Helmets use grows on the slopes
Skiers, snow tubers and snowboarders are becoming a little more safety conscious as new gear evolves, with helmet usage steadily increasing, especially among youngsters.
According to the National Ski Areas Association, last year helmet usage among skiers and riders nationwide increased 12 percent over the previous season. Last season, 48 percent of all skiers and riders were wearing a helmet at the time of being interviewed, up from 43 percent during the 2007/08 season. In comparison, only 25 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets during the 2002/03 season.
The NASAA study also showed that 77 percent of children 9 years old or younger wear ski helmets; 66 percent of children between 10 and 14 wear ski helmets;
and 63 percent of adults over the age of 65 wear ski helmets.
That mirrors what Kim Jochl, marketing director of Sugar Mountain Resort, is seeing locally.
"I believe we see more helmet use, particularly among the young, but all across the board," Jochl said. Sugar Mountain rents helmets along with other equipment if the customer desires.
However, those attending the Sugar Bear ski school wear helmets as they are learning to ski.
Nationally, helmet usage by skiers and boarders aged 18 to 24 is currently 32 percent, representing a 78 percent increase in usage for this age group since the 2002/03 season, when only 18 percent wore helmets.
"It's a combination of factors, an evolution in consciousness of skier safety," Jochl said.
In 2000, the NSAA launched "Heads Up!," an effort aimed at getting young skiers to wear helmets. Through campaigns like "Lids on Kids" and promoting helmet styles as fashion, the effort ties in with responsibility codes and other educational efforts, but notes that "Ultimately, the choice of whether to wear a helmet is one of personal or parental choice."
Ski helmet sales have increased 43 percent over the past two years, dating back to the 2006-07 ski season. Sales of adult ski helmets alone increased 50 percent since the 2006-07 season, according to the SnowSports Industries of America.
NSAA and its member resorts promote the use of helmets, though there are no mandatory requirements. NSAA views skiing and boarding in a controlled and responsible manner-not helmets only-as the primary safety consideration for all skiers and boarders.
This fall, NSAA will be launching a new initiative designed to encourage all kids 14 and under to wear ski helmets. NSAA has set a goal of near-universal helmet usage for all children by 2012.
Though not all ski fatalities are attributable to head injuries, and safety experts warn that helmets alone will not prevent all serious injury, about 38 people die in ski-related accidents each year nationwide. The rate of death or serious injury is about 1.6 per million skier or snowboard visits per year.