NEW YORK — Helmets, one of the fastest growth areas in the snowsports industry, have moved over the hump and are no longer considered too niche or dorky for the masses. Safety is the driving reason to wear them, of course, but improved styling and comfort may be what make them a no-brainer.
“In the last couple of years, you see a big movement toward helmets — it just makes sense,” says Ted Ligety, the U.S. Olympic skier who has been sporting a bright orange helmet in Vancouver. “I started wearing a helmet when I was 4 years old. I feel super naked if I’m not wearing a helmet. My parents did a good job engraining it in my head.”
Wearing helmets for recreational skiing and snowboarding often starts with the kids, and then parents — who find it easier to practice what they preach than incite a meltdown — find they’re comfortable, warm and sometimes wired for cell phones and iPods.
Snowmass and Aspen Mountain, both in Colorado, instituted a policy in 2001 that all children 12 and under in its ski-school programs must wear helmets. Once kids get used to them, they’re likely to keep wearing them as adults, says Jeff Hanle, director of public relations for the mountains. The helmets are as much a part of their gear as boots or a parka.
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Skicrosser Casey Puckett feels like not wearing one actually draws unwanted attention.
“I never used to wear one when I was younger. Ski helmets just weren’t really a consideration. But probably in the last five to 10 years, helmets have made a real push onto the scene to the point where it’s almost like you look strange if you just go out with a hat or something,” Puckett says.
Of course, high-profile accidents, such as actress Natasha Richardson’s death last year of a head injury sustained while skiing without a helmet, also raise awareness of helmet use.
Hanle says he doesn’t expect helmet use to reach 100 percent unless they’re made mandatory, but the numbers should continue to rise.
According to the trade group SnowSports Industries America 656,523, valued at $11 million, were sold through December, representing unit sales up 29 percent over the previous season.
Some Olympic skiers, including U.S. medalist Julia Mancuso and the entire Swedish team, are wearing Poc helmets. “There’s a trend in society toward anything to do with safety and health and that drives helmets as well,” says company founder and CEO Stefan Ytterborn.
Alpine skier Stacey Cook said she learned to wear a helmet the hard way: sustaining several concussions. “I think it’s a very valuable thing not only for me but for other people out on the ski hill to protect that noggin,” she says.