Serious head injuries among alpine skiers and snowboarders have risen over the past 15 years, reveals research in Injury Prevention.
The increase has coincided with faster speed and the inclusion of more jumping and acrobatics as the norm in these sports, say the authors.
The authors base their findings on a comprehensive international trawl of published research on injuries sustained by mountain skiers and snowboarders between 1990 and the end of 2004.
They looked particularly for serious brain and spinal cord injuries. These make up a relatively small proportion of those sustained while skiing and snow¬boarding, but they are the leading cause of death, say the authors.
A cache of 51 articles revealed 24 articles from 10 countries that were relevant.
The research suggests that the rate of this type of serious injury has steadily risen in all the countries that have reported data.
One study indicates that the percentage of head injuries among skiers has increased from 12% in 1993 to 15% in 1997, while the number among snowboarders has quintupled over the same timeframe.
Another piece of research suggests that skiers and snowboarders under the age of 35 are more than three times as likely to have a brain injury as younger participants. And several studies suggest that male sporting enthusiasts are significantly more likely to be seriously injured than their female peers.
The research points to a similar picture for spinal cord injuries, including the gender imbalance. The research also shows that the wearing of helmets can cut the risk of serious brain injuries by between 22% and 60%.
The authors warn that these injuries are usually devastating and irreversible, and immensely costly. More needs to be done to promote the wearing of helmets and the enforcement of design standards for them, they add.