Head injuries on the slopes on the rise, despite more helmets

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- She lives in the Valley of the Sun, but Alexis Krisay has been snowboarding regularly for about 15 years.

“I love the adrenaline rush of going fast, I’m kind of a daredevil. I definitely take a ton of risks,” she said.
One risk she does not take, however, is riding without a helmet.
“Helmets, actually, I feel like they have become cool lately,” Krisay said.
According to The National Ski Areas Association, 67 percent of people on the slopes now wear helmets, an all-time high. It is a 171 percent increase since 2002.
Krisay was fortunate to be wearing a helmet on a snowy day last ski season at Mammoth Mountain in California.
“It was a snowy day, pretty crowded,” she said. “I caught an edge and fell back, knocked the wind out of myself and hit my head.”
Thinking she was fine, she got back on the chairlift to continue her day of snowboarding with her husband and some friends.
On the lift, she started feeling nauseated, and her husband noticed some strange behavior.
“I got on the chairlift and I started falling asleep. I felt like I was dreaming. My husband said we’ve got to get you back,” said Krisay.
Krisay suffered a concussion despite wearing a helmet, and she is hardly alone.
An October 2012 study from the American College of Emergency Physicians tracked snowboarding and ski related head injuries in U.S. emergency rooms from 2004 to 2010.
The results found there were 68,761 reports of such injuries during that time. That surprised Dr. Nicholas Theodore, Director of Neurotrauma at the Barrow Neurological Institute.
“There was an increase in head injuries compared to times previous to that, and that was surprising to everyone, because if you go on the slopes now, more people are wearing helmets,” Dr. Theodore said.
The study is preliminary, and it is difficult to say exactly why there are more head injuries despite the rising prevalence of helmets, but Dr. Theodore said there could be several reasons why.
First, more awareness of brain trauma in general could mean more people go to the emergency room.
“Because of the visibility seen in the National Football League and in sports related concussions, they’re seeking treatment,” said Dr. Theodore.
Dr. Theodore also said an increase in use of terrain parks and also an increase in risky behavior on the slopes might be to blame.
“People are engaging in a little bit more high risk or complex maneuvers as the sport progresses and they get better at the sport,” he said.
Most ski and snowboard areas know the risks inherent in the sports, and print waivers on the back of lift tickets.
“When you sign a waiver going in, you are signing something admitting there is something not safe about what you are doing,” said attorney Raechel Barrios with Friedel Richardson Trial Lawyers.
All the more reason Dr. Theodore advocates wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding. He said even though it is not an absolute protection, a helmet could prevent further trauma to the brain in the event of a head injury.
“You should always be wearing a helmet in those types of activities,” he said.
Krisay agrees, and still wears her helmet on the slopes.
“You’re safer with a helmet,” she said. “If I hadn’t been wearing one, the damage could have been a lot worse.”