WB against mandatory helmet use

Province not considering legislation; awareness should be focus: McIntyre

Whistler Blackcomb (WB) does not think helmets should be mandatory on the ski hill, despite a call from the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) to do just that.

In a recent call to action, the CPS is requesting that all levels of government get behind its proposal to see helmets made mandatory for skiers and snowboarders across Canada. But Doug Forseth, WB's vice president of planning, government relations and special projects, disagrees.

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"I don't think we would support that at all, nor do we think the ski industry should support that," said Forseth, noting that the call seems to follow on the recent legislation in Nova Scotia making helmets mandatory in that province.

"But they're the only one in North America that has such a law, and we think the optional helmet use that we have in place now and our education efforts towards helmet use is working."

According to Forseth, raising awareness and leaving the final option up to skiers and riders has shown that with education, people will end up wearing helmets.

"We started keeping stats on helmet use about eight or nine years ago," he recalled. "At that time around 22 per cent of riders and skiers were wearing helmets. Last year at the end of the season that number was up to 75 per cent nationwide."

Additionally, Forseth said that 91 per cent of children under 10 were wearing helmets, as were 96 per cent of those between 10 and 14.

WB currently requires all ski school students under 19 to wear helmets, as well as instructors.

But the CPS recommends sweeping legislation, claiming that helmet use reduces the risk of head injury by 35 per cent and that the overall benefit would be a boon to the industry.

"Despite strong evidence that helmets prevent injuries, many still ski and snowboard without them," said Dr. Natalie Yanchar, chair of the CPS Injury Prevention Committee in a statement. "Through mandatory helmet legislation, governments can send a strong message that helmets are important and reduce the risk of brain injury, disability and death."

However, it doesn't appear that provincial officials in B.C. are currently considering such a proposal, as the Sea to Sky's MLA Joan McIntyre said the issue is currently not on the Province's agenda.

"We're not looking at making it mandatory at this time," said McIntyre. "Personally, I support everyone wearing a helmet, but I think awareness should be the focus and I think the hill operators are taking that on themselves."

Where the real problem lies, said Forseth, is that helmets aren't the end-all solution to head injuries on the mountain.

"When we look at industry studies that show use of helmets, people who are using helmets actually ski and ride a little bit faster - there's a false sense of security," said Forseth. "But with collisions with helmets, it's only with low speed collisions that you're going to get a lot of protection.

"Helmets, as we know today, only really give you protection up to 22.5 kilometres an hour. Anything over that, you might have some protection, but you're not going to have full protection."

According to studies looked at by WB, riders wearing helmets generally ride at 45 km/hour, and those without at around 40 km.

"In both cases it was much faster than what a helmet gives you protection on," said Forseth. "There were four fatalities in Canada during the '09-'10 season and all four people were wearing helmets when they died."

And while the safety issue may be up for debate, Forseth said there other realities to consider.

"Last year, 32 per cent of skiers that came to British Columbia ski areas were from outside of the country," explained Forseth. "They're not Canadians and many of the jurisdictions they come from don't have mandatory laws. So when they choose to come to British Columbia, if they know there's a law they very well may not come.

"I don't think it will take long for the word to get out, 'Just don't go to British Columbia, it's a hassle.'"

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