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Ski helmet use surging in Aspen

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen TimesJudging from the line at the gondola one recent afternoon, a lot of people heading to Aspen Mountain prefer wearing helmets.
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ASPEN, Colorado – Ski helmet use is surging overall and is particularly popular among kids and older folks, but there are still pockets of resistance among some age groups of skiers and riders, according to a national survey by the industry.

Nearly half of all skiers and riders wore helmets last season, according to an annual demographic survey performed by members of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). Usage climbed to 48 percent in 2008-09 from 43 percent the season before.

No figures were available from the Aspen Skiing Co.’s surveys of customers in recent years. But “we’ve consistently had higher helmet use than the industry as a whole,” Skico Senior Vice President David Perry said recently.

Younger generations of skiers and riders grew up with helmets, and they tend to stick with them, he said. Older clientele are likely to adapt and wear the protective gear.

“It’s really the middle demographic, the 30-somethings to 50-somethings, that have been slow” to embrace helmets, Perry said.

A longtime Aspen resident and expert skier in his 50s took a tumble on the slopes this season and might have knocked his noggin, among other injuries. The local, who didn’t want to be identified, said he knows he would be an “idiot” for not starting to wear a helmet. Nevertheless, he was still undecided.

The latest national survey showed 77 percent of children 9 years old and younger wear helmets, as do two-thirds of those between 10 and 14. On the other end of the age spectrum, 63 percent of adults ages 65 and older wear ski helmets.

Only about one-in-three skiers and riders between ages 18 and 24 wore helmets last season. The NSAA office was closed Thursday so no information on usage by other age groups was immediately available.

Perhaps counterintuitively, helmet usage increases with the skill level of skiers and riders. NSAA said 26 percent of beginners reported wearing helmets, compared to 38 percent of intermediates and 55 percent of advanced skiers and riders.

Perry said he was unaware of statistics on specifically residents’ and visitors’ helmet usage in different ski towns.

Charles Walsh, 51, of Osage, Iowa, arrived in the Aspen area New Year’s weekend for a ski trip and was going to rent gear. The frequent visitor to the Roaring Fork Valley said this is the first season he has considered trying to rent a helmet. He said some high-profile celebrity deaths from ski accidents over the years spurred him to consider a lid. Plus, his friends who live in the valley wear helmets.

When asked why he has never considered a helmet before, Walsh said it was because he’d “never had a close call with a head injury.” He suspects other people don’t wear helmets because it doesn’t fit their sense of fashion.

Walsh said that, on this trip, the availability of a helmet for rent and the price will determine his decision. He said he will not consider buying a helmet.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has made helmet use mandatory for children taking lessons in the ski school and for anyone taking a lesson in a terrain park. It’s voluntary for anyone else, including Skico employees. Perry said the ski industry is clearly moving toward making helmet use mandatory for ski-area workers. Vail Resorts instituted that policy this season.

Mandatory helmet use by children on the slopes is also picking up international steam. Perry said Austria passed a national law requiring kids younger than 15 to wear protective lids.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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