Skiers warned: use your head, wear a helmet

29th November 2013

  • A skiing collision at 30KPH without a helmet could be fatal1
  • In a skiing collision at 20KPH without a helmet on, the head experiences a force of nearly two tonnes2
  • The g-force on the head is around three to four times higher in a skiing collision without a helmet on than one with a helmet on
  • The average cost of a winter sports medical claim is £8643

With the number of skiers heading off to the slopes increasing for the first time in five years4, new scientific research5 into the damage caused by skiing collisions has revealed to what extent wearing a helmet reduces the risk of suffering a serious head injury, and how it reduces the severity of head injuries in higher-speed crashes.

The study by Direct Line travel insurance and the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), simulated six collisions with a crash test dummy hitting a tree at 10, 20 and 30 kilometres per hour (KPH), both with and without a ski helmet on6. Three key areas of the body were monitored for the force of the impacts and likely injuries; head, neck and chest.

The results revealed that skiers wearing helmets experience at least two thirds less g-force than skiers without helmets, which means a greatly reduced risk of suffering a serious head injury7, such as a brain contusion. Results across the tests showed that the g-force on the head was around three to four times higher in the collisions without a helmet on than those where the dummy was wearing one.

The compression force on a skier’s neck during a collision was reduced when wearing a helmet, although not enough to significantly decrease the risk of serious neck injuries8, such as fractured vertebrae, at 20 or 30 KPH.

The risk of a serious chest injury9, such as multiple rib fractures or a lung laceration, was low in the tests at 10 and 20 KPH, but at 30 KPH was moderate.

Figure 1: Direct Line's table showing the summary of head, neck and chest injuries in simulated skiing crashes.

Helmet KPH Force (in g) on the head Risk of serious head injury Compression force on the neck (kN) Risk of serious neck injury Chest deflection (mm) Risk of serious chest injury
Yes 10 36 Very low 3.9 Low 0 Negligible
No 10 106 Low 3.8 Low 0 Negligible
Yes 20 110 Low 8.4 High 22 Low
No 20 425 Very high 9.6 High 5 Neglible
Yes 30 323 Moderate 15 Very high 40 Moderate

The test at 30 KPH without a helmet on was not conducted, as the pattern of results from the previous tests indicated that the risk of damaging the dummy was too great, and suggested that this crash would be fatal for a human.

Mark Riddell, group testing manager at TRL said: "Head injuries can be life-threatening when they occur. When you consider that during the collision at 20 KPH, the head experienced a force of nearly two tonnes, this is an incredible amount of strain to be put under. This research certainly supports the argument to wear an approved ski helmet on the slopes from a safety perspective."

Tom Bishop, head of travel insurance at Direct Line said: "Although we do not enforce the use of helmets when taking part in winter sports, the safety of our customers on the slopes is paramount to us. This is why we strongly encourage the use of approved helmets when skiing or snowboarding, especially in light of this illuminating research. We deal with around 3,000 winter sports claims per year, the majority of which will be medical, and unfortunately three or four of these per year will be fatalities. Even one fatality is one too many."

Bishop continues: "Winter sports injuries can be very costly, and even when treated in a hospital which accepts the EHIC, a skier could face thousands of pounds in charges for mountain rescue, ambulances, new flights and additional accommodation. For example, a helicopter piste rescue to a local hospital will typically cost around £2,000, and if you need to be brought home from an Alpine resort by stretcher on a commercial flight, or on an air ambulance, this can cost at least £10,000. This is why taking out appropriate travel insurance is so crucial."

Direct Line's top ten tips to keep safe on the slopes

  • Always ski with other people. Where this is not possible advise someone of your whereabouts
  • Be mindful of your surroundings and other skiers around you and observe the etiquette of the slopes you are skiing on
  • Carry a piste map with you in case you get lost
  • Check that your ski bindings are set according to your weight and skiing style/speed
  • Ensure that your travel insurance policy covers you for winter sports and includes full cover for any medical and repatriation expenses.
  • Ensure your speed and chosen terrain match your ability
  • Keep a mobile phone or radio with you for mountain communications and make a note of the emergency numbers for the resort
  • Protect yourself against head injuries by wearing an EN 1077 approved ski helmet that fits well and is in good condition
  • Stay warm and hydrated
  • Wear eye protection suitable for the conditions

British skiers warned to wear helmets: Online Press Office

Online Press Office URL:
Password: safety

Under embargo until 0001hrs GMT, Friday 29th November 2013

You will be required to enter your name, the name of your organisation, a valid email address and the above password to gain access to the site. Please note that the password is case sensitive.

All visitors must accept the Terms & Conditions of use governing the site before entering.

Any problems, please contact TNR on +44 (0)20 7963 7163.

Notes to editors

For further information please contact:

1 As could a collision at the same speed wearing a helmet, but this is less likely
2 Head mass = 4.54 kg (nominal) x 425 x g0 = 18.9 kN ~ 1.9 tonnes
3 Direct Line Group internal data
5 Research conducted by TRL on behalf of Direct Line travel insurance on 28th & 29th October 2013
6 An EN 1077 approved ski helmet
7 Serious head injuries include: compound or depressed fractures of the vault of the skull (both more severe than a simple or closed fracture); basal skull fracture; loss of consciousness from 1-6 hours; brain contusion and cerebral oedema
8 Serious neck injuries include: fractures and dislocations of the vertebrae, either of which could lead to a spinal cord injury, which in turn could lead to paralysis.
9 Serious chest injuries include: two to three rib fractures with blood or air in the thoracic cavity; more than rib fractures on one side; open/displaced rib fractures, lung contusion, bilateral lung contusion, lung laceration and severe heart contusion.

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides car, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0345 246 3761 or visiting

directline logo
Do you have any  insurance policies  with Direct Line?
Close ×
directline logo
Do you have any  insurance policies  with Direct Line?

Things you need to know about Over 50s life insurance:
Premiums stop after your 90th birthday but you still enjoy cover for the rest of your life. In the first year, if you die from natural causes we will refund any premiums, or if you die as a result of an accident, we will pay your cash sum. After the first year regardless of the cause of death we will pay your cash sum. Depending on how long you live, the total sum paid in premiums may be more than the cash sum payable on death. If you stop paying your premiums before the end of your policy your cover will stop 30 days after your missed premium and you won’t get anything back. This isn’t a savings or investment product and has no cash value unless a valid claim is made. Inflation will reduce the buying power of your cash sum in the future.

Close ×