11 February 2011 .
Wearing helmet 'beneficial' for skiers and snowboarders.
Helmets should be included in ski hire packages to protect against head injuries, say researchers in the British Medical Journal.
University of Innsbruck sports scientists say research has shown ski helmets reduce head injuries by 35% in adults and 59% in children under 13.
Awareness of brain injuries from accidents could also increase helmet use, they argue.
They found that between nine and 19% of all skiing injuries reported by Austrian ski patrols and emergency departments are head injuries - and severe head injuries, including traumatic brain injury, are a leading cause of death in winter sports. Another study found that adults and children, of all ages, wearing a helmet while skiing were significantly less likely than those without a helmet to have a head injury.
Other studies found that 74% of head injuries occurred when skiers hit their head on the snow, 10% when they collided with other skiers and 13% when they collided with fixed objects.
This suggests that "protecting the head with a helmet must be beneficial", the researchers say.
Gerhard Ruedl and colleagues at Innsbruck also doubt the theory that helmets impair hearing and reduce a skier or snowboarder's field of vision, but are not convinced by the arguments.
There is another point of view that wearing a helmet could provide a false sense of security and encourage more risky behaviour on the slopes.
But since studies show that helmet use is higher in more skilled skiers, the researchers conclude that, "the use of a helmet is not necessarily associated with a higher level of risk-taking but primarily with a higher level of skill."
Many countries and ski areas have decided to promote and encourage the use of helmets on the slopes.
In Austria, for example, it is obligatory for children under 16 to wear a helmet when skiing or snowboarding.
In the United States, where latest data shows that helmet use has risen to nearly 50%, some resorts have made helmets compulsory for their employees.
Actress Natasha Richardson died while skiing in Canada in 2009 after a fall on a beginner's ski run. She also sustained a severe head injury and was not wearing a helmet.
Although many snowboarders wear helmets because it's seen as part of a snowboarder's attire and the design of helmets has become more streamlined, colourful and trendy in recent years, Ms Garner says helmets are still not for everyone.
"There are still a big group of people who won't wear a helmet - experienced skiers and some ski instructors, because they are not used to it and just don't think it's necessary."