With the backcountry ski season beginning, our trips and courses are starting to fill up. For many of our students, a beginner backcountry ski course will be their first exposure to the sport of ski touring. For more experienced backcountry skiers, they may be completing their first ski traverse or a longer ski trip. All of our students have some resort skiing experience and this post will address one of the most common questions we get for our backcountry skiing trips and courses – the use of ski helmets in the backcountry.
Wearing a ski helmet on a resort is a very accepted practice and recommended by most operators. It is however, not mandated for ski resort users. The proper fit of the ski helmet is just as important as the helmet itself. The Canada West Ski Area Association has the following position statement with regards to helmet use. Like any helmet, it is not a guaranteed way to reduce a head injury or fatality. Skiing in a controlled manner while minimizing contact or collisions with other skiers and obstacles is the best way to minimize your risk of an injury.
Your risk of collision with another skier in the backcountry is certainly a lot less than at a ski hill. However, there are a lot of other risks and hazards in the backcountry that skiers may want to consider and decide if wearing a helmet is right for them. Backcountry ski areas are unpatrolled and uncontrolled. Stumps and deadfalls can hide under the snow and trees are not usually thinned out to give skiers that perfect line from top to bottom. Rocks and cliffs do not have boundary lines and there is no such thing as a groomed run. As skiers progress in their training and level of comfort in the backcountry, the next logical step is ski mountaineering and ski touring on glaciers. These areas can add even more to the list of risks and hazards, further increasing the risk of a head injury due to a fall or some other contact.
Worksafe BC recently updated Part 8 of its OHS Guidelines. For ski industry employers, the issue of ski helmets has specifically been addressed and is now mandated.
Section 8.11 of the OHS Regulation states in Part:
(1) Safety headgear must be worn by a worker in any work area where there is a danger of head injury from falling, flying or thrown objects, or other harmful contacts.
(2) Safety headgear must meet the requirements of
(a) CSA Standard CAN/CSA-Z94.1-92, Industrial Protective Headwear,
(b) ANSI Standard Z89.1-1986, American National Standard for Personnel Protection — Protective Headwear for Industrial Workers Requirements, or
(c) Japanese Industrial Standard JIS T8131-1990, Industrial Safety Helmets, for Class AB or ABE headgear.
Source: Worksafe BC OHS Guidelines
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures has our own policy which is described below:
Ski Helmets in the Backcountry
“Ski helmet use is becoming the cultural norm in ski mountaineering and alpine skiing and it is quickly gaining acceptance with backcountry skiers. Our policy indicates that staff must wear helmets where there is the threat of a head injury. This is mandated by Workers Compensation and means that the guide must wear a helmet on downhill portions of alpine skiing where a fall may occur. In all likelihood helmets will be carried in the pack for uphill and flat travel and then used for the ski down.
While we have made it compulsory for our staff, ski helmet use for guests is still optional on ski programs. However a ski helmet for any downhill skiing, front or back-country, is recommended and makes good sense.”
As an employer, we require that our employees wear protective headgear when there is a danger of head injury from falling or other harmful contacts. We can appreciate that not all of our backcountry skiing clients will choose to use a ski helmet and we respect that personal choice. There is no regulation or requirement for the use of helmets by individuals. We recommend the use of helmets but clients who are on any of our backcountry skiing courses or trips will not be required to obtain or use a helmet. We encourage you to review the many sources available to skiers with respect to fit and safety headgear certification should you consider purchasing a helmet.
We hope this helps with your decision making process and further expands on our position at Yamnuska Mountain Adventures.