Winter Sports: Brain Injury safety tips

February 4, 2019

Posted by: Deepti Patel


Winter sports season is upon us.  The period between November and April sees seasoned skiers, snowboarders (and novices) take the slopes around the world in search of high-speed fun.

In the wake of the reports surrounding Hollywood Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her skiing collision this year, it is important to highlight the need for safety during winter sports.

Paltrow is being sued for $3.1 million for allegedly being involved in a ‘hit and run’ skiing collision with Terry Sanderson aged 72 in 2016 Utah.  Sanderson claims that the collision caused him four broken ribs and a brain injury.

It appears that the accident occurred only on the ‘beginner’s green run’ but even there, the risks of injury are high.  Both Paltrow and Sanderson have years of experience on the slopes.

These adrenaline filled activities come with health warnings no matter what your ability and your brain can be most vulnerable to injury.

Keep safe this season and take note of these four ways to help protect your head from injury.

1. Wear a helmet

It is believed that Sanderson was wearing a helmet but surprisingly, a lot of ski resorts don’t ask for a helmet to be worn.

Wearing a helmet can dramatically improve your chances of avoiding a serious head injury.  Some travel insurance companies also require you to wear one to be covered under their policy.

A Eurosafe policy briefing says that head injury in snow sport is taking a larger share than other types of injury.  ‘Snow sports helmets, if worn properly, will reduce the impact of a collision or crash and thus reduce the severity of injury outcome. The protective effect is estimated to be within a range of 21 to 45%.’]

There are several types of helmets which include full shell, half shell or full face and you can select the best type for you based on your level of experience and speed.  Most helmets are designed for a single large impact which cracks the insider liner to soften the impact to your head.

With any type of helmet, make sure it fits well and does not tilt from side to side.  Your helmet should not feel too tight or too loose and it can be useful to research the best type for you online or seek a specialist opinion on fitting in a winter sports shop.

But helmets aren’t completely fail safe.

Another high profile skiing accident in 2013, caught the world’s attention the when news emerged that Michael Schumacher had tragically suffered a brain injury whilst skiing off piste in the French Alps.  He fell, hit his head on a stone and suffered a devastating injury even though he had been wearing a helmet.  Schumacher spent nearly six months in a medically induced coma.

So even if you do wear a helmet, be aware of your own ability and recognise the signs of concussion.

2. Know your own limitations (and don’t take unnecessary risks!)

Whether you feel confident on the slopes or not, there is no such thing as being too careful.

Keep within your skill set and stay in areas which are designated for your ability.  Pistes are usually graded in a colour coded system with the beginner slopes having a smaller gradient and the most challenging, being up to a 40% gradient.  Staying comfortably within your ability can help to reduce the risk of a head injury.

Lessons can be beneficial on the resorts themselves as you can learn in stages based on your ability or take part in refresher lessons.  Having friends and family that want to show you how to ski or snowboard sounds great, but ultimately, you could find yourself on a slope which is unsuitable for your level of ability and can increase your risk of injury.

Also, alcohol and winter sports do not go well together!  The effects of alcohol are magnified at higher altitudes so keep an eye on your alcohol intake and reduce the risk of falls.

3. Have plenty of breaks

An increase in fatigue can mean an increased risk of falls.  Winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding and sledding can be physically exhausting so give yourself a break off the slopes and recharge your batteries to prevent potential injury.

4. If you do have a fall, watch out for the warning signs of concussion

It is important to recognise the signs of concussion after a fall and seek medical help.  Signs of concussion can include:

  • Headache
  • Neck pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in vision
  • Problems with balance
  • Drowsiness or struggling to stay awake

Signs of a more serious head injury can also include unconsciousness, seizures and slurred speech.  Recognise the warning signs of a head injury quickly and seek medical help.

The effects of a brain injury can be devastating and even life threatening.  Taking precautions to ensure that you keep safe during winter sports season can make all the difference.

Have fun this season, but be safe!

Deepti Patel is a solicitor in the Adult Brain Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you or a loved one have a claim you can contact the team free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4847 or at DeeptiPatel@boltburdonkemp.co.uk. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Adult Brain Injury team will contact you.  Find out more about the Adult Brain Injury team here.

Posted by: Deepti Patel

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