Ski Helmets and Winter Safety

When the news broke right before New Year’s that Michael Schumacher, arguably the world’s most famous race car driver, had been seriously injured in a skiing accident it immediately focused public attention on safety and winter sports.

According to numerous media reports Schumacher was skiing ‘off piste’ (a common term at European resorts referring to terrain which is open to recreational skiers but is not groomed or marked specifically as a trail) with his son at the French resort of Meribel on December 29 when he lost control, fell and struck his head on a rock. Schumacher suffered a traumatic brain injury and has been in a medically-induced coma ever since. He has undergone two surgeries and, according to CNN, doctors describe his condition as “stable but critical.”
That same CNN article (see link below) contains an especially important point regarding the accident. According to CNN “a French prosecutor investigating the ski accident… said that speed was not an important factor.” CNN reports French officials telling the media that Schumacher was traveling at “the speed of a very good skier on a slope which was not very steep” and also ruled out a fault with the race car driver’s skis. It has been widely reported that Schumacher was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

Put another way, Schumacher’s tragic accident is a sobering reminder to all of us that skiing is a dangerous sport – even when you ski well within your abilities and take every reasonable safety precaution. The 2009 death of actress Natasha Richardson, who suffered a fatal brain injury after a seemingly innocuous fall on a beginners slope at a Canadian ski resort, falls into the same category.

As an Oregon traumatic brain injury attorney I am all-too-aware of how easily these sort of incidents can happen. Schumacher’s accident is a reminder to us all that caution is important whenever we are out on the slopes here in Oregon or elsewhere. Helmets are now required for children at some ski resorts and are increasingly common among adults. Using a helmet while skiing is simple common sense (indeed, if Schumacher did hit his head on a rock the helmet he was wearing may be the only reason he is alive today), but it offers no guarantee against injury. Ski resorts have responsibilities too – for properly maintaining and managing their terrain, controlling crowds on the slopes, rating trails accurately, patrolling them properly and removing reckless and dangerous skiers and snowboarders from the mountain – but each of us is ultimately responsible for many elements of our personal safety and must make the right decisions on those things that are within our control. Always wear a helmet. Always ski in control, and within your abilities. Always think safety first.

New York Times: Ski Helmet Use Isn’t Reducing Brain Injuries

CNN.com: Prosecutor: Speed not important in Michael Schumacher accident