President’s Day Weekend is Upon Us – Enjoy the Perfect Weather and Great Conditions!

First Trax

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Hi guys and gals. Yours truly will be skiing at Beaver Creek in snowy Colorado for the weekend and I have enlisted some great help to post the daily ski reports for across the entire region while I am away. If I have a good internet connection while traveling, I will chime in with some comments here and there, but please take it easy on my replacement for the next few days!

If I am not able to pop in much, I’ll see you guys back here on Thursday, February 22nd. I don’t want to make anyone jealous (yeah right!) but Beaver Creek has had 26” in the last 7 days with more snow in the forecast for Friday! (I do my best to bring some of that kind of snow back to our beloved Southeast Ski Areas!)

This Special Report was inspired by a number of emailers of late, who have asked us numerous questions about the usage of helmets. One of the helmet related questions that got me thinking the most was from Melissa Reamer of Spokane, Washington who wrote, “Do you have any statistics on which group has a higher percentage of helmet users; skiers or snowboarders?”

First, thanks to Melissa for the question. Most of the other questions were from parents of kids who asked things like, “Do you think that it’s a good idea to wear a helmet?” and my favorite, “As the ski columnist, do YOU wear a helmet?”

That last one was asked by Maggie Tillman of Charleston, West Virginia.

Let me answer Maggie’s question first. Maggie, if you had asked me that question before last season my answer would have been “no”. I DO wear one now but it was not because of some revelation or near-miss accident. I have been skiing for a couple of decades now and never wore a helmet until last season when some of our messageboard crew went together and gave it to me as a gift. On one of next trips to the slopes I thought I’d give it a try. The helmet is cool as heck, complete with SkiNC stickers and one of Paul Philippon’s Duck Rabbit Brewery stickers as well. (Paul is one of our SkiNC / Ski Southeast messageboard crew.)

Anyway, I skied with it that day and then I don’t think I used it but once or twice more during the season. Then this season started kind of warm and honestly I wore it a time or two but it was hit and miss. A few years ago I began making my two younger daughters wear one and then it hit me that if I’m going to require them to wear one, then I could set a good example and wear one as well. When the weather turned absolutely FRIGID five weeks ago, I found that a helmet was great for much more than protection. It’s actually phenomenally comfortable for keeping your ears and head nice and warm! Now, after skiing numerous times with one, I think I wear one all of the time.

Now to the more difficult question of “which group has a higher percentage of helmet users; skiers or snowboarders”. I did a ton of research and I could find a ton of data that alluded to usage, but none that alluded to an actual comparison. So I contacted a few of my ski shop buddies. No help there either, except to say that there seems to be a consensus among all of us that a higher percentage of snowboarders wear helmets. I was already relatively convinced that the snowboarding group was the winner in that department; but it was good to get the consensus support from my peers.

The next several times I hit the slopes I looked around and sure enough a high percentage of boarders were wearing helmets, while a relatively low percentage of skiers were. While I didn’t have a calculator on me, I was relatively convinced that I could answer this question with some assurance that my answer would stand up to some scrutiny.

But that got me to thinking of WHY seemingly more snow boarders wear them. One answer could be that boarders tend to be younger and their parents required it of them. After all, snowboarding is a relatively young sport and the boarder crowd comes out of a time when parents began to make their children wear pads of every kind when they were riding skateboards, bikes, etc. The logic there is if you’re going to make them wear a helmet riding a bike, then you sure should consider wearing one when you strap on one or two slick boards and aim yourself down a slippery hill!

Another answer is that events like the X-Games and other snowboarding events became more frequently televised and all of the competitors wore some pretty cool “lids”.

I grew up in a time that most skiers just thought it wasn’t cool to wear helmets for safety. I was one of them. A lot of people in my demographic group even thought it infringed on our rights to hint that we should HAVE to wear helmets. There was also a part of me and others that I have spoken with who thought that if they wore a helmet people would think that you were trying to say you were a pro.

Safety wasn’t something that really entered into our thinking. Heck most everyone I knew when I was in my 20s thought we were ten feet tall and bullet proof. So maybe it’s because we grew a bit smarter and more safety conscience for our kids that most children are wearing them. Maybe it’s BECAUSE we’re requiring our kids to wear them that we of the older generations are beginning to see more and more people wearing one.

I was researching some of the National Ski Association’s data and ran across an Associated Press story that claimed that safety experts now estimate than an average of 40 percent of skiers and snowboarders use them. Another study group says its closer to 33%. One such story seemed to say that a higher percentage of snow boarding enthusiasts wear them because they are more apt to fall in such a way that delivers a straight fall backwards on their head. Another alluded to the “catching of an edge” that throws snowboarders forward more so that skiers, who tend to fall to their sides.

Earlier this year I remember reading about a situation at Mount Hood Meadows when a 45 year old skier by the name of Geoffry Bradeen died of a head injury when he was hit from behind BY a snowboarder. A helmet would definitely have made a difference in an accident such as that. However, safety experts say that their studies have shown that collisions such as that are rare and account for only a bit more than 6% of reported ski accidents. Studies have shown that most skiing and snowboarding deaths are caused by hitting a tree or other fixed object (such as rocks and boulders) at high speed, resulting in chest or torso injuries. That seems to be an argument against the NEED for helmet wear.

The United States Consumer Products Safety Commission conducted a study that looked at 562 deaths from fall of 1991 through spring of 2005 and they found that 60 percent were the result of a skier or snowboarder hitting a tree. Hitting the snow is the second-biggest killer, with 9.7 percent, and hitting manmade objects, such as lift towers, is third, at 7.6 percent.

Another strange bit of fact is that researchers also found that helmet use is up by up to 5 percentage points a year but that the number of deaths still averages 38 a year, unchanged. Is this yet another argument that shows no real need for helmet wear???

Let me answer my own query with an emphatic – no. Here’s why. Deaths are rare in the sport and we’re all thankful for that. Nobody likes to think or dwell on that fact that 38 people will probably perish again this year nationally. However, death is the worst case scenario. Injuries are far more common. The same U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission study concluded that 44 percent of 17,500 head injuries to skiers and snowboarders in 1997 could have been prevented or reduced in severity with helmet use.

“…study concluded that 44 percent of 17,500 head injuries to skiers and snowboarders in 1997 could have been prevented or reduced in severity with helmet use.”

Let me make that point again and somewhat clearer. There are thousands more injuries every season and many that go unreported to resort medics. However, in 1997 alone there were 17,500 HEAD INJURIES to skiers and snowboarders. The study concluded that 44% of those 17,500 injuries could have been prevented or reduced in severity with a helmet on their head.

By the way, the same study also suggested that an average of 11 of the 38 annual deaths could have been prevented with helmet use. That statistic kind of made my eyes glaze over as I didn’t want to dive into the math to see if their numbers stood up. You know, if Tommy was traveling east at 45 mph down a slope and was wearing a helmet and hit a tree, would his being one of the other 40% equate to being a number that showed that 11 people would not have lost their lives? Whew! Now I AM confused!

Regardless, the clarity here is that supposedly there are some 17,500 head injuries of some sort each year on ski slopes across the country. If wearing a helmet can supposedly make me one of the 7700 that walks away unscathed, hey I’m all for it.

Plus the darn thing looks cool as heck and keeps my ears warm!

One closing comment as we go into a busy President’s Day Weekend –

Several people emailed us in the last few days asking about “how they can avoid collisions with another skier or snowboarder”. That is all too common on busy weekends like we have ahead of us. The truth is, I was standing on the side of an almost empty trail about a week ago, filming some video and this guy simply came right at me and I was like a deer in headlights because I stood right there and let him clobber me! Yep, that was dumb, I admit it. I kept telling myself that this dude had all the room in the world to avoid me, but he didn’t.

Collisions are going to happen from time to time. The majority are harmless. However the best way to avoid collisions is to follow the seven steps of Your Responsibility Code. They are:

Always stay in control and be able to stop or avoid objects.

People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.

Do not stop where you obstruct the trail or are not visible from above.

Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, yield to others.

Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment. Observe all posted signs and warnings.

Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.

Prior to using any lift, you must know how to load, ride, and unload safely.

Research Notes of Interest According to the U.S. Consumer Products Public Safety Commission:

Helmet utilization in the U.S. is increasing by about 5 percent per year for the last several years. In the 2004/05, season the overall usage of helmets among the general public (skiers and snowboarders) was estimated to be 33.2 percent.

Children nine and under were at 66 percent
Over 65, at 46 percent

Only 19 percent of entry level skiers and snowboarders used a helmet

45% of advanced or expert skiers and snowboarders wear them
35% of males wear them
30% percent of females wore a helmet.

The overall rate of reported skiing injuries has declined by 50 percent since the early 1970s.

The once feared broken lower leg from skiing is now a thing of the past, declining more than 95 percent since the early 1970s.

The overall rate of reported alpine ski injuries as of the year 2,000 remains essentially the same as 10 years ago—2.63 reported injuries per 1,000 skier visits.

Researcher found that snowboarders were much more likely — 53 percent — to sustain a head injury than skiers were.

Until Next Time…


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