For the second time this season, a high profile tragedy on the ski slopes has stimulated discussion about the use of ski helmets. See Fatal Austrian Ski Accident Reignites Helmet Debate .
National statistics do demonstrate that skiing is a relatively safe recreational activity, but for the hundreds of participants each year who are injured by an inattentive lift operator or walloped by a fellow skier, the consequences can often be life-changing if not fatal. The National Ski Areas Association, the trade group that represents ski resorts as well as ski gear manufacturers, published a 2006 fact sheet reporting there were 2.07 skiing/snowboarding fatalities per million participants, fewer than for bicycling or swimming. The group says a person is twice as likely to die from being struck by lightning as in a skiing or snowboarding accident.
But even the National Ski Areas Association strongly recommends helmets for all participants. Forty-three percent of U.S. skiers and boarders wear helmets, according to a 2008 survey by the National Ski Areas Association, up from 25 percent in 2003.
Some medical groups, including the Association of Quebec Emergency Room Doctors, have called for helmets to be mandatory, claiming 60 percent of head traumas could be avoided, and some countries are introducing laws over helmet use for children.
Sales of helmets in Germany have doubled since a skiing accident in the Austrian resort of Styria in January which left one woman dead and German politician Dieter Althaus seriously injured. Althaus credits his helmet for saving him from serious injury or death.
Austria, which has recorded about 30 ski-related deaths this season, is now introducing a new law requiring all children under 14 to wear helmets on the slopes.
Colorado, with its world-class skiing opportunities, has its share of serious ski accidents. Aspen Mountain, since 2003, requires helmets on children 12 and under who participate in ski school. At Vail, children 14 and under who participate in the ski school are strongly recommended to wear helmets, and must decline their use in writing. The NSAA reports that the vast majority of children 9 and under wear helmets in the U.S.
The Colorado Bar Association, as part of its “Law School for Journalists,” offered a program February 19, 2009 on the “Colorado Ski Safety Act” with discussion of the Colorado statute and ski cases – the handouts to the presentation are available at the CBA website. And for those more interested in the consumer safety issue rather than the legal questions, Skier and Snowboard Safety: Hot Issues for Consumers, part of the CBA discussion.