Helmets protect the brain better from collisions with trees than with the ground.
When a skier or snowboarder crashes into a tree or another person, the head bounces back slightly. Helmets provide more of a buffer in this situation than they do when someone collides with a surface that has no give – which is often the snow-packed ground.
“When you hit the ground, your head is going to stop, whether you have a helmet on or not,” said Dr. Stuart Levy, chief of neurosurgery at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood.
Most brain injuries from simple falls are concussions, Levy said. He warned that a person might look or feel fine after a fall. But symptoms of serious damage can develop later, including headache, weakness, numbness, decreased coordination, repeated vomiting or nausea and slurred speech. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that these symptoms, and even a temporary loss of consciousness, are cause to seek immediate emergency attention.
More severe injuries include bruises in the brain, skull fractures and tears in blood vessels. Such injuries require immediate surgical attention and can lead to coma or even death if left untreated.
Actress Natasha Richardson died in 2009 after a fall during a ski lesson in Canada. Severe bleeding in her brain set in many hours after she left the slope – by then it was too late for emergency surgery to save her life. Richardson was not wearing a helmet.