The California legislation has passed what may become the nation’s fist ski helmet law, if it receives the governor’s signature by the end of the month. It would impose a $25 fine on parents of helmetless violators. See California Passes Two Ski Safety Bills.
Lawmakers in both New Jersey and New York have considered mandatory helmet laws several times in past sessions. And last week the New Jersey Senate last week approved a measure that would mandate helmets on skiers 17 and under. And a New York legislator has taken the mandate even further, proposing mandating helmets for skiers of all ages and fining resorts for every unprotected cranium on the slopes as well as skiers who flout the rule.
And, so in the nation’s ski capital the question on the front page of the daily newspaper is “Does Colorado need a ski helmet law?” No legislation is under consideration, and many feel helmets need no laws as more and more skiers on Colorado slopes choose the added safety equipment.
Vail Resorts supported the California bill where it operates the Heavenly ski area in the state. Vail resorts along with other of the state’s largest ski operators — Vail Resorts, Aspen Skiing and Intrawest — already require students in ski school to wear helmets. Many resorts also require their employees to wear them while working on the slopes. Even more mandate helmets for terrain-park riders.
In 2008-09, the National Ski Areas Association counted 39 deaths in 57.4 million skier days in the United States. Among those ’08-09 deaths, 31 skiers were not wearing helmets. That same season, the association counted 44 serious injuries; 32 of those skiers were not wearing helmets.
In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in February this year, researchers found that skiers’ risk of head injury fell by 35 percent with helmet use. The same study found no connection between helmet use and neck injury, a common concern among the dwindling number of helmet opponents.
Half of all skiers and snowboarders in America wear helmets, up from 25 percent in 2002-03. Helmets are on 90 percent of Colorado’s skiers 9 years old and younger, and the state already leads the country in helmet usage, according to Colorado Ski Country, the trade group representing 22 of the state’s resorts. Ski helmet use climbs roughly 5 percent every year.
Last legislative session, proposed legislation to mandate bike helmets on Colorado children was fought as intrusive on parents’ rights was finally passed in weakened version recommending increased education on the importance of bike helmets. Colorado also has no helmet requirements for adult motorcyclists, even though Colorado State Patrol statistics show that about 60 of the 88 motorcyclists killed on Colorado roads in 2009 were not wearing helmets.
So, while we may be ahead in inches of powder it is likely that we will lag in efforts to protect even our youngest participants with required ski helmets.