Don Jewkes
Special to the Sun
Snowmass Village, CO, Colorado

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February 26, 2013
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If the helmet doesn't fit, you won't wear it

SNOWMASS VILLAGE - Helmets have been a hot topic in the snow-sports safety forum for many years now. But it has taken the deaths of Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy in 1998 and actress Natasha Richardson and numerous individuals to get the media's and people's undivided attention. Many countries and ski areas have made great efforts to promote and encourage the use of helmets on the slopes (particularly among children). Some have even advocated enforcement by law. Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts have compulsory helmet rules for all their employees on the snow. But even with these efforts, people still are dying from collisions, with and without helmets.

According to a 2012 study by the National Ski Areas Association and a recent article in The Aspen Times, what once was only worn by ski racers is now adorning the noggins of about 67 percent of the skier and snowboarder population in the U.S. and 79 percent in the Aspen area. Widespread perception was that if you didn't race, you didn't need to wear a helmet. Parents insisted that their children wear a helmet. But in fact, they skied without them.

Over the past decade and a half since I first wrote about helmet use, the number of skiers and snowboarders using head protection has continued to rise to an astonishing 171 percent since 2002-03.

As a general rule, if a ski or snowboard helmet does not fit, it serves no purpose. If a helmet does not fit comfortably, you will not wear it. The likelihood of injury is increased during activities such as skiing and snowboarding for people not wearing helmets. Fortunately, there are a few simple tests that you can perform to determine whether your helmet (or your child's helmet) fits and fits comfortably.

To ensure that the head is covered, an appropriate fitting must be done. This will not only ensure you don't waste money but ensures that the helmet is providing maximum safety for the user. Below are a few steps to take to ensure that a helmet fits correctly.

Step 1: Measure around the user's head. Measure just above the eyebrow, making sure the tape is tight. This measurement can now be used with a sizing guide to find the properly sized helmet.

Step 2: Putting on the helmet, place the front of the helmet just above the eyebrow line, and while holding either the ear covers or helmet straps, pull the helmet over the back of the head.

Step 3: Check for gaps with your fingers. All padding on the helmet should be flush against the head. Ear covers and/or cheek padding also should fit snugly. The back of the helmet should fall around the hairline but not reach the nape of the neck. Be aware that different brands fit differently shaped heads, so find the one that fits your shape.

Step 4: Once the helmet is on, fasten the chin strap and make certain everything is snug. Hold the helmet, and try to roll it off the back of the head. If the skin on the forehead is being moved, then the helmet fits properly. Twisting the helmet from side to side should cause the head to turn, and not allow the helmet to twist on the head. Many companies also will have a fine-tuning system to help compensate for small changes in the padding. One adjustment system known as In-Form originated in bicycle helmets and utilizes a floating carriage at the back of the head. A dial or slide lock allows the user to loosen or tighten the carriage to fine-tune the fit of the helmet.

Safety is not the only benefit associated with ski helmets. Few hats can compete with the warmth and wind resistance that a helmet offers. Most ski helmets come with a convenient attachment for your ski goggles. A ski helmet with attached goggles covers your entire head and most of your face, helping to prevent your face from frostbite and your skin from wind damage. Be sure to bring your goggles when buying to ensure they fit snugly inside the helmet. You do not want gaps especially above the goggles. Brain freeze!

There are helmets out there for everyone's taste and personal requirements, from ventilation adjustments to headphones to Bluetooth to even a new Swiss helmet with a lens that flips down over your face, which eliminates the need for goggles.

Regardless of all benefits helmets supply, ski helmets are not a license to ski out of control or to ski in terrain that is beyond your abilities. Avoid tree skiing if you lack the skills or the equipment for making precise, short-radius turns. If you accidentally end up on an overly challenging run, avoid collisions with advanced skiers by going to the side of the trail and side-slipping down the run.

Skiers and snowboarders wear helmets for one reason: They have lives waiting for them off the slopes. A good helmet can lengthen the odds of surviving a crash, returning to that life and later on even returning to the slopes once more. Shop small. See you next run.

Don Jewkes is a 36-year certified PSIA-RM Level 3 teaching professional and local resident. Support your local independent retailers and restaurants.

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The Aspen Times Updated Feb 26, 2013 06:07PM Published Feb 26, 2013 06:06PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.