Young people are not required to wear helmets when skiing or snowboarding on New York slopes. A bill that would require children 14 and under to do so was recently passed by the state Senate, but has failed to move in the Assembly.
About 4 million people visit New York ski areas annually, many of them children. The Ski Safety Bill requires all skiers under 14 to wear a helmet or be fined. It also requires ski areas to have helmets available for sale or rent and to post signs advising customers the helmets are available. Ski centers must maintain a reasonable inventory and all lift tickets must note that skiing and snowboarding by children under 14 without a helmet is prohibited.
New York state Senator Betty Little, a Republican from the 45th district, sponsored the bill. She acknowledges that most people, including children, already wear helmets. “This bill actually is modeled after the bicycle helmet bill. And the idea is really that there is a law that will help parents for kids that don't want to wear a helmet. And the ski areas they will warn people. They will have signs that this is that way to ski and is safer. But the onus is really on the parents to make sure that their kids are wearing a ski helmet.”
While the ability of helmets to prevent severe head injuries is under debate, Little says mandating use could reduce potential injuries or their severity. “In an accident you could break your neck. You could have a chest injury. There are many other ways. So the helmet isn't going to prevent everything and anything from happening to you. That is certainly one easy precaution for head injuries or for concussions. And it’s the same with bicycle helmets. You can still have a severe injury in a bicycle accident but the helmet may help you from having a concussion or a serious head injury.”
This is not the first time Senator Little has attempted to pass the ski safety bill. This year, the Ski Areas of New York not only supported, but helped write, the legislation. President Scott Brandi notes that there is a national “Lids on Kids” effort to promote the voluntary use of helmets. “Our focus as an industry has been to educate and promote the use of helmets. And we have been incredibly successful over the last decade to the point where approximately 90 percent of children under ten years old are wearing helmets. You know it's interesting it's the older skier that I think resists helmet use more than the younger skier. The younger skiers are raised wearing helmets.”
While Brandi believes state legislation mandating helmet use really isn’t needed, the organization helped craft what he feels is a model bill that is acceptable to the ski industry. “Liability insurance in the ski industry has been a major issue. And as a result you know we're afraid that if we’re required to enforce that if we miss something, we’re not staffed for it, if something slips by, we have a huge liability issue. So that's why we crafted our bill. You know we'd be very happy if the Assembly passed it. We’d embrace it. There are some requirements for the ski industry to post signs, to provide how much for sale and for rent and to educate, things we're doing already. And there’s requirements on the parents to make sure that their fourteen and under child is wearing a helmet. So we'd be happy if that passed and we’d be happy to put this issue to rest once and for all.”