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Testing the risk compensation hypothesis for safety helmets in alpine skiing and snowboarding
  1. Michael D Scott1,
  2. David B Buller2,
  3. Peter A Andersen3,
  4. Barbara J Walkosz4,
  5. Jennifer H Voeks5,
  6. Mark B Dignan6,
  7. Gary R Cutter5
  1. 1California State University, Communication Arts and Sciences, Chico, California, USA
  2. 2Klein Buendel, Golden, Colorado, USA
  3. 3San Diego State University, School of Communication, San Diego, California, USA
  4. 4University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, Denver, Colorado, USA
  5. 5University of Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama, USA
  6. 6Prevention Research Center, University of Kentucky, Kentucky, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor P Andersen
 San Diego State University, School of Communication, San Diego, CA 92182–4561, USA; peterand{at}


Objective: The prevalence of helmet use by alpine skiers and snowboarders was estimated and self-reports on risk taking were assessed to test for potential risk compensation when using helmets in these sports.

Setting: Skiers and snowboarders were observed and interviewed at 34 resorts in the western United States and Canada.

Subjects: Respondents were 1779 adult skiers and snowboarders in the 2003 ski season.

Outcome measures: Observations of helmet use and questions about perceived speed and degree of challenge when not wearing a helmet (helmet wearers) or in previous ski seasons (non-helmet wearers).

Results: Helmet wearers reported that they skied/snowboarded at slower speeds (OR = 0.64, p<0.05) and challenged themselves less (OR = 0.76, p<0.05) than non-helmet wearers. Adoption of safety helmets in 2003 (23%) continued to increase over 2002 (OR = 0.46, p<0.05) and 2001 (OR = 0.84, p<0.05).

Conclusions: No evidence of risk compensation among helmet wearers was found. Decisions to wear helmets may be part of a risk reduction orientation. Helmet use continues to trend upwards but adoption may be slowing.

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  • Funding: This project was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (CA81028).

  • Competing interests: None declared.