A 2011 New Jersey law requires skiers younger than 18 to wear helmets.

Do Kids Need a Helmet for Skiing?

by Susan Sherwood

Helmets have become common gear for kids on ski slopes. Sometimes this is by parental choice; sometimes it's required by law. A recent push by certain states to make wearing helmets mandatory has largely been successful; in 2012, 80 to 90 percent of kids wore them, according to ABC News. Still, helmet use is not universally supported; people argue for and against this safety precaution intended to protect little heads.

1. Arguments Against

Not everyone speaks out in favor of helmets. Instructors at some ski resorts are required to hold back their opinions, leaving the decision up to the parents. Therefore, the resort is not held liable if a child is injured while wearing a helmet. Even well-fitting gear cannot protect against every contingency. Helmets do not guard against carelessness, and some skiers take more risks when their heads are covered. In addition, helmets limit peripheral vision. Generally, helmets are designed to safeguard against impacts at speeds less than 15 miles an hour, so faster skiers have reduced protection.

2. Arguments For

Helmets cannot protect against all head injuries, but they are especially useful for kids. They tend to ski at relatively slower speeds, and that's when helmets offer the most protection, according to LidsonKids.org. Though faster skiers are at greater risk, a helmet can still reduce the severity of an injury caused by a collision or a fall. When falling, a skier usually hits the side of the head, and a helmet covers that area. Helmets reduce the possibility of head injuries by 20 to 50 percent. A severe injury can be lessened, while a minor concussion can even be prevented.

3. Type of Helmet

If you choose to have your kids wear a helmet, select one designed specifically for snow sports; bike helmets do not offer appropriate protection or warmth on the slopes. Be sure the helmet meets the safety standards of the Common European Norm, the American Society of Testing and Materials or the Snell Memorial Foundation. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission approves of the standards set by the first two organizations. Although the Snell Foundation standards are not specifically recognized by the CPSC, they are stricter than the guidelines of the other groups.

4. Helmet Fit

To provide the best protection, helmets must fit properly. They are not inexpensive, but parents should not treat a helmet like a sweatshirt a kid will grow into. A helmet must be sized correctly from the start. An employee at a ski shop is knowledgeable about fitting gear. Helmet manufacturers make sizing charts based on the circumference of the head above the eyebrows. Try the helmet on with goggles so you know the entire forehead is covered. Make sure the helmet allows air to flow freely, is comfortable and does not obstruct vision.

About the Author

Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.

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