Resorts prefer lids on kids but want no part of enforcing it
If parents aren’t already putting lids on their skiing and snowboarding children at California mountain resorts, they likely will next winter.
A California legislative committee recently advanced a bill that would require minors to wear protective headgear while skiing or snowboarding at resorts within the state.
Resort officials in the South Shore area support the bill requiring customers under age 18 to wear helmets, but predict that enforcing such a law could present some problems.
“The bottom line is that it’s a high-risk sport, and anything we can do to reduce that risk we would recommend, but it would be impossible to enforce,” said John Rice, the general manager at Sierra-at-Tahoe in Phillips. “How do you enforce every kid to do everything? It’s hard enough to know how old kids are when they buy a lift ticket.”
The helmet bill, which was created by state Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, places the burden of helmet enforcement on the resorts and compels them to release monthly reports regarding deaths and injuries and file annual safety plans. The helmet legislation was introduced by Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco in January. Yee, however, introduced SB 880 to mirror the state’s helmet law for minors riding bicycles, putting the onus on parents to make sure they are worn and imposing a $25 fine for offenders.
Rice estimates that 80 percent of the children using the slopes at Sierra are already wearing helmets.
“They are used to wearing them for biking and skateboarding, so it’s no big deal,” said Rice, who divulged that both of his sons wear them, and he has been inclined to wear one when skiing in patches of trees. “It’s a form of branding, and kids put stickers on them. It’s a cool, extra piece of gear to have.”
At Heavenly Mountain Resort, management has already implemented a helmet policy for its employees and ski and snowboard school participants age 12 and under.
“We’ve seen helmet use increase dramatically over the past few years, and we believe this trend will continue organically, regardless of legislation,” said Heavenly chief operating officer Blaise Carrig in an e-mail response to the Tribune.
Carrig also expressed concern about resorts being required to enforce such regulations.
“The particular proposal in the Jones bill is problematic and would create an unenforceable law that will be an issue for skiers, snowboarders and resorts alike,” Carrig said.
With season passes and lift tickets purchased outside of the resort ticket windows, Rice said enforcing such legislation would be impossible since customers can gain access to the mountain at a variety of points.
“We’re not policemen,” said Bob Roberts, the executive director for the California Ski Industry Association. “The parents are the individual’s guardians responsible for carrying out the mandate. As long as the individual is held responsible, we support this.”
Rice also cautioned parents to understand that wearing a helmet doesn’t give a child a license to become more aggressive on the mountain. Wearing a helmet has proven to reduce injuries at impact when traveling at lower rates of speed, but as a skier or rider’s speed increases, the potential for a fatal accident rises.
Two years ago, 14-year-old Emily Clothier was wearing a helmet when a collision with a tree killed her during training with the Heavenly Ski and Snowboard Foundation team at Heavenly.
Earlier this year, professional freeskier C.R. Johnson of Truckee had a helmet on when he caught an edge and hit an exposed outcropping of rocks at Squaw Valley. He also died.
“The jury is still out on direct collisions with a helmet on. Anything north of 12-15 mph, a helmet won’t help in a head injury,” said Rice, who estimates that children descend his mountain’s intermediate trails at a speed of 15-20 mph.
“Our biggest fear is we don’t want to give a false sense of security. It’s not what is on your heads, it’s what is on shoulders that counts. Being in control is key. Don’t be in a position where a helmet is used to save you.”
California isn’t the only state pursuing helmet legislation for minors. New Jersey and New York, however, are attempting to pass helmet bills that wouldn’t include all minors. New York is trying to require skiers 14 and under to wear a helmet, while New Jersey is pursuing a law to put a helmet on riders and skiers 13 and under.
California’s bill won’t impact the assumption of risk that skiers and snowboarders assume when frequenting a resort.
“We have nothing to hide in what we do,” Rice said. “It’s an extremely high-risk sport. It’s not Disneyland where you are strapped in. You’re out there against the mountain and the elements.”
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