Do I Need a Ski Helmet? - Ski Instructor Explains Why he Believes his Accident Confirms Skiers of All Abilities Should Wear a Helmet
‘Do I need’ or ‘do I have to wear a ski helmet?’ is a question often asked by first time skiers. Although helmets are compulsory during lessons at many indoor slopes, you often over hear ski and snowboard instructors answer this question with ‘why wouldn’t you wear one?’ and for good reason!
In January 2017, Doug Clayton an experienced ski Instructor of more than 10 years had a serious ski accident. An accident that highlights; helmets aren’t just for beginners, or for those taking on a powder run or park jump, they’re for everyone. For every ski day, morning, afternoon, session or lesson. Whatever the weather, whether you’re on skis or a snowboard, Doug’s experience demonstrates why the answer to the question ‘do I need a helmet,’ should always be ‘yes’.
Fresh snow, perfect visibility, groomed run, could there be better conditions? All that was missing was blue sky.
It was the first run of the day when I crashed on a relatively easy red run in Switzerland. Minutes later I was being choppered off to Sion hospital with suspected head and neck injuries.
In Switzerland’s Sion hospital the consultant tells me for the second time in two days, “Thankfully you wore a helmet which saved your life!”
I brushed these comments aside modestly, ”Oh right, just as well” I’d say, in a typical British fashion.
However, over the following weeks and months, while I was sat at home in my custom made Swiss neck brace, I had plenty of time to contemplate the consultant’s words.
Before this accident, I had enjoyed claiming that I’d not fallen in over two years, when actually, in hindsight, falling keeps you humble! I wouldn’t say falling over is something to be fearful of; small falls now and again are part of the risk associated with the sport, but even after a big fall, I remain as passionate about skiing as ever and more aware of the benefits of wearing a helmet than before.
I have been a ski instructor for 10 years and worked in several resorts in Europe, as well as working for The Snow Centre for 8 years, where we’ve created a culture of wearing a helmet at all times. Surprisingly you still hear people say, “I don’t have to wear a helmet do I?” to which we reply, yes it is compulsory for people taking part in lessons. Now this isn’t ‘health and safety gone mad’ this is genuine care for the well being of skiers and snowboarders.
On the day of my accident, it was this culture, this helmet wearing habit that saved my life and will allow me to ski another day. Before heading out the door to the ski lift I picked up my helmet and along with clipping up my boots, and zipping up my jacket, I fastened my helmet strap; naturally and out of habit. I didn’t debate whether the weather for that day required me to wear a helmet or if my bobble hat and jacket were a better match. I put my helmet on, because I always put it on, without question.
Whatever stage any of us are at with our skiing or snowboarding, creating a habit of carrying out actions to improve health and safety, can genuinely be the difference between life and death on the mountain. While accidents like mine don’t happen to everyone, as a result of the helmet cushioning the impact to my head, I lived to tell the tale with only a fracture in my neck, because I was in the habit of taking precautions. As bad as it sounds I was walking the day after the accident and before long I will be skiing the mountains again.
Everyone knows the risks of our sport, often it’s what inhibits peoples progression, but I am a firm believer in making the best out of any situation. Many factors were stacked favourably on the day of my accident; the first aiders I was with were a big help, the vicinity to the slope patrol that I fell, the visibility for the helicopter and the short distance to the hospital. You can always find positives, but either way, the accident won’t change my passion or career in Snowsports. In 10 years of instructing, and the many years of learning to ski before that, I’ve had so many safe, fun days skiing on the hill, but in all this time I’m glad I never gambled with the safety of my head.
Funnily enough, since my accident I have found satisfaction in my recovery process; celebrating the first time I walked from my hospital bed to the bathroom and later the relief at getting my neck brace taken off.
I hope others will look at my experience and take on-board the need to wear a helmet everyday, continue to grow the culture of helmet wearing for all skiing occasions, and like I have, make wearing a helmet habit, just in case.