Debate: All Snowboarders Should Wear Helmets

Snowboarding-related debates are widespread these days, especially after the rise of the ‘keyboard warriors’ clogging up comments sections. We thought it’d be more dignified to thrash them out with two informed – but opposing – voices on this feature. First up is the daddy of them all: All Snowboarders Should Wear Helmets.

This first appeared in WL115.


Ed Leigh is a former pro rider and WL editor. He’s now best known as a Ski Sunday presenter and Olympic commentator.

I believe in civil liberties and freedom of choice, but also taking responsibility for your actions. Most people learn, usually through physical pain, to deal with their bad decisions. If you identify with that then you should be wearing a helmet to protect yourself. If not, you should still wear one to protect yourself from those people. I don’t want to be a ‘helmet Nazi’, I just want to be the voice of reason: your chances of getting a proper brain smash are much higher if you don’t wear one.

In 2001 I watched a guy crack his skull and cheekbone in a slam. He lost the pressure on his eye socket and the area swelled so rapidly that his eye fell out of his head. He then partially regained consciousness and tried to run off into the crowd, screaming and moaning. I had to restrain him until the medics arrived. That’s just one of my head-injury highlights from a library of hundreds, and they are images I draw on increasingly when I’m deciding whether or not to don a lid.

Working on Ski Sunday forced me to wear a helmet. I never used to and wouldn’t have by choice, but setting an example for viewers – and in time, my kids – changed that. I only rode once this winter without a helmet; first I felt selfish, then foolish.

The truth is that the only thing stopping people wearing helmets is pride and vanity. Why wouldn’t any intelligent person wear one? It doesn’t matter how good you are, there is always someone else out there who hasn’t got a clue that will take you out (I concede that if you are riding heli-accessed spines in Alaska this is not the case, but really you should be wearing one there regardless). The stigma of riding with a helmet is gone; everyone rides with them these days, and it is universally accepted that they give you a better chance of saving your brain. Why risk it?


Scott Penman rides for Rome Snowboards and frequently MC’s at events, including The Brits.

Growing up in Darlington it wasn’t uncommon to witness heated moments outside one of the many kebab shops, often culminating in the classic Snatch punch where Brad Pitt gets lifted off his feet. All too often you hear of those situations ending with a fatality. One solution, some say, would be to enforce a strict “pads before pissed” policy in drinking venues. Check your coat and collect helmet, wrist and shin pads. No more burdening A&E staff with the task of patching up pissheads every night. Until such laws exist, it’s tempting to become a hermit so as never to risk one of those encounters. Leaving the house is dangerous!

Having said that, most accidents happen at home so you’re fucked either way. But when we do venture out, we do so with care. Self-preservation is instinctive to most of us. You wouldn’t perform a Wet Willy to a Charles Bronson lookalike doorman, and you wouldn’t shave a few seconds off your commute by launching yourself down the escalator – would you? We’re constantly evaluating risk; it’s how well you do the maths that counts.

Dr Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon at St George’s, has argued that helmets can make a rider over-confident. This is my main concern. Ten years ago the average holiday-maker wore a jester hat, now they wear a helmet – but across the board head injuries have actually increased. Maybe this is due to more people taking part, or maybe it’s because kids are sold the idea they are safe in a helmet and subsequently fuck up their risk evaluation!

I’m not saying helmets are stupid, but if they were made mandatory it would evaporate another piece of snowboarding’s spirit. We’d still have prepubescent Norwegians landing triples, but we’d lose the next bucket hat trend – and for me, it’s those daft but freely-made choices of style that make snowboarding the greatest motherfucking art form on this crazy planet.

I’m rambling now – maybe a few too many hits on the head. I’ll leave you with this: it’s not the helmet that will protect you, it’s the head!

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