For skiing helmets, use your head



By LISA LIDDANE
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Ask skiers and snowboarders what helmets might represent, and you'll get conflicting responses. To some, it's confinement, the end of freedom, a killjoy or an unnecessary added expense. To others, it's a non-negotiable must-have to protect against injury.
Nevertheless, helmets have become more common, even de rigueur among those who enjoy the two top winter fitness activities. One-fourth of snowboarders and skiers wear helmets, according to the National Ski Area Association. Three to four years ago, helmets were a novelty as noncompetitive skiers and snowboarders were just beginning to consider the idea of wearing one.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission asserts that a helmet could have prevented or mitigated the severity of 40 percent of 23,000 head injuries among skiers and snowboarders in 2002.
Sizing up brands
Will your helmet stay put and cushion the impact, or will it slide off or break if you crash on the slopes?
If you own a helmet or are considering buying one for yourself or a loved one, it's a good idea to check out Consumer Reports' evaluation of 13 models, which found that some helmets offer little protection.
There are two types of helmets based on shell size: full, which covers your ears and part of the sides of your face, and short, which comes with soft removable earflaps.
Consumer Reports' tests scores have five categories, ranging from "poor" to "excellent." Among the best performers:
UGiro Nine, short shell, $110, "very good." Giro Fuse, short shell, $150, "very good."
ULeedom Scream High Performance, full shell, $130, "very good."
UBriko Forerunner, full shell, $100, "good."
The worst performers were rated "not acceptable" by Consumer Reports.
Testers found that the chin-strap retention systems of W Helmet W Ski Slider and the Boeri Rage (Iron model) may come off in an accident.
The shell of the high-gloss Boeri Rage (Axis Rage model) shattered during impact tests, producing sharp fragments that could cut the wearer's face and compromise the chin-strap retention system. Even the best helmet won't offer protection if it's worn incorrectly.
Additional tips
For best results:
UHelmet should fit snugly, but not tightly. It should not slide on your head.
UWear the chin strap. It keeps the helmet in place.
UReplace helmets that have been involved in a crash, even if they seem OK. Damage inside the helmet may not be visible. Some brands, such as Leedom, Boeri and Giro, offer a discounted replacement if the helmet has been damaged in a crash.
UMake sure you can hear normally while wearing your helmet.
UWear a helmet designed specifically for snow sports -- not for cycling, mountain biking or motorcycle riding.
The complete Consumer Reports evaluation of skiing and snowboarding helmets is available by buying the December issue through (914) 378-2300 or www.consumerreports.org.
XLisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at The Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane@ocregister.com.

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