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In helmets we trust?

Part 2 of Pique's concussion feature



Page 3 of 7

He would have been wearing that helmet that day, with or without the law in place.

Recommended — yes; Mandatory — that's up for debate

For the safety manager at Whistler Blackcomb, Brian Leighton, the ongoing and oft-emotional topic of helmet usage is "enough to give me a head-ache."

He jests but the statement is testament to controversy around helmets, among his staff and in the wider context.

This, at a time when helmet use has been steadily on the rise in the past decade and there is more buy-in for the use of helmets skiing than ever before.

Leighton says a conservative estimate of helmet use today would be about 80 per cent.

"All you have to do is look in the lift line," he says.

Ski hill operators such as Whistler Blackcomb, as well as the Canadian Ski Council and all regional ski operator associations, all call for recommended helmet use. The Canadian Ski Patrol System also endorses the recommendation.

Stats released by the Canadian Ski Council (CSC) in February 2012, based on its annual National Consumer Profile and Satisfaction survey, pegs helmet usage at 67.3 per cent in 2006. Five years later in 2011 that had grown to almost 75 per cent.

The stats are also broken down by age.

Usage is highest — 96 per cent — in kids 14 and under. Even with youth aged 15 to 17 usage is at a high level — 85 per cent.

Usage is lowest — 60 per cent — in the 25 to 34 year old age bracket.

The CSC report states: "These age segments would be those who began to ski and board before helmets became more widespread in availability and usage and are not used to wearing them. These two age segments should be the focus of future helmet promotional programs."

Programs that would encourage helmet use, not enforce it.

Before the legislation in Nova Scotia came into effect this season, Wilson says there was about 85 per cent voluntary helmet wear.

Speaking personally, and not as a director of Ski Wentworth, he questions the value of making the law, even though a helmet saved his skull this season.

The expense of introducing the legislation and policing it on an annual basis — an expense borne by the province of Nova Scotia — could perhaps be put to better use, Wilson suggests, if saving people from brain injuries is the ultimate goal.

With such a high rate of helmet use already, money could be spent, instead, he says, on policing the late night crowds coming out of the bars in Halifax for example.

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