By Melissa Myers, BIST member

With Sidney Crosby’s troubles with concussions playing out in the national media, Canadians have been made more aware of the importance of protecting their heads from injuries.

As the temperatures drop and people start participating in winter sports, most wouldn’t hesitate to put on a helmet before playing a game of hockey. But perhaps not every parent or child thinks to protect their head before sledding down a hill, an activity that also has its risk, experts point out.

“Head and brain injury can be the most devastating types of injuries,” said Paula Tymchyshyn, national program coordinator for ThinkFirst Canada. “We’re really focused on trying to make sure that we’re preventing those [type of] injuries so that kids can stay healthy and active for their entire life.”

Thankfully, there are plenty of safety helmets available for all variety of sports. To help with selecting the right one and wearing it properly this winter, BIST spoke to experts at ThinkFirst and the Canadian Standards Association.

Choosing the right helmet for the right activity

Helmets are engineered differently for different sports. Some helmets are only made for one activity like skateboarding or baseball helmets, while many winter sports helmets are multi-use and can be used for skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing. Hockey helmets can be used for hockey, skating or tobogganing. Helmets can also be classified for either single or multiple impacts. Ski and snowboard helmets are only meant to sustain one impact, then should be replaced before returning to the hill. Hockey helmets can protect against multiple impacts before they need to be replaced.

Making the grade

The Canadian Standards Association gives safety certifications in order to tell consumers that the product/helmet meets Canadian quality standards. Anthony Toderian, manager of corporate affairs at CSA, said that Canadian standards are specific to Canadian winters and are designed to protect consumers from impact on snowy or icy terrain rather than from rocks and trees. He also said that American or European standard-helmets are safe and that “most major brands, such as CCM or Bauer, because of liability, will stand behind their products.”

The graphic below, courtesy of ThinkFirst Canada, shows the type of helmet you’ll want for different activities along with the CSA standard. 

Winter helmets

Nicely fitted

Buying the right helmet is only the first step. ThinkFirst works to educate people to ensure that they fit their helmets correctly. It touts the “2V1 rule” to fit helmets, which dictates that there must be room for two fingers between your eyebrows and the helmet on your forehead. The straps of your helmet should form a “V” shape under your ears, then join to clip at the chin. You should also be able to fit one finger in between your helmet strap and your chin.

“2V1.” Graphic courtesy ThinkFirst Canada.

Helmet 1       helmet2         Helmet3

Can’t protect you if you’re not wearing it

Furthermore, having the proper helmet that fits perfectly won’t protect you unless you’re wearing it. Hockey Canada mandates that all players wear CSA certified helmets. The Canadian Ski Council also has a policy that recommends helmet use for both alpine skiers and snowboarders. But skiing, snowboarding, and hockey are not the only winter sports that require helmet use.

“When you think about sliding down a hill at high speed on a GT racer,” said Tymchyshyn, “that’s a really dangerous thing.”

Both she and Toderian advocate wearing a helmet while sledding and tobogganing as well.

They also agreed that people need to get the necessary training to participate in winter sports safely. The dangers of injuring those around you can become a greater risk than injuring yourself if the proper precautions are not taken.

“It is very important that people take measures to protect themselves,” said Toderian.

If you suffer a concussion

Although helmets do protect against brain injuries, people can still sustain concussions while wearing a helmet. Signs of a concussion can arise after experiencing a collision or fall.

Signs that someone may have sustained a concussion include dizziness, nausea, headache, confusion, increased irritability, amnesia and blurred vision.

If any of these signs are present it is best to stop play immediately and to speak with a doctor. There are strict guidelines to follow after sustaining a concussion before returning to play and medical supervision is necessary.