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Where's Your Helmet?

10/30/2009 06:01AM ● Published by Wendy Sipple

Gone are the bicycles, scooters and skateboards of fall. Winter storms usher in mounds of snow-based fun for kids – and a new season of safety concerns for parents too.

In 1994, California became the sixth state in the nation to require children to wear helmets when riding bicycles, a life-saving mandate by any measure. Yet protective helmets still are not legislated for recreational winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding in any of the 50 states. The debate about whether individual ski resorts should require helmet use remains a slippery slope of personal choice. However, the fact that helmets can – and do – save children’s lives cannot be disputed.

Using Your Head

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Administration, in 2008 there were 11,723 hospital-treated head injuries associated with winter sports. Ski helmets are specifically designed to absorb the impact from collisions with trees, other objects or fellow skiers or boarders. When worn correctly, helmets are proven to reduce risk of head and brain trauma by up to 75 percent, according a recent study. Fortunately, the National Ski Area Association (NSAA) reports this safety message is getting through even the thickest of skulls. An estimated 48 percent of skiers and snowboarders in 2008-2009 wore protective headgear – the largest groups being children under age 14 and adults over age 65. Helmet use has even increased to 32 percent in the notoriously invincible population of 18 to 24-year olds.

Aside from safety, the growing popularity of helmets may in part be due to fashion, not function. No longer bulky and lackluster, today’s protective head gear comes in a variety of cool colors and styles. Helmets that meet ASTM 2040 safety standards can easily and affordably be purchased at area retailers, or rented at most resorts.

Ski Resorts and Safety

To ensure mountain safety, most Tahoe-area ski resorts strongly “recommend” the use of helmets, as well as promote the industry’s Skier Responsibility Code.

But at least one local resort has taken safety to the next level. New this season, Heavenly is requiring all employees to wear helmets when skiing or riding on the job. Additionally, children, ages 12 and under, participating in group lessons or renting equipment at Heavenly are also required to wear provided helmets. “We feel our ski instructors and ski patrol have a responsibility to be role models for the sport,” explains Blaise Carrig, Heavenly’s chief operating officer. Carrig claims Vail Properties, Inc., is the first company in the country to make helmets mandatory, an example he’s excited to set. “We’ve already had great, positive feedback from parents and employees alike about the policy.”

It’s certainly welcomed news to former U.S. Ski Team member Michael Shreve, whose son, Ryan, died in October 2003 from Second Impact Syndrome (SIS). A Folsom resident and El Dorado Hills firefighter and paramedic, Ryan was an avid snow skier and wake boarder. He succumbed to a stroke as a result of repeated, undetected head trauma at age 24.

For six years, Michael Shreve has passionately advocated greater awareness of SIS and the use of recreational helmets. A ski team coach since 1974, Shreve bristles at the perception that only downhill racers or extreme skiers need head protection. “It’s not a matter of what you hit,” he insists. “It’s a matter of who can hit you, especially for snowboarders who can only see half the hill at a time.” Shreve says when he hears kids tell stories about how they’ve broken or cracked their helmets in crashes, he knows his efforts are helping save lives.


Second Impact Syndrome (SIS)

Second Impact Syndrome is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when a victim sustains a head injury before a prior concussion has cleared. According to the El Dorado County Emergency Medical Services Agency, these are the important warning signs to recognize after head trauma:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Delayed verbal and motor responses
  • Headaches or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Memory loss

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