Just a quick aside from our Mount Moran extravaganza. In case you missed it…there has been all kinds of stoke on the web lately (TGR, EpicSki and Barrades) about the multiple descents of the impressive North Face of the Aiguille du Midi in the past few weeks. A sick line by anyone’s standards to say the least and to have it located directly below the tram…makes it even more insane.
Aiguille du Midi North Face-Eugster Couloir. Photo Phil Ingle.
First off, props to all the crews who sent this line. Ballsy indeed and a rad accomplishment. But after reading the trip reports and checking out the videos, the one thing stands out in my mind is that fact that on most of these descents…no one is wearing helmet. I understand the argument that if you fell on the route, a helmet wouldn’t do squat and you’d most likely end up a big pile of busted bones and body parts anyway. So what’s the point?
I’ve heard that argument before and I’ve left the avy gear at home on occasions to save weight on lines where an avalanche would be the end of it all…like on the Grand Teton, but I’ve never left the helmet at home. Seems to me that a rock, or a piece of ice, could come down at any moment and hit you in the head. At the very least, a helmet would protect you from that. And in the event of a fall, a helmet (not to mention a whippet) could be your only chance at surviving such a fall…depending on where you fell of course. Throw in the fact that you ride a lift to access this line…and it seems like a no-brainer to wear a helmet to me.
Maybe there is more pride in not wearing a helmet in a town like Chamonix, where nearly everyone walks around town wearing a harness with ice screws hanging off of it. Maybe I’m just being a wus and need to learn how to look death in the eye better. Or maybe I’m just so unfamiliar with the route that I have no idea what kind of conditions to expect. Either way, maybe you can help me understand this one. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
You’ve just bought into the marketing hype that ski helmets are effective. Unless you have a CAMP Pulse or Dynafit Race, your ski helmet isn’t built to protect against rockfall. The vast majority of ski helmets, including those, are not built to prevent concussion. Most of the protection offered is imaginary, they only help in a very limited range of circumstances. But they make nice hats on cold days.
As someone who doesn’t even own a “ski” helmet…I still have to believe that a ski helmet, let alone a rock climbing helmet, could offer some sort of protection.
sometimes a little bit of protection goes a long way
if you own a climbing helmet for a couple of years, just look at all the scratches etc.
that could have been your head…
shouldn’t be our concern what those goofy frogs do. if they don’t want to wear a helmet, more power to them. For me, when I saw one of those posts a week or so ago i thought, wow, doing 4 or 6 rappells, sitting at anchor stations on a north face and not wearing a helmet, now that is fairly stupid. i don’t wear a helmet all that often, but most certainly when i am in the alpine with a rope, with rocks and people above me.
I love threads like this one. I’m so tough that occasionally I actually throw rocks at myself with no helmet on.
I think the more rocks that hit me in the head, well, it’s like conditioning. Same principles as progressively adding training load to my rando workouts…only instead of actually working out, I just throw rocks at myself.
While I admit Euro-style is different, Teton guides always wear helmets when they’re heading up a route exposed to rock or ice fall. I personally know one climbing guide whose life was most certainly saved because he was wearing a climbing helmet when some rockfall came down.
I don’t ski with a helmet and have a mixed opinion about their actual effectiveness, but climbing is a different story and these guys are skiing climbing routes. Freedom of choice I guess, but I’ll accept the shame of sporting a climbing helmet when things are questionable.
Thanks for the post about the helmets, Randosteve. I definitely agree! While I have more than one ski helmet gathering dust in my shed, I’ve been enjoying the benefits of wearing my alpine climbing helmet in the mountains this spring. Protection from rock and icefall, head trauma from avalanches etc. – whatever I can do to stack the odds in my favor seems to make sense to me.
Cool to see some cham material on the tetonat site – the north face of the midi is such a classic! And it is most definitely going off over there right now… I think most don’t wear helmets in cham for ski descents because the folks doing this stuff are more skiers than climbers (certainly this isn’t a hard and fast rule – just an observation). Skiers for the most part aren’t used to wearing helmets. And since the NF of the midi is lift-accessed, you don’t need to climb anything to ski it. The lines not heavily traffic’d so you usually don’t have to worry about folks skiing in on top of you (and you can chill at the top and descend between boxes so you know no one is coming).
Myself personally, I just don’t like wearing a helmet when skiing. Objectively I know I’d be safer with a helmet on, but if you made all your decisions with a firm regard to safety, you probably wouldn’t be skiing the north face of the midi anyway….
Last week I had a potential situation happen where I WAS NOT wearing my climbing helmet while skiing, After a few beers and downtime at the end of the day with alot of talk about what happened we were wearing ours the next weekend. What i figure is ….. what harm can it do? While what harm would it do if I did not have a helmet but actually needed one!
Cheers ! JIM
Clyde’s comment on the very top of this thread is very false. Today’s climbing helmets and the CAMP and Dynafit racing ones are build with quite a support.
These helmets are very much like cycling helmets only with less ventilation. Hence all the lives that are being saved over and over again when people crash their bikes whether on the road or on the trail.
So to say that helmets are ineffective (or very limited) is a very unaware statement. You can say the same about avalanche beacons too since in majority of the cases their are used to only recover death bodies.
As we say here, “The Frenchies don’t wear helmets because there are none available that are big enough….”
Let’s face it, anyone who knows a French climber/skier knows that they are all about looking good. Witness the stupid colors of the one-piece suits worn by those guys back in the 80’s and 90’s. Helmets simply do not look cool.
Other than that, most of us ski mountaineers wear climbing, not skiing helmets when skiing on exposed descents around here. I use one for the odd piece of whatever that tries to take me out by drilling through my skull when I least expect it. A penny-sized stone could distract me enough at the wrong time to make things dicey. Anyone who ice climbs knows the deal.
The excuse that these are infrequently travelled lines is weak. Although I have been nailed by rocks knocked off my others, I’m more worried about what god is hurling at me on these faces.
But, hey, bottom line is do whatever you want but be prepared to eat some serious crow when the SAR guys show up to haul your ass down after being beaned. You don’t look so cool in your Buff then. Might hold the dressing in place, though.
Lots of bagging on frenchies by the americans here – interesting to me that all three links that Steve posted above to midi descents were by American, British, and Italian parties. Here’s a recent link to some actual “frogs” skiing the mallory – and check that out – they’re the only ones wearing helmets. Go figure – I wish I was surprised.
Thanks Tim! I deliberately left that video out because they were wearing helmets.
In no way is my post directed at the French in particular…but just those who are shown skiing the route without helmets.
I understand you post nut have to say that over here in europe, i know only a few steep skiers wearing helmets.. must be in the culture…lol..
Come again Gilles?
At least he’s Swiss. 😉
Five dollar head, five dollar helmet.
Clyde has said the same thing about helmets being nice warm hats but no more on every helmet discussion I’ve ever seen on the internet. I’ll agree there isnt great evidence that they save lives. However, there is no effective way to really do a study to test that. And how many lacerations, bruises, and concussions do you think helmets prevent? From my experience working in the ER I’d say quite a few. With all that said, I usually tour without a helmet, but I don’t really do much ski mountaineering. The point is, I think they offer more protection that Clyde is suggesting, even if they may not always save your life.
In contrast to Freshtracks’ statement I’ve seen plenty of Exum guides without helmets while guiding clients on alpine rock routes where there is clearly rock fall potential and I think it’s fairly irresponsible.
Pretty funny Nathan!
I just don’t understand why someone wouldn’t wear a helmet for this sort of skiing. Seems like cheap insurance…especially when you don’t have carry it to the top.
I’m gonna guess that you won’t see Exum guides working without helmets nowadays. It’s been company policy for a couple of years now. Times have changed.
As for the French bashing…sure they are cutting edge, rad skiing, crazy mo’fo’s who set many trends in our mountain sports but, hey, they’re French so we have to bash them, Francophiles be damned!
Ya. Pretty crazy to Not wear a helmet.
My girl was hit while skiing at a resort by another skier this year, she was wearing one. Saved her a few bruises. And if you slip and bang your head on ice patch or plant your own knee into your forehead, you could be worse than concussed. Wear a condom on your head, eh!
The French dont wear helmets skiing because they are tight! The state of the nations economy means they are scraping enough money together to get the lift ticket, the remainder of the money is spent on a new rag to clean the dust off their "new" 209cm race planks…of course there is money left in the budget for a crepe at apres but thats about it.
Also the usual French rule applies, if it worked before they had one, it will work after also, lets leave all that new fangled stuff to le touristes.
The guys in the video are italian…and lets face it…if any of you have seen them drive on an alpine road (let alone ski) they dont understand the notion of preventative safety measures.
I could also go on about the three pinnacle of French society that apply to every french person (wood, clapping and cheese) but that is for another thread.
I miss europe!
i concur with brian…Radness aside, Frenchies must be verbally abused. Spend some time in the Alps and see if you don’t get the same treatment as a Yank!
Their not wearing helmets because of the invincible force field created by their avalung packs. 🙂
I don’t think you can deny that a helmet will povide some sort of protection, regardless of its type…if not impact, minor cuts won’t get through. The french are so french and i’d have to suggest it’s purely cultural, remember there is one way to do things and it’s their way. With out this view i’m sure they would have never produced such excellent brioche, pain au chocolat, wine or the menage a trois. This is why the culture is so deep and why we love to ski and travel there.
Bless the frenchies and their silly ways, but i’ll always be wearing a helmet while pushing hard.
Holy shit that video is sick! What’s that: 9000 vertical in one run? As for helmets: I almost always wear one biking or skiing because I am a pussy. I have never understood skateboarders, BMXers, motorcyclists, or ski patrollers who don’t wear helmets, but who am I to judge?
P.S.- Looks like no self-arrest grips either.
Why don’t more ski patrollers wear helmets? Shouldn’t they be key in setting the example for the rest of us?
Sort of like an EMS responder driving a ATV will always have a helmet on or if driving a car a seat belt.
Seems odd to me that the people that are paramount for safety don’t all wear helmets.
With respect to Clyde’s original comments – ski helmets don’t significantly reduce the occurance of concussion. They do however significantly reduce the chances of serious blunt and penetrating head trauma.
Most of the patrollers I work with wear them. It sets a good example for the punters and we have a significant icing problem, so its good insurance when working under the lifts.
Personally, I always wear my climbing helmet when skiing a couloir. Learnt my lesson when my last helmet was trashed by an ice chunk while climbing up a run.
Don’t have a anything to add to the helmet debate, but thought I would jump in on the cultural bashing. Do you think helmet usage in the US will decrease once someone works out how to sue ice and rocks that may fall on their heads? ;o)
That clyde may or may not have been Clyde Soles, who seems to beleive very strongly that skiing helmets are worthless, but often forgets to think before he posts, since Steve R was obviously taling about climbing helmets. I haven’t seen Clyde assert that climbing helmets are worthless yet.
I am surprised at the number of negative comments about these skiers. While I enjoy denigrating Euros (especially the French) as much as the next American, perhaps our attitudes should be less authoritative? They just did a successful descent of a 3000′-4000′ vert, sustained >50 line, which blows away just about anything in the lower 48. I am guessing that at times they also ski stuff that isn’t directly under the lift. Maybe they know what they’re doing? I have not seen many euro steep skiers wearing helmets, and they’ve skied much bigger terrain for much longer than Americans have, and Light is Right is a successful alpine philosophy. Perhaps we should be curious and interested in their choices. Just ask Andrew McClean, who seems to often leave the helmet behind as well.
hey AW- anybody who think self-arrest grips will help you in the Alps has obviously never skied over there.
I don’t generally wear a helmet when just touring, though after seeing some nasty lacerations from tree branches I might reconsider. I almost always wear one while ski mountaineering.
Also… brian is right– Exum guides are now required to wear helmets anytime their clients are, including the practice boulders around hidden falls and Jenny lake.
wouldnt it be great if everyone would just let everyone do what she/he chooses to do to themselves … ?
oh and by the way: we have electricity in europe, not all french eat frogs, not all germans eat sauerkraut and not all italians are great lovers. and hitler is dead.
sure would burn…but i don’t mind watching and talking about it in the mean time.
wow jean-marc back from the dead to grace us with his wisdom!
We love you too… Specially your wives ! But don’t worry,we might not always wear helmets but we always put on a condom !
Greetings from Haute-Savoie
Sorry Yogi…but a condom doesn’t do any good if you’re a quadriplegic. A helmet seems like cheap insurance for lines like this.
“Ils sont tellement hypocrites qu’il s’appellent Giacomo et Santi et parlent en italien pour faire croire qu’ils ne sont pas français!”
“Le casque” : I go mountaineering to feel close to nature and good sensations of wind, and sounds around me.
That’s the reason why I take off helmet (… and caps, and balaclavas…) as soon as I can.
And sounds may give interesting informations.
Nature is a friend, not an enemy.
Hey, you, guys : other guys in the world are probably friends, not necessarily ennemies!
Don’t fall paranoiac.
Welcome to France…
Tim is right about the lift access, no climbing aspect, of the route making it a ‘no helmet’ line. Back in 2005 I was wearing my helmet when there was climbing involved, and it would stay on for the descent, check out
which was three months before I skied the eugster.
The Eugster doesnt feel like an alpine outing, it is just heading down something from the lift, and as such didnt feel like a helmet necessary route.
However I now wear a helmet all the time skiing, and had I skied the Eugster this year, especially with all the traffic it was getting, I would have had it on.
Remember though that personal safety equipment is just that, a personal choice.
Thanks for the insight Phillip! Similarly…I guess I would be hard pressed to be wearing my helmet for anything accessible from JHMR…even Central.