Starting in November 2012, Nova Scotians heading out to the slopes could be fined $250 if they show up without a helmet.
The Province of Nova Scotia tabled the Snowsport Helmet Act on Tuesday, Dec. 6. If approved they will have the toughest helmet laws of any jurisdiction in Canada.
"Many Nova Scotians enjoy activities like skiing and snowboarding to stay active over the winter months, but these are activities that should be enjoyed safely," stated Marueen MacDonald, the minister of health and wellness. "Wearing a helmet greatly reduces the risk of suffering a traumatic brain injury and could be the one thing on the hill that saves a life."
According to her ministry, there have been 11 traumatic brain injuries related to skiing and snowboarding without a helmet since 2000.
It's unknown if the new legislation will have any impact on snow resorts in Nova Scotia. According to an article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, the manager of Martock Ski Resort said that 88 per cent of skiers and snowboarders in the province were already wearing helmets.
Under the legislation, anyone over the age of 16 can be fined if they are caught without a helmet, and parents and guardians are responsible for younger skiers and riders. Ski hill operators are responsible for posting signs to ensure that their customers are aware of mandatory helmet use.
The only other jurisdiction that has considered mandatory helmet use was Quebec following the death of actress Natasha Richardson after she sustained a head injury while skiing at Mont Tremblant. However, the proposed helmet law failed after strong opposition from the ski industry.
Helmet advocate Richard Kinar, a former freestyle skier and ski patroller based in Whistler, has mixed feelings about the new legislation. On one hand he believes that it is a positive change and that other provinces will follow suit, but he's personally always favoured education and awareness campaigns over legislation. As well, there are no national helmet standards in Canada, with the result that many helmets being sold offer little protection.
"What really strikes me as being disappointing for B.C. in particular is that we've been dealing with this helmet issue for quite some time," said Kinar. "We've tried to avoid obligatory helmet use, and we were really hoping that education would be effective when it came to changing attitudes towards preventable injuries and that people would be making better decisions for their own health rather than through mandatory laws.
"But in B.C. the ski industry hasn't even taken the responsibility as far as mandating that their own staff wear helmets."
Because of the reluctance of resorts to mandate helmet use, Kinar said it might come down to a political mandate in B.C. as it did in Nova Scotia — something that the ski resorts want to avoid.
Kinar said he expects it's only a matter of time before other provinces follow Nova Scotia's lead, driven by a mix of liability issues, health care costs and injury prevention strategies.
Whistler Blackcomb does mandate helmet use for some staff, including all ski and snowboard instructors. As well, as of last year they require helmets for all ski and snowboard events, and offer helmets to customers at rental stores. Their official position in the past has been that helmets are recommended, although they've been cautious out of a concern that people may have a false sense of security as a result of wearing helmets and ski or snowboard too fast or beyond their abilities.
As for the lack of standards for ski and snowboard helmets, it's not for a lack of trying. Kinar has been lobbying for national standards for more than five years and was instrumental in the creation of a Canadian Standards Association standard — though without legislation it's still an optional standard for manufacturers and at this point it's not being used.