Safety and winter recreation

By Richard HaskellSkating, Toronto, February, 2014

Winter doesn’t have to be all cold hands and aggravation. It can be an enjoyable time of year if you choose to get out and engage in any number of outdoor activities. But never forget the basic rules of common sense. Wear helmets when skiing and snowmobiling and consider them when skating or tobogganing as well. You can be sure the athletes taking part in the winter Olympics at Sochi will all be sporting them – and those being worn by two Canadian skiers will have a particularly special meaning. Brad Spence’s helmet was designed by Gillian O’Blenes, a 17-year-old cancer patient, while Roz Groenewoud hopes to embroider a sticker with the name “Sarah” insider her helmet, honouring her friend Sarah Burke, a freestyle skier and four-time X Games champion who died in a skiing accident in January 2012.

As recently as 30 years ago, it was uncommon to see someone skiing, snowboarding or skating wearing a helmet. “Overly cautious’ might have been the reaction. But with the ever- growing awareness of concussions and the potential for brain injuries, helmets have almost become the norm – and rightly so.

Skiing and snowboarding

On Dec. 29, 2013, racing car driver extraordinaire Michael Schumacher made headlines when he sustained a head injury while skiing in the French Alps. A month later, he remains in an induced coma, and there are definite concerns he may never make a full recovery. Yes, he was wearing a helmet, but if hadn’t been, it’s very likely he wouldn’t have survived at all.

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A great adventure: A BIST member’s story

Sarah Briggs was a nationally-ranked skier competing at an elite level when a crash on a hill in Quebec altered the course of her life.  In the second of two winter-activity themed stories by BIST members living with the affects of acquired brain injury, Sarah shares her inspirational story about her road to recovery.

Photo by rchughtai/Flickr

I can say things will get better, but the truth is that they only get better up to a certain point, after which you learn to live with the “new” you.  Do your best, try not to compare yourself to others, your journey is your own to follow and a great adventure

– Sarah Briggs.

I sustained my injury at the age of 19, on January 13, 1994 in a downhill ski race at Mont. Saint Anne Resort in Quebec.  Travelling at the approximate speed of 100-120km an hour with almost flawless technique, I was poised to win the race or at least finish in the top 3. Then, one of my ski bindings released in a rough section of the course.

The next part happened so fast that I only have vague recollections, and rely mostly on what was told to me by others who were watching the fall. The hill drops dramatically immediately following where I had lost my first ski, a section of the course called “the gun barrel”.  My other ski popped off and shot approximately thirty feet in the air, or so I’m told, and I basically did a face plant in the snow, sliding down the entire steep pitch on my face, finally coming to a complete stop at the bottom when the incline flattens out.  I was wearing a helmet but no face guard.

According to a coach who was watching in that section, I stood up, so they all thought I was fine. But then I sat back down again.

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Winter driving Q&A with Scott Marshall — The Safe Driver

Winter driving on the Danforth, Toronto.
Vehicles and a pedestrian navigate downtown Toronto's roads during a snowstorm on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. Photo by Kara Dillon.

In wet, heavy spurts, accompanied by chilling cold, winter is making its presence known in the GTA.

Yet Scott Marshall, Director of Training for Young Drivers of Canada,  says every year drivers seem to be caught unprepared for navigating on snowy roads.

“For the most part people aren’t putting on winter tires, don’t have washer fluid,” says Marshall, who has been a judge on 3 seasons of Canada’s Worst Driver on Discovery Network and gives driving advice through his blog, The Safe Driver. “I would hesitate to guess right now how many drivers have a snow brush in their car.

“A lot of people belong to what I refer to as ‘the won’t happen to me club’” Marshall adds. “They watch other people slide out of control, watch them slide into the ditch and say ‘wow, look at that driver’ and meanwhile they are doing the exact same things the other driver was doing and eventually it is going to happen to them if they don’t change their driving habits.”

To help make sure it doesn’t happen to you, we spoke to Marshall about how to stay out of trouble on the roads during the winter months and what to do if you find yourself in a tricky spot.

Seven burning questions for icy, cold winter driving

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Winter activities: Having fun, keeping your head safe

With Sidney Crosby’s troubles with concussions playing out in the national media, Canadians have been made more aware of the importance of protecting their heads from injuries.

As the temperatures drop and people start participating in winter sports, most wouldn’t hesitate to put on a helmet before playing a game of hockey. But perhaps not every parent or child thinks to protect their head before sledding down a hill, an activity that also has its risk, experts point out.

“Head and brain injury can be the most devastating types of injuries,” said Paula Tymchyshyn, national program coordinator for ThinkFirst Canada. “We’re really focused on trying to make sure that we’re preventing those [type of] injuries so that kids can stay healthy and active for their entire life.”

Thankfully, there are plenty of safety helmets available for all variety of sports. To help with selecting the right one and wearing it properly this winter, BIST spoke to experts at ThinkFirst and the Canadian Standards Association.

Choosing the right helmet for the right activity

Helmets are engineered differently for different sports.  Some helmets are only made for one activity like skateboarding or baseball helmets, while many winter sports helmets are multi-use and can be used for skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing.  Hockey helmets can be used for hockey, skating or tobogganing. Helmets can also be classified for either single or multiple impacts.  Ski and snowboard helmets are only meant to sustain one impact, then should be replaced before returning to the hill.  Hockey helmets can protect against multiple impacts before they need to be replaced.

Making the grade

The Canadian Standards Association gives safety certifications in order to tell  consumers that the product/helmet meets Canadian quality standards. Anthony Toderian, manager of corporate affairs at CSA, said that Canadian standards are specific to Canadian winters and are designed to protect consumers from impact on snowy or icy terrain rather than from rocks and trees.  He also said that American or European standard-helmets are safe and that “most major brands, such as CCM or Bauer, because of liability, will stand behind their products.”

The graphic below, courtesy of ThinkFirst Canada, shows the type of helmet you’ll want for different activities along with the CSA standard.


Nicely fitted

Buying the right helmet is only the first step. ThinkFirst works to educate people to ensure that they fit their helmets correctly.  It touts the “2V1 rule” to fit helmets, which dictates that there must be room for two fingers between your eyebrows and the helmet on your forehead.  The straps of your helmet should form a “V” shape under your ears, then join to clip at the chin. You should also be able to fit one finger in between your helmet strap and your chin.

“2V1.” Graphic courtesy ThinkFirst Canada.


Can’t protect you if you’re not wearing it

Furthermore, having the proper helmet that fits perfectly won’t protect you unless you’re wearing it. Hockey Canada mandates that all players wear CSA certified helmets.  The Canadian Ski Council also has a policy that recommends helmet use for both alpine skiers and snowboarders. But skiing, snowboarding, and hockey are not the only winter sports that require helmet use.

“When you think about sliding down a hill at high speed on a GT racer,” said Tymchyshyn, “that’s a really dangerous thing.”

Both she and Toderian advocate wearing a helmet while sledding and tobogganing as well.

They also agreed that people need to get the necessary training to participate in winter sports safely. The dangers of injuring those around you can become a greater risk than injuring yourself if the proper precautions are not taken.

“It is very important that people take measures to protect themselves,” said Toderian.

If you suffer a concussion

Although helmets do protect against brain injuries, people can still sustain concussions while wearing a helmet.  Signs of a concussion can arise after experiencing a collision or fall.

Signs that someone may have sustained a concussion include dizziness, nausea, headache, confusion, increased irritability, amnesia and blurred vision.

If any of these signs are present it is best to stop play immediately and to speak with a doctor.  There are strict guidelines to follow after sustaining a concussion before returning to play and medical supervision is necessary.

Melissa Myers, BIST member

Monthly preview: BIST takes on winter

Canadian winters.

Love them or hate them, there is no denying that
winters and Canadians’ struggle against the extreme conditions that they bring are
part of what defines us. Look no further than a 2008 survey
commissioned by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Dominion
Institute. With icons such as the Maple Leaf, hockey and the Canadian flag topping the list of the 101 things that best define this country, those surveyed still had winter on their minds and ranked it 85th on the list.

Whatever your feelings toward our inevitable winters, we here at BIST intend
to help you to deal with it as we roll out our first monthly theme for the blog (a new year, a new direction, right?).

Melissa Myers’ report provides vital information for anyone participating in winter sports such as hockey, snowboarding or tobogganing, with a particular focus the appropriate helmets for different activities.

While the cold temperatures and snow make for fun on the slopes and pond, they also can create havoc on the roads. Check back here later this month for tips and advice on driving in winter conditions featuring an interview with ‘The Safe Driver’ himself, Scott Marshall, director of Training for Young Drivers of Canada.

Also this month, read the first of many stories written by a BIST member living
with the effects of an acquired brain injury.

What’s that you say? You don’t want to miss a single post? Then ‘like’ us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter where we will offer links to our latest posts and other interesting articles or information relating to this month’s theme.

In the meantime, stay safe.

Matthew Chung. BIST member and Communications Committee volunteer.