The tragic skiing deaths of Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy last year are being used as a frantic wake-up call to pop helmets on the heads of all skiers all the time. The fact is that short of Nerf trees, neither of these deaths would have been prevented by wearing a helmet.
I do a lot of hardcore trail running. At times I reach downhill speeds where a fall would nuke my noggin. Should I wear a helmet when I run? For that matter, how about driving? Wearing a seat belt is undoubtedly wise. Wearing a seat belt and a helmet would be wiser still. You get the idea.
The key question in the helmet debate, then, is the difference between acceptable risk and stupidity. Cruising down the Milky Way Bowl at Heavenly, Calif., without a helmet is reasonable. Hurling off the Banana Funnel at the U.S.
Extreme Championships in Crested Butte, Colo., without one is silly. I say leave the helmets on the downhillers, extreme skiers and the kids, all of whom are soft-headed by nature. The rest of us should strap one on when tough terrain or high risk call for it, which, frankly, is not frequent for adult, on-piste skiers.
The next time you drive during a blizzard, check out which vehicles are sprawled in the ditch like confused salmon: 4-WD Pathfinders and other SUVs; there’s not a Neon among them. Why? A false sense of security often leads to recklessness. (It’s what shrinks call “off-setting behavior.”) Helmets can elicit the same superhero weirdness from skiers. Helmets also hinder peripheral vision, which doesn’t help you avoid the helmeted speed-freaks out on the hills these days.
My esteemed colleague admits that he hasn’t fallen off a bike in 30 years but still cinches down a helmet every time he pedals. That tells me he’s hard-headed enough to render a helmet redundant. There’s prudent precaution and then there’s unfounded paranoia. I’ve avoided being hit upside the head enough so that I can still distinguish between the two.
If you wear a helmet every time you click into your skis, fine, just don’t call me irresponsible because I don’t. Yes, I usually ski topless. Heck, sometimes I might even enjoy a tall bourbon and a thick T-bone in the lodge at the end of the ski day. It’s my life. I’ll weigh the risk/reward equation on my own terms¿or until a tree knocks some sense into me.