SKIING Scene: Helmet Hostilities


With the inevitable media rumpus following the ski-related deaths of Michael Kennedy and Sonny Bono during the '97¿'98 season, public attention was turned to the potential risks of skiing. The ripple effects are still being felt. Since the incidents, helmet sales have increased by nearly $5.6 million and numerous public debates have ensued. Most notably, in January 1999, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a recommendation that "skiers and snowboarders wear helmets to help prevent head injuries from falls and collisions." The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) responded immediately by endorsing the use of helmets, too¿but only as one of many safety precautions for skiers. The CPSC's edict was met with more outward disapproval from others.

Jasper Shealy, Ph.D., who has been studying ski injuries for the past 26 years, thinks the CPSC's study is seriously flawed. "I'm absolutely convinced that the study was politically motivated," he says. "The data that underlies the CPSC's study is little short of a joke." Helmets, he explains, have significant limitations. Though they offer some protection against glancing blows, they fail to protect against the type of direct impact that's responsible for 90 percent of skiing fatalities. In fact, the overconfidence that some skiers experience when they don a helmet may cancel out the benefits. CPSC public affairs specialist Ken Giles denies that the study was done for political reasons. He asserts it was conducted in an effort "to make a contribution to knowledge and safety." And maybe it will: Helmets could save your noggin¿as long as wearing one won't make you lose your head.

In 1998¿99, snow-sport helmet sales totaled $29.3 million, a 19 per-cent increase over the previous year.
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