Do High Tech Ski Accessories Promote Head Injury?

That's what I've been asking myself as I've been looking at ski gadgets this week. On Monday, the medical journal Injury Prevention (part of the British Medical Journal family), published a study that attributes more head injuries from skiing and snowboarding to the increasingly ridiculous/miraculous/stupid tricks that athletes are trying to pull off.

Alpine skiing and snowboarding are sports that involve high velocity and, recently, an increased propensity for participants to jump and perform acrobatic maneuvers, factors that may result in injury. Increased participation in jumping and acrobatics has led to a large number of brain and spinal cord injuries...

Apparently, while fewer skiers are getting injured, more people are hurting their heads and necks.

Let's face it, crazy tricks with huge amounts of risk have always been a part of winter sports (although skiing in subway escalators seems to be a more recent development). The difference, now, is that better technologies and equipment seem to not only make big tricks possible, but somehow inevitable. For example, look at The Hangtimer. For $99, this little gadget is packed with little accelerometers that automatically start and stop a timer, settling once and for all whose 360 mute-grab lasted longest.

That's not the only gadget out there promoting the new go-big or go-home attitude. Check out O'Neill's new H4 Campack. It has a built-in, helmet-mounted video camera connected to a giant red "record" button on the shoulder strap. That should make it easy for would-be Warren Millers to shoot YouTube ski videos without even removing their mittens. (Check out O'Neill's promotional video to see some of the kinds of skiing and riding that the Injury Prevention folks worry about.)

from talk2myshirt

"But the backpack uses a helmet mounted cam," you might protest, "surely helmet use helps keep skiers and snowboarders safe." In general, that's true—according to the study, "helmets are associated with a 22â''60% decreased rate of head injury." However, I'm not so sure all helmets are focused on safety first. The Giro bluetooth helmet, for example, adds another level of distraction to your skiing/boarding. Imagine the extra foolhardy adrenaline you get when "Eye of the Tiger" blasts as you drop in the half-pipe.

In the medical journal report, they note that "Advances in skiing/snowboarding equipment and techniques have produced increased velocities and jumping heights. Collisions occur with other participants on the slopes and with inanimate objects, such as trees, rocks, and chairlift poles, causing injury."From the recent ski videos I've watched with my slopes-obsessed, 15-year-old brother, that's an understatement. Guys are dropping from the sky onto hand-rails and ice-covered stairs.

While the report tentatively proposes that " the increase [in head injuries] may be linked with the proliferation of snowparks, and a possible increase in the risk of injuries associated with snowpark use where terrain is modified to accommodate acrobatic maneuvers," the conclusion seems obvious to me.

It's interesting to note that helmets work better at slower speeds, and in general, terrain park skiers and riders go slower than racers (especially those with self-waxing skis). So it's probably even more important to strap one on.

The good news is that the risk of injury from skiing is still relatively low: for every thousand skiers on the slopes on any given day, there are two or three injuries. That means injuries today less than half as likely as they were in the 1970s, and much of the decrease is attributed to better engineered equipment. (Plus, today we have ski jackets with warning lights on them). I'll still be hitting the slopes hard this winter, but I think I'll leave the gadgets at home. And wear my helmet. And maybe I'll just stick to the moguls and trees where I'm unlikely to do this (NOTE: not for the weak of stomach).

Advertisement

Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.

Advertisement