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How good is your helmet?



Former freestyler launches grassroots campaign for national helmet standards

Judging by the number of helmets you see on the slopes and in the skateparks these days, people are finally starting to use their heads.

Once a rarity, more and more people are reaching for helmets before snowboarding, skiing, climbing, kayaking, skateboarding, inline skating, cycling, and participating in other sports where there’s a chance that a head injury can occur.

In the sport of cycling, which leads other sports in helmet use, the Canadian Safety Council estimates that three out of five adults and roughly 87 per cent of children wear helmets, based on recent surveys. That’s a significant increase over a study in the late ’80s that determined that as few as two per cent of children were wearing helmets.

The number of deaths and serious injuries has dropped significantly as a result of helmet use, proving that helmets do save lives.

While the growing use of helmets in sport is definitely a step in the right direction for reducing head and spinal cord injuries, one former freestyle skier is afraid that people may be putting their trust in helmets that aren’t up to the task they were bought to perform.

"When people come into stores to buy a helmet, they don’t ask questions about safety, just about how it looks on their head," says Richard Kinar of West Vancouver, describing a friend’s experiences in the retail industry.

"That’s a serious problem. And I’m sure that they’re not asking questions because they naturally assume that these helmets passed the same standards that their cycling helmets and hockey helmets have gone through, and Canadian standards are the highest in the world."

According to Kinar, only cycling and hockey helmets are subjected to standardized testing and rated for performance, through the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). There are currently no minimum standards in Canada for helmets used in skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, inline skating and a wide variety of other sports.

While some helmets are rated by various international standards, the CSA standards for hockey and cycling helmets are generally tougher.

Also, compliance with international standards is voluntary.

Kinar got directly involved with the helmet issue while working in speed control at a North Shore mountain. One day he witnessed a collision between two kids, both of whom were wearing helmets. They weren’t going very fast at the time, and yet one of the kids was briefly knocked unconscious.

"I couldn’t understand why that happened, so I started to read the fine print on helmets. I was pretty shocked to find out that there wasn’t a Canadian safety standard, something I just assumed would be there," he said.