seven-time Formula One champion is now in a medically induced coma after suffering severe head injuries. Dr Chris Chandler, a leading British neurosurgeon, told Sky News shortly afterwards that Schumacher’s helmet may have “minimised the severity” of the injury.
Since Schumacher’s crash, there’s a rise in the number of helmet sales in the UK
For many riders, it was a sharp reality check. Since Schumacher’s crash, there’s been a rise in the number of helmet sales in the UK with one shop noting a 400 per cent increase, according to a report by The Telegraph. It’s generally a personal choice over whether people wear a helmet or just a beanie to ride. But Schumacher’s accident has reignited the debate over whether helmets should be mandatory on the mountains.
The Christmas period is notoriously one of the busiest times in any resort. It’s not uncommon to pass a crash scene on the slopes or see ambulances whizzing past your après bar on a daily basis. When the slopes are as crowded as they were last week and early season snow leaving riders vulnerable to rocks, is it dumb not to wear head protection?
Plenty of riders would say yes. Certainly Kevin Pearce, whose tragic accident cut short his competitive halfpipe career in 2010, has repeatedly claimed that his helmet helped save his life.
However, there’s the argument that over certain speeds, helmets will not protect your head from serious injury. Schumacher was likely to have been travelling at 50mph when he crashed. Sources revealed that his helmet “broke in two” on impact. And while 70 per cent of all skiers and snowboarders were reported to wear a helmet last season, there’s been no statistically significant effect on the number of fatalities on the slopes, according to the National Ski Areas Association of America (NSAA).
Helmets don’t offer ultimate protection, but that’s not to say they don’t have some benefit. Head injuries are reduced by 30 to 50 per cent when the user is wearing a helmet, and can clearly make the difference between a minor and a major injury.
So, should they be mandatory or is it down to the individual to weigh up the risks and decide for themselves? Despite the fact that they’re now obligatory at all high-level World Snowboard Tour competitions, many pros (think Travis Rice, or rail riders like LNP) choose not to wear them.
Most resorts still leave it up to each individual to decide too. However, Nova Scotia, Canada and New Jersey, USA now have a law saying you can’t ride without a helmet, while Vail have enforced a rule that all employees must wear helmets for a number of years. In Europe, the majority of ski schools ensure children under 12 wear helmets while under tuition and a growing number of resorts are making helmets compulsory in the park.
When it comes to a fully-grown adult riding around a resort, who should be making the decision about whether they are properly protected or not? It’s a debate we feel will still be raging for years to come.
What do you think? Should helmets be compulsory on the mountain? Or should it still be a matter of individual choice? Leave your comments below.