Skico enacts helmet rule |

Skico enacts helmet rule

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Starting Saturday, all kids ages 6 and under will have to wear helmets if they are in an Aspen Skiing Co. ski school lesson.

“After listening to Aspen Skiing Company staff and our community we have decided this is the right thing to do,” said Mike Kaplan, the Skico’s vice president of mountain operations.

The Skico is now the first ski area in North America and perhaps the world to make helmets mandatory at some level. The industry has resisted making helmets mandatory, saying that skiing in control is still the best defense against getting hurt on the slopes.

“It is wise for the industry to take note of their decision,” said David Perry, the president of Colorado Ski Country USA, an association that represents the state’s ski areas. “I say kudos to Aspen for taking this leadership step.”

The decision comes after a record-breaking number of fatal skiing accidents at the Skico’s mountains, including the death of a 6-year-old Florida girl who died after hitting a tree at Aspen Highlands while in a ski school class. She was not wearing a helmet.

Yesterday, a 5-year-old in a ski school class at Highlands also lost control and hit a tree. He was wearing a helmet, which seemed to help reduce the extent of his injuries. On Wednesday, he was listed in good condition at Children’s Hospital in Denver with 10 stitches in his forehead and a dent in his helmet.

Kaplan said the decision to require mandatory helmets for young children in ski school made sense from a number of viewpoints.

Skico employees were behind it, the community was asking for it, it was the right thing to do, and it was a definitive action the Skico could take in a season that has brought four deaths at Highlands and one at Snowmass.

In at least two of the accidents, it is possible that a helmet might have helped reduce the severity of the injuries sustained.

While helmet use on the nation’s ski slopes has dramatically increased in the last five years, there is no proof that they have helped to reduce head injuries suffered while skiing.

“There is no definitive science or studies that strongly supports this decision,” said Perry. “One industry study showed that even though helmet use is on the increase, head injuries are at the same level.”

And Perry said the Whistler ski area in Canada tried four or five years ago to make helmets for kids mandatory, but then stepped away from the program.

“There was resistance from parents,” Perry said. “We had a significant number of parents insist that their children not wear helmets. And it became difficult for the instructors to keep the kids’ helmets on all the time. There were logistical issues in trying to keep it 100 percent enforced.”

But Kaplan points out that helmet use is now much more acceptable than just a few years ago, and that the Whistler program mandated that all kids under 12 in ski school wear helmets.

When asked if the Skico felt pressure to make helmet use mandatory for the little Bears, Cubs and Pandas on its slopes, Kaplan replied that “pressure comes from within in just trying to do the right thing by our guests.

“We’re trying to do everything we can and feel like this is a step that would have a positive impact,” Kaplan said.

But will there be helmet “creep” that leads to older kids, and then adults, forced to wear helmets?

“Who knows what the future holds,” Kaplan said. “But we feel that kids six and under are very different from older kids and adults. We require kids under six to ride a chairlift with adults. Kids over six are better able to perceive the consequences of their actions and make choices.”

The Skico has rental helmets available at all of its kids’ ski school centers. They cost $5 a day.

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