Helmets Catch on Among Skiers, Snowboarders

By KYLE ODEGARD | March 4, 2013

When Aymee Kuhlman was growing up, nobody wore helmets while out skiing.

But the Corvallis resident makes sure her kids wear head protection on the slopes.

“I’d feel horrible if something happened and it could have been prevented,” said Kuhlman, as she and her family prepared to go snowboarding at Hoodoo Ski Area on a recent Saturday.

The thinking on helmets at ski resorts has changed dramatically in the last decade.

According to a study by the National Ski Areas Association, 67 percent of skiers and snowboarders nationwide now wear helmets, up from just 25 percent in the winter of 2002-2003.

Bob Hortsch of Salem said this is the second year he has worn a helmet.

“There’s no place that I won’t ski, so I’m thinking at my age, it might be wiser,” Hortsch said.

“I’ve had some wipeouts, and some have wrung my bell,” he added. Plus, a helmet actually is warmer than a stocking cap, Hortsch said.

Gary Geist, 46, of Portland, said he started wearing a helmet in 1998 because he knows he likes to ski fast and hard.

Even with the helmet, he’s had a concussion.

“I don’t know what would have happened without my helmet,” Geist said, near the top of the Green chairlift at Hoodoo.

His three children, ages 6-13, haven’t ever skied without helmets.

Nicole Springer, 22, of Corvallis, who works at the Hoodoo rental shop, estimated that at least 50 percent of visitors there wear helmets.

She also wears a helmet, as she’s suffered a concussion on the slopes while skiing.

But skiers and snowboarders have to bring their own helmets at Hoodoo, or be prepared to buy one from the resort store. They aren’t offered for rent at Hoodoo’s rental shop.

More than 130,000 people nationwide were interviewed in the National Ski Areas Association study.

Among its findings were that nearly 80 percent of children 17 and younger now wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding. However, of those 18-24, only 53 percent wore helmets.

Jim Kuhlman, Aymee Kuhlman’s husband, wasn’t convinced about helmets.

“If you’re going head first into a tree, you shouldn’t be out here to begin with,” he said.

And he wondered what the chances of somebody being saved by a helmet actually were.

Noel Timmerman, 63, of Sisters, has spent 40 years on ski patrol, so he had a pretty good guess.

“I would say 10 percent of our crashes, a helmet would do good,” Timmerman said.

Those are mainly high- speed, cringe-worthy spills, he added. But not always.

“Everybody should have a helmet,” Timmerman said.

Kent Druckenmiller, ski technician at Peak Sports in Corvallis, said winter sports helmets are a constant seller at his shop.

Helmets cost anywhere from around $50 for kids models to nearly $200 for high-tech adult lids with plenty of venting and even headphones in the earflaps.

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