Samantha Critchell informs us as to how and why wearing protective headgear while skiing and snowboarding is not only not dorky anymore…it’s pretty much the norm:
“Helmets, one of the fastest growth areas in the snow sports industry, have moved over the hump and are no longer considered too niche or dorky for the masses. Safety is the driving reason to wear them, of course, but improved styling and comfort may be what make them a no-brainer.
“In the last couple of years, you see a big movement toward helmets — it just makes sense,” says Ted Ligety, the U.S. Olympic skier. “I started wearing a helmet when I was four years old. I feel super naked if I’m not wearing a helmet. My parents did a good job ingraining it in my head.”
Wearing helmets for recreational skiing and snowboarding often starts with the kids, and then parents — who find it easier to practise what they preach than incite a meltdown — find they’re comfortable, warm and sometimes wired for cellphones and iPods.
Snowmass and Aspen Mountain, both in Colorado, instituted a policy in 2001 that all children 12 and under in its ski-school programs must wear helmets.
Once kids get used to them, they’re likely to keep wearing them as adults, says Jeff Hanle, director of public relations for the mountains. The helmets are as much a part of their gear as boots or a parka.
Skicrosser Casey Puckett feels as if not wearing one actually draws unwanted attention.
“I never used to wear one when I was younger. Ski helmets just weren’t really a consideration. But probably in the last five to 10 years, helmets have made a real push onto the scene to the point where it’s almost like you look strange if you just go out with a hat or something,” Puckett says.
Of course, high-profile accidents, such as actress Natasha Richardson’s death last year of a head injury sustained while skiing without a helmet, also raise awareness of helmet use. Hanle says he doesn’t expect helmet use to reach 100 per cent unless they’re made mandatory, but the numbers should continue to rise.
According to the trade group SnowSports Industries America, 656,523 helmets, valued at $11 million, were sold through December, representing unit sales up 29 per cent over the previous season.
Ligety has tapped into the business with his own line of helmets with the brand name Shred, which he started first with the plan of making goggles.
The protective eyewear was so intertwined with the protective headgear, he decided to do both. “Being a ski racer, I knew what feels good and what works. I knew I had to have the highest quality and safety. We’ve tried to make them light and adjustable so it feels like you get a custom fit.”
Some Olympic skiers, including U.S. medallist Julia Mancuso and the entire Swedish team, are wearing Poc helmets. “There’s a trend in society toward anything to do with safety and health and that drives helmets as well,” says company founder and CEO Stefan Ytterborn.
He also thinks there’s a link between increased helmet use and the carving skis that started to boom about 10 years ago.
“Everyone suddenly became much, much better skiers, and people started to ski faster,” Ytterborn says.
It’s also changed the lines of skiing, with more carved turns, and there are also more daredevils out there in this X-Games generation. “Kids want to jump 25 metres. When they crash, they hurt themselves and helmets have become a necessity for these skiers.”
“I feel uncomfortable not wearing a helmet. It makes me feel safe and it just makes me feel like I’m having a better time when I do wear a helmet,” says Jeret (Speedy) Peterson, an Olympic freestyle aerialist. “Plus, they are warm. It’s the way to go.”
Alpine skier Stacey Cook said she learned to wear a helmet the hard way: sustaining several concussions. “I think it’s a very valuable thing not only for me but for other people out on the ski hill to protect that noggin,” she says.
Poc’s president of U.S. operations, Jarka Duba, predicts improving technology and electronics will lead to more safety features in the near future, including the ability to track a skier or boarder who has crashed in a remote area.
There’s also development of multi-impact helmets, which will serve like the crumple zone of a car’s bumper, Darba says.
Even the best, more advanced helmet won’t do any good, though, if people don’t wear it, says snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, who developed her signature camel-coloured helmet with Oakley. Helmets should become the norm — and they’re headed that way, she says.
“If everyone is wearing them, then they’re not uncool.”