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New Legislation coming for Ski Helmets


Over the last several months, the national office of National Ski Patrol has been following developments in helmet legislation in three states: California, New Jersey, and New York. In our June Final Sweep, we told you both AB 1652 and SB 880 had passed in their respective legislatures in California on June 1, and that legislation in New Jersey was close to passing.

This week, both pieces of legislation took steps toward becoming law. Assembly Bill 1652 and Senate Bill 880 were reconciled into a single piece of legislation and sent to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for signature on August 24. SB 880 requires all children under the age of 18, including patrollers and resort employees, to wear a "properly fitted and fastened snow sport helmet while operating snow skis or a snowboard while participating in the sport of downhill skiing or snowboarding." A violation would result in a fine of $25 to the parent.

SB 880 also requires resorts to post signage giving "reasonable notice" of the law and "provide prominent written notice" of the law on trail maps and resort websites. AB 1652 adds reporting requirements concerning resort safety plans and monthly reports on any fatalities at the resort. The two bills are linked such that AB 1652 and SB 880 only become law if the other is enacted. If signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, the law will take effect on January 1, 2011.

In New Jersey, Senate Bill 130 passed the New Jersey state senate by a vote of 33-2. The bill would require anyone under 18, including patrollers and resort employees, to wear a helmet while skiing or snowboarding. Like the California bill, a fine of $25 will be imposed on parents if their child does not wear a helmet, with second offense fines increasing to up to $100. If signed into law by Governor Chris Christie, the legislation takes effect on the "first day of the seventh month after signed into law," meaning the earliest it would go into effect is April, so it likely will not affect the coming ski season in New Jersey.

Ski helmets - are they all that they are cracked up to be?

Are children wearing ski helmets at risk?

A new Norwegian study on the benefits of wearing a ski helmet has found that they are, without a doubt, beneficial. The study was done at 8 major Norewegian ski resorts durin gthe 2002 ski season. It surveyed 3,277 injured skiers and snowboarders, 578 of them with head inuries. Using a helmet was associated with a 60% reduction in risk for head injuries. As well, the risk for head injury was higher among snowboarders than for alpine skiers.

An earlier Canadian study of 19 ski areas in Quebec suggests that children wearing ski helmets may be at risk of neck injuries. Writing in the British Medical Journal, the study reports that helmets can exert a large bending or twisting force on the neck when a skier falls. This is of particular concern for children because their heads are larger than those of adults in relation to their bodies. The researchers base their findings on the injury reports of 1082 cases during the 2001-2002 ski season in Quebec.

The study was done by Brent Hagel and for four colleagues. Mr. Hagel is an assistant professor at the University of Alberta's Center for Injury Control and Research. " Wearing a helmet while skiing or snowboarding may reduce the risk of head injury by 29% to 56%—that is, for every 10 people who wear helmets, three to six may avoid head injuries." he says.

Mr, Hagel's report continues: " This may even be an underestimate if, as in cycling, the helmets were worn incorrectly or were in poor condition,10 or were not designed for skiing or snowboarding. The effect of helmet use on neck injuries is less clear. Although we found no statistically significant estimates for neck injury and no evidence of effect modification by age, our sensitivity analysis suggests an increased risk of neck injuries with helmet use."

During the 2004-2005 season icy ski conditions lead to a number of skiing deaths caused mostly by head injuries. The number of injuries occuring at Vermont mountains is kept confidential for obvious reasons, but a check with hospitals near ski areas indicates a high frequency of admissions with neck and head injuries during the ski season. Despite continuing cases of skier head injuries neither Vermont nor New Hampshire require skiers to wear helmets.

"PHIT" Tips

Snow riders (both skiers and snowboarders) are running out of excuses for not wearing a helmet whenever on the slopes.  New helmet designs and technology have produced lightweight, comfortable helmets that are both warm and well ventilated.  A wide variety of styles are available and as more and more pros utilize helmets they are becoming an accepted part of snowriding equipment.  Best of all they may help to protect you or your child in an accident. 

Tips for using and wearing helmets when skiing and snowboarding

  1. Ski and snowboard as if you weren’t wearing a helmet.
    Helmets may help reduce the chance of an injury in the event of certain types of accidents. Snow sports are safe and healthy activities but only if done responsibly. Helmets are of little help in high speed head on injuries and offer no protection against neck and other type of injuries. It is important that all skiers and boarders ride responsibly and in control at all times.
  2. Use a skiing or snowboarding specific helmet.
    Bike helmets are designed radically differently than ski helmets. They have different impact characteristics and different areas of protection. Some of the other major non-safety advantages (such as warmth and an integrated fit with goggles) are lost when using a bike helmet for snowsports.
  3. Take time for a proper fit.
    Ski helmets are not something to grow into. The helmet must fit properly to function safely. In addition a helmet that is an uncomfortable fit will end up not being worn.
  4. Make certain to buy a helmet that conforms to industry standards.
    There are various helmet standards in place including CEN (the least rigorous standard), ASTM and Snell (far and away the most rigorous and hard to meet standard for certification). The product literature will make it clear which standard the helmet meets.
  5. Buy from a reputable store and a knowledgeable salesperson.
    Take the time for a good fit and to get all questions answered. Hand-me- downs and ski swaps are a great place to purchase some items but not a properly fitting helmet. People come in a variety of head shapes and different styles or brands of helmets might be needed to get the best fit.
  6. Bring your child’s or your goggles in when you buy your helmet.
    Different goggles and helmets work together differently. A well fitting system will provide great protection for the face and forehead from cold wind and snow and still allow adequate ventilation for the goggles.
  7. Be prepared for how warm and comfortable a helmet can be.
    Safety considerations aside, most riders who have worn a helmet marvel at how much warmth and protection they provide from the elements. Human beings lose a tremendous amount of heat from the head. Wearing a helmet makes a huge difference in comfort on a cold windy day.
  8. Keep goggles and helmets attached together.
    It is much harder to lose both a helmet and a set of goggles. Some parents may find they recoup the cost of the helmet by not replacing lost goggles (and hats!) as often.
  9. Stickers and other personal decorations make helmets cool.
    Parents should allow the rider to have some liberty to make some personal statements with their helmets (making it easier to accept). Consider spending a few dollars and letting the child pick some cool stickers for the helmet at the time of purchase.
  10. Parents should be role models for children (and not just their own!)
    Monkey see, monkey do. If parents expect that their children should ride responsibly and use helmets, then they should be expected to hold themselves to the same level of responsibility. Children pick up on hypocrisy at light speed.  Be prepared to back up what you preach. Conversely, the parent is also ultimately in charge with tremendous veto power. If a parent decides that helmets are a good idea but the child is resistant, remember that it’s OK to say no. “No helmet equals no skiing or no snowboarding.”  This works completely and absolutely. Most ski teams and academies have rules requiring helmet use in their athletes.  These athletes accept these rules as a matter of course.  Your child will also if presented in a polite but noncompromising manner.
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