Fatalities on ski slopes are rareFatalities on ski slopes always make the news, perhaps in part because they are so uncommon.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Fatalities on ski slopes always make the news, perhaps in part because they are so uncommon.
The Minnesota Department of Health recorded just four skiing or snowboarding fatalities from 2006 through 2011, two of which were at Spirit Mountain. The other two actually resulted from accidents outside of the state — at Trollhaugen Resort in Wisconsin and at Big Powderhorn Mountain in Michigan. Head injuries were cited as the primary cause of death in three of those accidents; the fourth was attributed to multiple injuries.
From 2000 through 2012, the Health Department recorded 1,972 skiing and snowboarding injuries in the state, from 117 in 2004 to 215 in 2012. Of those, 568 — 29 percent — were traumatic brain injuries.
Nationally, an average of 41.5 people have died skiing or snowboarding during each of the past 10 years, according to the National Ski Areas Association, a trade group. During the 2011-12 season, there were 54 fatalities out of 51 million skier and snowboarder days. (If one skier hit the slopes on 15 different days, that would count as 15 skier days.) In 36 of the fatalities, the skier or snowboarder was wearing a helmet.
Other activities produce far higher fatality counts. National Safety Council data pointed out that in 2009, for example, 800 people died while bicycle riding and 2,400 drowned while swimming in public areas.
Although the risk of serious injury while skiing or snowboarding may be relatively low, wearing a helmet is seen as one way to reduce that risk. It’s almost universally required in competitive skiing and snowboarding these days, and it’s the norm among the majority of those who ski or snowboard recreationally.
“I remember back when it just was not cool to wear a helmet,” said Michael Aguirre, the father of
Duluth-raised professional snowboarders Mason and Molly Aguirre. “Now it’s uncool if you don’t wear one.”
The National Ski Areas Association keeps track of helmet use in an annual demographic study. It reports that 67 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets during the 2011-12 season, up from 25 percent just nine years earlier. Usage rates are higher among the youngest and oldest participants — 91 percent of children 9 and younger, 81 percent among 10- to 14-year-olds; and 78 percent of adults 65 and older.
Sales of helmets have grown from less than 300,000 in 1998-99 to just under 1.2 million in 2011-12, according to SnowSports Industries America, another trade group.
The Ski Hut in Duluth didn’t have a helmet section 15 years ago, said its owner, Scott Neustel. Now it has helmet sections in both of its stores, including 500 square feet at Ski Hut East.
Those trends have been reflected at ski slopes in the Northland.
“If you look in the lift line, it is rare to see people without helmets,” said Thom Storm, the face of Chester Bowl skiing since 1975. “Ten years ago, I don’t even know if 50 percent wore helmets.”