Ski helmet use steadily climbing |

Ski helmet use steadily climbing

ASPEN ” An increasing number of skiers and riders at U.S. resorts are wearing helmets, but young adults ages 18 to 24 still resist protecting their noggins, according to a recent study.

About 40 percent of all skiers and riders used helmets last season, according to the National Ski Areas Association Demographic Study. It was based on a sample at its member resorts. That was up from 38 percent the prior winter and up from 25 percent in 2002-03.

Helmet use was highest among kids under age 10, at 64 percent. It was nearly as high for adults 40 and older.

Helmet usage was lowest for 18 to 24 year olds at just 26 percent, the study showed.

Roaring Fork Valley native Shawn Hunsberger, a personal trainer in Basalt, was once one of those belligerent young adults.

“I hated helmets until I was required to wear ’em for competition,” Hunsberger said.

He participated in boardercross as a 19-year-old. All competitors were required to wear lids. Hunsberger, now 28, kept using one after his competitive days ended. He said he is certain helmets prevented at least two concussions and a skull fracture during his free riding time on the slopes.

Hunsberger estimated that seven out of 10 guys he rides with wear helmets “and all of the girls do.”

The National Ski Areas Association didn’t break down helmet use among resort-area residents and tourists, but from scoping the slopes it appears that more than 40 percent of skiers and riders at the four ski areas at Aspen and Snowmass wear helmets.

Glenn Horn, an Aspen land use planner, is typical of a lot of current and former “ski dads” in the Roaring Fork Valley. He started wearing a helmet when his kids were young to set a good example.

“I was making my kids do it so I had to,” he said.

Once his kids were grown, he kept wearing his helmet. “I wear it all the time,” he said, adding that nearly everyone he skis and rides with wear them.

“The only people that don’t are tourists and people, locals, who think they’re too macho,” Horn said. “What amazes me is how few ski patrol and ski instructors wear ’em.”

Troy Hawks, a spokesman for the Denver-based National Ski Areas Association, said he is unaware of any resorts in the country that require helmet use by patrol and instructors. The trade association plans to survey members resorts this summer to find out how many require ski school children to wear lids. The Aspen Skiing Co. is among the resorts with the requirement.

Hawks said more young adults could be inspired to wear helmets when they see so many professional athletes, like those in the Winter X Games, wearing them.

Horn believes helmets are getting more accepted as time goes on, just as helmet use by mountain bikers and road bikers caught on and became so widespread. Kids, like his own, automatically reach for their helmets now that they are grown.

“They don’t know anything else,” he said.

Dr. Thomas Moore, an orthopedic surgeon with offices in Basalt and Crested Butte, likes what he sees on the slopes.

“It’s rare for me to see a kid without a helmet,” he said.

Moore has played a role in that. He started giving away free helmets in Crested Butte and Basalt in the mid-1990s. He continues giving away 100 helmets per season at Basalt.

Moore said so much of his work is reactive, like repairing a blown knee. He viewed promoting helmet use as a preventative step he could take to promote safety and reduce head injuries.

But Moore acknowledged there is still a generational barrier. Older skiers, particularly tourists, seem to resist wearing lids.

“I give adults grief all the time about that,” he said.

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