Saturday, March 23, 2002
A record number of people 14 have died from accidents on Colorado's ski slopes this year. Obviously, this is a record the state's ski industry hopes will never be broken. Perhaps what happened last week in Aspen is a step toward ensuring it isn't.
Aspen Skiing Co. announced Wednesday it would require all students younger than age 6 in its ski and snowboard classes to wear helmets. While this policy affects only a small segment of the skiing population, it is an important start. The National Ski Areas Association said the policy is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.
"After listening to Aspen Skiing Co. staff and our community, we decided this is the right thing to do," said Mike Kaplan, vice president of mountain operations in Aspen. "We continue to recommend helmets for everyone."
There is no argument that helmets lessen the chances of serious head injuries and that they perhaps can prevent death. In fact, a doctor said a helmet saved the life of a 5-year-old boy who skied into a tree last week at Aspen Highlands.
We're not so na as to think helmets should be required for all skiers. There is far too much debate and far too many longtime skiers who have never felt the need to wear helmets for such a policy to be workable at Aspen, Steamboat or any other ski area.
But here is why the Aspen policy is a good one it introduces the youngest skiers to helmet use. These children will learn to ski wearing helmets and likely will continue wearing them for years to come.
Surely it can be only a good thing for the next generation of skiers to be comfortable with wearing helmets.
What are the drawbacks to helmet use? For starters, requiring helmets only raises the cost of skiing, and when you are trying to broaden the base of the skiing population, cost is a significant issue. Some, including Steamboat officials, think helmets are a matter of personal choice. And there are those who say helmets provide a false sense of security. For example, a helmet may give a skier the confidence to ski trees before that skier is ready.
But such reasons don't outweigh the safety benefits of the Aspen policy.
Given the number of deaths this season, it is important that the ski industry be as safety conscious as possible if it hopes to grow the number of skiers who use the industry's resorts. Aspen's policy is a step in that direction without intruding on the individual freedoms of most of its skiers.
The rest of the ski industry, which has thus far reacted with a "wait-and-see" attitude toward Aspen's policy, would be wise to follow suit.