Lake Tahoe puts a lid on it: Skiers, riders moving toward wearing helmets | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe puts a lid on it: Skiers, riders moving toward wearing helmets

Abby Hoover
Sun News Service

Annie Flanzraich/Sun News Service PhotoIn a recent photo, Chloe Strachan, 9, her mother, Ellie Rubin, and father, Chris Strachan, get ready to ski at Heavenly Mountain Resort. The entire family wears helmets, a habit that saved Chris Strachan's life two years ago when he was in a skiing accident. After colliding with a snowboarder, his helmet was cracked, but his head was intact.

LAKE TAHOE and#8212; More and more skiers and snowboarders are reaching for helmets nationwide, and the Lake Tahoe region seems to be following suit.

About 12 percent more skiers and riders used helmets in the 2008-and#8217;09 season than they did in 2007-and#8217;08, according to a national study by the National Ski Areas Association.

Results from the NSAAand#8217;s annual Demographic Study came from more than 130,000 interviews of skiers and riders approached on various slopes across America.

and#8220;We donand#8217;t have numbers that breakdown the areas, but Iand#8217;m absolutely certain that there were two or three ski areas (from Tahoe) involved,and#8221; said Dave Byrd, NSAA Director of Education and Risk.

Like the many other mountains in the nation, local resorts report seeing an increase in helmet usage.

Adam Turner, group sales and marketing manager at Heavenly Sports, said helmet usage has increased dramatically during the past two seasons.

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and#8220;We have had double digit growth in retail sales (helmet specific)and#8221; said Turner.

The NSAA study reports that 48 percent of all skiers and riders were wearing helmets at the time of interview.

Sugar Bowl Resort near Donner Summit also reported increases.

and#8220;Sugar Bowl, much like the industry overall, is seeing a similar trend in helmet usage amongst its guests,and#8221; John Monson, director of sales and marketing, wrote in an e-mail.

What is contributing to increased helmet usage is up to debate.

High-profile, ski accident related deaths like Sonny Bono, Michael Kennedy, and, most recently, Natasha Richardson seem to be huge factors in public awareness, industry officials said.

and#8220;Natasha Richardsonand#8217;s death was a very unusual circumstance because she was almost standing, and maybe not even skiing, on a very low level green run when she fell and hit her head,and#8221; Byrd said.

Helmet sales have spiked at Shoreline of Tahoe, a snow sport shop in South Lake Tahoe, owner Bob Daly said. He attributes the increase to such celebrity deaths.

and#8220;Statistics showing how many people die per year because they donand#8217;t have helmets isnand#8217;t as impactful as a celebrity,and#8221; Daly said. and#8220;As soon as thereand#8217;s a face on it people realize and#8216;If it could happen to them it could happen to me,and#8217; and then all of a sudden helmet sales go up.and#8221;

Local resorts have also made efforts to raise awareness of helmet usage.

Heavenly Mountain Resort has implemented a new policy this season that mandates employees who are skiing or riding for their job to wear a helmet that is provided to employees as part of the uniform.

and#8220;We want to keep our employees safe and be a good example for our guests,and#8221; said Karen Foster, health and safety manager at Heavenly.

Mt. Rose ski resort is implementing similar policies, including requiring helmets on children in ski schools and lessons.

and#8220;Wearing a helmet can make a big difference in reducing or preventing injuries while enjoying time on the slopes,and#8221; according to a press release from Mt. Rose.

The NSAA study also reported that a two-thirds of children younger than 14 are wearing helmets and almost all children will be if a recent bill proposed by California Sen. Leland Yee is passed.

Modeled after bicycle helmet laws, SB 880, will require all skiers and snowboarders younger than the age of 18 to wear a helmet.

and#8220;California’s ski slopes are perhaps the last area of recreation where we do not have basic safety standards in place for children,” said Yee, D-San Francisco, according to a press release.

Some parents are happy to put a lid on their kids. Scott Alma, from Walnut Creek, was skiing at Heavenly with his three teenage boys and#8211; all donning helmets.

Alma said he thinks the new legislation is a good idea.

and#8220;Iand#8217;m not a huge proponent of more government, but this makes sense,and#8221; he said. and#8220;Itand#8217;s appropriate and smart.and#8221;

Alma requires his kids to wear helmets when skiing but admits that he himself just put one on this year.

and#8220;We never grew up with helmets,and#8221; he said. and#8220;Iand#8217;m adapting, but itand#8217;s like teaching an old dog new tricks.and#8221;

Like Alma, some veteran skiers and riders are tentative to break old habits.

Gilbert Arenas, from Los Angeles, chose to go helmetless while skiing at Heavenly, unlike his two buddies.

and#8220;Iand#8217;ve been riding my whole life without one (about 25 years),and#8221; he said.

Mike Batres another rider at Heavenly admits it took a few accidents to get him in a lid.

and#8220;After three concussions, it was time to get one,and#8221; he said.