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Ski helmets — not just for the terrain park

Melon gear, lids, brain buckets — whatever you want to call them, ski helmets are here to stay as perhaps the most practical fashion accessory for the slopes.

Snowboarders and skiers alike embrace the colorful plastic head coverings, which only a few years ago seemed like gear fit only for racers. Now they dot the slopes like mushroom caps in a field of cow dung.

The National Ski Area Association launches National Safety Awareness Week on Saturday, and, as part the hype machine, they are pushing a new program: Lids on Kids.



Awareness is the goal, and along with helmet manufacturers, National Ski Patrol, the International Brain Injury Association and others, the NSAA is promoting information on children and helmets. Parents can find out more by logging onto the Lids on Kids Web site at http://www.lidsonkids.org.

Ann Bratton, a checker at Raley’s, says her three girls always ski or ride with helmets. Her youngest, 9-year-old Hanna, has been wearing one since learning to ski at age 3.




“It’s defense, mostly. I think there are too many crazy people out there and too many people getting hit,” Bratton said.

Safety seems to be the main reason people are wearing helmets. Ski-related deaths of celebrities in the last several years — like Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy — have raised awareness of the dangers of snowsports and people have responded.

According to the Lids On Kids, 637,757 helmets were sold across the country during the 2001-02 ski season; the year before that, 535,288 helmets; and during the 1997-98 season, only 524,671 helmets were sold.

This is good news for the manufacturers, and better news for people wearing them. Bratton’s 15-year-old daughter, Ashley, for example, was hurt in a spill two years ago.

“I’m sure she would have been hurt worse if she hadn’t been wearing one,” Bratton said.

It isn’t really that skiing and snowboarding have become more dangerous, industry representatives say, but with the onset of terrain parks, people are doing trickier maneuvers on snow that increase chances for injury.

Still, the overall safety record of winter sports is good; skiers and riders have about a one in a million chance of death or serious injury on the slopes. Statistically, serious head injuries account for 2.6 percent of overall ski and snowboard injuries.

The Lids on Kids Web site points out that skier or rider behavior has more to do with safety than equipment. The NSAA Web site says that while helmets help in high-speed impacts, most are more effective with injuries occurring at speeds of 12 mph or less, a more common range of speed. And while the NSAA recommends wearing a helmet, it calls the decision to wear one a “personal choice.”

One rider from Sacramento who declined to be named said he didn’t need one because he wasn’t “hucking big air.” He felt that without spending time in the half pipe or terrain park, a helmet would be superfluous. But another younger rider at Kirkwood said he asked his parents for one because he feels better wearing it.

“I wear one because I go through the trees and the powder a lot, and I feel safer,” said Tory Robinson, age 9, of Aptos. “Also, it keeps my ears warmer.”

So what can one get in a helmet these days? As with everything, it depends on how much one is willing to spend. Sports LTD at the “Y” carries helmets that range from $49 to $139.

“Basically we have two types of helmet customers,” says Eric Bickert, sales associate at the store. “One type is price conscious and only wants the cheapest one we have. The other type is driven by features and will spend more for things like light weight, air vents and removable ear flaps. Our lightest helmet is our best seller.”

Regardless of varying needs for ventilation or weight, everyone agrees that fit is the most important feature of helmets. Make sure to get one fit by a professional.


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