Statement on the death of Natasha Richardson was greatly saddened to hear of the death of Natasha Richardson after falling skiing on March 17th 2009. Whilst the full facts are yet to be made clear, on the face of it she would appear to have been extremely unlucky having sustained a seemingly innocuous fall on a beginner slope and having received exemplary care from the local ski patrol and medical services.

Despite their reputation as dangerous sports, skiing and snowboarding are in fact much safer than most people realise. The risk of dying from an accident on the slopes is approximately 1 in 1.5 million.

As I understand it, Ms Richardson was not wearing a helmet at the time of her fall. Helmet use has been steadily increasing over the last ten years - currently about 40% of all skiers and boarders now wear one. Unfortunately, there has not been an associated reduction in the incidence (small though it is) of deaths on the slopes. Accidents that lead to death are more typically high speed collisions after a loss of control. Unfortunately in such scenarios, the forces involved are usually simply too great for any helmet to cope with. Helmets have been shown to reduce the risks of minor and moderate impacts to the head and as a helmet wearer myself I have experienced such incidents on numerous occasions.

There is some evidence to suggest that helmets may in fact promote a false sense of security - a higher percentage of those who wear helmets travel faster and admit to taking risks than those who don’t. It is a fact that more than half of the people involved in fatal ski area accidents in America last season were wearing a helmet at the time of their accident.


In my opinion we should encourage, but not force, people to wear helmets. The absolute risks are really very small and there is no convincing scientific evidence that I am aware to show they reduce the risks of traumatic death. If you do buy one, ensure it meets an approved standard (CE1077, ASTM 2040 or Snell RS98), replace it if it sustains a significant impact but above all else, please stay within the limits of your ability level and don’t think that your snazzy looking lid makes you invincible.


Dr Mike Langran
18th March 2009.

For more detailed information on head injuries and data on helmet use click on the relevant link.






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