The parent company for Whistler Blackcomb (WB) is stepping up its efforts increase helmet use among skiers and snowboarders, both by recommending their use by all mountain users and by requiring that helmets be worn by non-adult ski and snowboard school participants.
The new measures, announced on Thursday (Oct. 1) by Intrawest, apply to all nine of the company's North American resorts, including WB. One of those resorts is Mont Tremblant in Quebec, where actress Natasha Richardson was skiing when she fell and suffered a head injury, then died a few days later of a blood clot in her brain. She was not wearing a helmet at the time of the fall.
The new rules stop short of the measure taken by Vail Resorts Ltd. in April, when the company announced it would require all ski resort employees to wear helmets when out on the mountains beginning with the 2009-'10 season.
In July, WB officials announced that they were requiring helmet use by all instructors of children's and youth ski-school programs. The new measures adopted by Intrawest take that one step further, requiring that all participants in both children's (age three to 12) and youth (13 to 17) ski-school classes wear helmets. They also do away with an opt-out clause that had been in place for the parents of children in ski-school programs.
Now, helmets will be required for all children and youths in ski schools - no exceptions.
Beginning in 2010-'11, all Intrawest employees will be required to wear helmets when skiing or riding in any of the mountains' freestyle terrain parks.
In addition to recommending that everyone skiing or riding on the mountains wear a helmet, Intrawest is changing its promotional materials - including brochures, advertisements and web pages - to feature images of skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets.
What's more, all ski and snowboard rental packages for children and youths at Intrawest-owned rental shops will include helmets, Intrawest officials said.
Dave Brownlie, WB president and chief operating officer, on Thursday said the thrust of the new education measures is the promotion of helmet use and safety first.
"The move to require instructors to wear the helmets is about setting an example," Brownlie told The Question. "Previously we had adopted that stance, and now Intrawest-wide, we're moving to that standard."
Helmet-use advocates have called on the industry to make helmet use mandatory for all, specifically urging Whistler Blackcomb, as one of the world's most successful resorts and host resort for the 2010 Winter Olympics, to take on a leadership role and make helmets mandatory for all. To this point, though, industry officials have resisted those efforts, saying customers should have the choice.
Brownlie said that over the past few months, discussions among officials with groups such as the Canada Ski Council and the Canada West Ski Areas Association have been moving the industry toward greater promotion of helmet use.
"There's not only been an ongoing discussion within Intrawest, but also within the industry. We just think it's time that we took more of a leadership role," Brownlie said. "There are way more people out there wearing helmets than there were 10 or even five years ago, understanding the benefits of wearing helmets and wearing them. So this is a natural next step."
He added, "The reality is that the primary safety consideration for individuals is to ski and ride in a responsible manner. Quite frankly, if we can get people doing that, then everyone will be a lot safer when they're out there on the slopes."