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COMMENTARY: No to mandatory ski helmets

April 15, 2011
RICHARD ROSENTRETER, Lake Placid News Editor
I ski and wear a helmet. But it would be wrong for the state to pass legislation to make it mandatory for each and every skier or snowboarder to wear a helmet while on the slopes. That is the goal of Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (NY 51st District, Brooklyn) who is leading a crusade to make wearing helmets

on the slopes a law (Bill A.1059).

There is no doubt that it is a tragedy when someone loses their life while enjoying the sport of skiing or snowboarding. But there isn’t overwhelming evidence that helmets save lives.

What is more effective in preventing fatal accidents is an aggressive safety awareness program to inform skiers and snowboarders about the benefits of wearing helmets, but more importantly, that they should follow the guidelines of mountain safety.

Whiteface Mountain has a great Safety Awareness program that focuses on “Knowing the Code.” The first code is: “Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.” One of the main causes of fatal ski accidents is negligence on the part of the skier or snowboarder.

Just as in fatal car accidents, speed is usually a factor. In most cases of skier deaths, a skier is moving so fast that even a helmet would not have saved his or her life — usually referred to as “blunt force trauma.”

“In the event of a high speed collision, the forces involved usually far exceed the protective capabilities of even the best ski helmet,” according to a recent report by Dr. Mike Langran, a ski patrol doctor for the CairnGorm Ski Area and board member of the International Society for Skiing Safety. He adds that there is evidence that helmets may in fact promote a false sense of security — a higher percentage of those who wear helmets travel faster and admit to taking risks than those who do not.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, during the 2009-10 season, 38 fatalities occurred out of the 59.8 million skier/snowboarder days reported for the season and 19 of those involved were reported as wearing a helmet at the time of the incident.

So 50 percent of the fatalities WERE wearing helmets.

The American Medical Association released a report in 1997 on the the use of helmets on the slopes. In its report summary the AMA determined that “there are insufficient data for the CSA (Council on Scientific Affairs) to conclude that the AMA should adopt policy in support of mandatory helmet use for recreational skiing or snowboarding. This position is consistent with the

position of other major medical and ski organizations.”

It did recommend that children and adolescents use helmets. And that is a fair plan.

Instead of making helmets mandatory for ALL skiers and snowboarders, it should be the norm for skiers and snowboarders 17 years of age and younger — an age range that has a greater risk for suffering a head injury than do older skiers, according to the AMA report.

Safety awareness on the slopes should begin at home with

parents and instructors educating youngsters. That awareness will hopefully transfer to a responsible skier or snowboarder who respects the mountain and the risks of the sport.

There is an inherent risk to the sports of skiing and snowboarding — and those risks are outlined on any lift ticket issued at ski areas across the United States. Big Brother should not dictate an individual’s choice to wear or not wear a helmet.

Safe skiing is the responsibility of the skier — and a law

mandating the use of a helmet will not save lives. Safety awareness will.

And for the record, I wear a helmet because it keeps my head warmer and produces less itch than a wool hat and has vents to let the hot air escape during warmer days.

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Dr. Langran’s website can be found at and his report cited above at

The AMA report can be found at


Let your thoughts about the proposed ski helmet law (Bill A.1059) be known by contacting your local legislator.

Article Photos

A snowboarder, not wearing a helmet, recklessly flies through the air recently at the summit of Whiteface Mountain. A bill introduced by a Brooklyn assemblyman aims to make it a law for all skiers and snowboarders to wear a helmet.

Photo/Richard Rosentreter/Lake Placid News

Fact Box

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224
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45th Senate District of New York:
Sen. Betty Little
506 Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Closest district office
137 Margaret St.
Suite 100
Plattsburgh, NY 12901

113th Assembly District
of New York (Most of Essex County and Warren and
Hamilton counties):
Assemblywoman Teresa R. Sayward
Legislative Office Building,
Room 940 
Albany, NY 12248
Closest district office:
7559 Court St., Room 203
Elizabethtown, NY 12932

114th Assembly District
of New York (Franklin and Clinton counties and a portion of
Essex County):
Assemblyman Janet Duprey
Legislative Office Building,
Room 937
Albany, NY 12248
Closest district office:
202 U.S. Oval
Plattsburgh, NY 12903



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