The skiing accident that left Formula One legend Michael Schumacher in a coma last weekend has reignited debate over why serious head injuries are rising among skiers and snowboarders even as helmet use has grown dramatically.

Schumacher has undergone two surgeries since striking a rock in the French Alps Sunday and remained in a medically induced coma at a hospital in Grenoble Thursday, according to Reuters. That report indicated he was skiing on a groomed trail when the collision occurred. Schumacher is widely regarded as the most successful driver in the history of F1 racing.


In the wake of his accident debate has renewed as to the causes of rising head injuries among skiers and snowboarders. The debate includes those who note that helmets are not designed to provide the kind of protection from concussions and rotational injuries that skiers and snowboarders encounter to those who argue the rising injuries correlate to risky behavior encouraged by the ski industry, such as terrain parks and off-piste, or backcountry, skiing. Snowsports Industries America (SIA) recently estimated retail sales of backcountry accessories, including beacons, probes and shovels, grew 46 percent between August and October, 2013, or more than seven times faster that overall snowsports accesories sales. 

A lengthy New York Times article that appeared Dec. 31 cited a 2012 study from Western Michigan University School of Medicine  of head injuries among skiers and snowboarders in the United States that found the number of such injuries had increase 60 percent to nearly 15,000 from 2004 to 2010 even as helmet usage grew by about the same amount. Sales of ski and snowboard helmets reached $87 million during the 2010/11 winter season, up 86 percent from four years earlier, SIA research shows.

“Experts agree that the roots of the trend are complicated and could be related to increased awareness about brain injuries and reporting of them,” reports the Times. “But they also agreed on one element underpinning the trend: an increase in risk-taking behaviors that they said the snow-sports industry had embraced. In recent years, many resorts have built bigger features in their terrain parks and improved access to more extreme terrain. At the same time, advances in equipment have made it easier to ski faster, perform tricks and venture out of bounds.”