VT Ski Death Renews Call for Helmet Use

Vermont resorts do not require helmets on the slopes, but they are strongly encouraged

The sudden death earlier this week of a Massachusetts father on a Vermont ski slope has renewed discussion of helmet use while skiing.

Vermont State Police said Jeffrey O’Connor, 39, of Hampden, wasn’t wearing a helmet Monday when he slid off a trail at Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen in Warren. He hit a tree and died from his injuries, according to police.

O’Connor was a married father of three, investigators noted.

The resort’s president, Win Smith, published a new blog post Thursday outlining a host of safety tips he would like to see skiers and riders employ on the mountain.

In that post, Smith wrote, “Our hearts go out to this family, and they will all be in our thoughts and prayers."

According to the National Ski Areas Association, in the 2015-2016 season, 39 people died at resorts nationally while skiing or snowboarding. That's out of nearly 53-million resort visits and is a number comparable to deaths from lightning strikes.

At the Middlebury College Snow Bowl in Hancock, ski patrol director Sean Gryzb pushes protection.

“I'd like to see everybody wearing a helmet,” Gryzb told necn. “It may be the difference between a mild concussion and no concussion.”

Vermont does not mandate helmet use, but the vast majority of skiers and riders in the state do choose to wear them, according to Ski Vermont.

That trade group said there has been a growing embrace of helmets in recent years, particularly by young people, as being both more fashionable and warmer than they once were.

Ski Vermont pointed out that helmets do have limitations, in that they may not save a life in a high-speed, head-on collision with a solid object.

However, Gryzb said helmets can be game changers in much more common simple falls or something like a glancing blow from a tree branch.

In 2013, the non-profit High Fives Foundation, which promotes injury prevention awareness, released a short film proclaiming "helmets are cool."

The film included a testimonial from pro snowboarder Danny Toumarkine. He suffered a major injury while riding, and said his situation might have been less serious had he been wearing a helmet when he suffered a bad fall.

“I think that I'm insanely lucky that I'm alive, sure,” Toumarkine said in the film, which was part of a series of pieces encouraging winter sports safety.

To watch the organization’s safety videos, visit their website.

Back at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, Sean Gryzb said he and the ski patrol hold fundraisers to help provide helmets free to local elementary schoolers who don't have them.

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