WESC returns to AK, CA nixes helmet law…

What a day it’s been for free will and liberty in the good ol’ US of A. First, Ski Area Management reports that California “Guvah-nator” Schwarzenegger will veto the state’s pending ski and snowboard helmet law, and now Powdermag.com reports that the World Extreme Ski Championships will be returning to their rightful home in AK in 2011! What next, replacing the white stars with Red Bull cans on the stars and stripes? Ya betcha, by golly!

I am not sure how many skiers wear helmets in California on a percentage basis; or if the average skier/boarder is more competent than in Canada or not (out of control skiers or riders shouldn’t have accidents, I would think…). But I do know that ski resorts do not likely need another – literal – headache when it comes to enforcement, rules, waivers, and the other layer of bureaucracy that helmet laws would bring to the sport. Oh, and of course the added COST that it would bring to a lift ticket.

For the longest time, I never really saw skiing or snowboarding as ‘helmet sports’, though I started wearing one when they first came out in the early 90s. Ironically, if I feel around the contours of my scalp I can still feel the scar from a head injury sustained while skiing at Jay Peak in Vermont in the 1970s. Of course, no one wore helmets in those days, but we all skied with runaway straps. I was skiing some heavy, rain sodden glop, dug in a tip, catapulted through the air, and had a windmilling ski smack me in the back of the head. I wasn’t knocked out, but it bled like crazy and marked the first – and only – time I’ve ever been in a ski patrol toboggans. “Progress” in the way of ski brakes killed the inconvenient runaway strap. Helmets, by contrast, are here to stay and most skiers and riders are probably better off for it.

On cold days, I usually don a helmet. On warm spring days, I like to go toque-less. I never wear one if I’m backcountry skiing, and seldom ever don one in the alpine. I have never felt ‘invincible’ because I’ve put on a helmet, but don’t feel particularly vulnerable if I don’t wear one. Contrast this to riding a bicycle in traffic, where I wouldn’t even think of riding without a helmet. Let’s face it, there’s a lot more space (and snow – even the packed stuff – is generally softer than car bumpers and concrete. Interestingly, full face helmets have never caught on with skiers like they have with freeride DH mountain bikers; where theyweight outnumber bucket style lids in the various bike parks around the country.

Some of it’s safety, but a lot of it I think is fashion. Park rats ride with toques and headphones jammed underneath their lids, and my son ‘replaces’ his lid every other year or so.

Now, if you check out this pic of Doug Coombs slashing his way across a steep AK face, you’ll see he’s not wearing a lid. I would bet, though, that almost two decades after this pic was taken, that everyone who participates in WESC 2011 will be wearing a lid. In fact – and here’s an odd twist – the organizers will likely insist upon it.

As event organizer/FREESKIER publisher Christopher Perata says, “This is the only place in the United States we have that is uncontrolled. People can get out there and they can do whatever line they want to do depending on their ability levels,” Perata said.

Lidless or helmeted, maybe event organizers will extend a special invite to Arnold to come up and check it out… I bet he wears one when he vacations at Sun Valley.


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