Two skiing deaths within a month have prompted calls for helmets to be mandatory for everyone on New Zealand slopes. A woman died last night after she fell while skiing outside the boundary of the Mt Hutt ski-field. The 54-year-old woman was skiing with her teenage daughter on the southwest face yesterday when she slipped and fell about 500 meters over rocks, a Mt Hutt Ski Area spokesman reported. The woman was evacuated by helicopter to a nearby hospital where she died that evening.
Last month, an American woman died while skiing off-trail at Mt Hutt. The 21-year-old student slid about 130m and hit rocks before sliding another 30m.
As in North America, out-of-bounds areas are not managed by the ski resort operator, so people ski there at their own risk. For ski area employees, staff were given free helmets, which were mandatory or “highly recommended”, depending on where they were on the ski area. The resort spokesperson noted that helmets are available to buy or rent, and he encouraged skiers to wear one.
The local head neurosurgeon Martin Macfarlane said he saw “more than several” people a year with brain injuries from skiing or snowboarding and that one or two would die each season. Macfarlane campaigned to make bicycle helmets compulsory in the early 1990s, and he wanted helmets to become mandatory on ski-fields. Making helmets compulsory could save lives and prevent long-term disabilities such as memory loss and paralysis.
The issue of wearing helmets came up during inquests into the skiing deaths of heliskier Llynden Riethmuller and heliski guide Jonathan Morgan held in Ashburton last week. Morgan was apparently knocked unconscious during an avalanche and was not able to use his AvaLung – a breathing device for use in avalanches – while buried. The coroner questioned experts on whether Morgan could have survived the accident had he been wearing a helmet. Department of Labor health and safety inspector David Bellett said the department recommended that all skiers and snowboarders wear helmets.