January 24, 2011


Skiers unsure on need for helmet law

Most say safety is up to individual but agree on need to be safe on slopes

LawJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Maureen Bruce and her son Dan, 15, gear up to go skiing and snowboarding at Labrador Mountain Saturday. The Utica area family all received helmets for Christmas.

Staff Reporter

A proposed ski helmet law was not popular at Labrador Mountain and Greek Peak Ski Resort Saturday, where many skiers wore helmets but few supported the idea of making it a law.
“I believe in individual accountability and the freedom to make the decision on your own,” said Frank Nicklaus of Ithaca as he removed his Telemark skis at the bottom of a slope at Greek Peak Saturday afternoon.
Telemark skis allow the skier’s heels to lift off the ski binding, providing an alternative to the traditional alpine skiing where the whole foot is bound onto the ski.
Nicklaus, an experienced skier, said he started wearing a helmet eight years ago after witnessing a fatal accident on the slopes. He has not skied without a helmet since.
The proposed legislation was re-introduced by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) Tuesday, following the death of a Long Island teenager last weekend at Windham Mountain in the Catskills. The bill was first introduced in 1998 and recently reintroduced since it was never enacted.
According to reports, 18-year-old Erin Malloy-McArdle was killed Jan. 16 when she lost control and crashed into a tree near a trail.
The bill would require all skiers to wear helmets when skiing in the state.
A few yards away from Nicklaus, beginner Valerie George of New Jersey prepared to follow her three children onto the slopes and none of the group wore helmets.
George, who is just learning how to ski, said since she is not doing anything risky, she does not wear a helmet. However, two friends she came with wear helmets, she said.
“This is the only time I’ll ski all year long,” George said, adding she would not support a law requiring everyone to wear a helmet because of the extra cost.
Cortland skier Mark Yacavone said he has a helmet and would support a law, although he was not wearing his Saturday at Labrador Mountain in Truxton because he does not find it very comfortable.
Yacavone and many other skiers said on a very cold day a helmet provides warmth and comfort as well as safety.
“A law would make me wear it,” Yacavone said of the helmet he had left at home for the day.
Yacavone thinks all parents teaching children how to ski should make their children wear helmets.
Inside the lodge at Labrador, New York Mills resident Maureen Bruce prepared her ski gear which included a helmet. Bruce, who was skiing with her 15-year-old snowboarding son Dan and two other children, said the entire family would wear helmets but she could not say she supported a law.
“I feel in favor of it but there are so many laws, it’s hard to say how strongly I feel about it,” Bruce said.
Some younger skiers involved in a skiing competition at Labrador Saturday seemed to ardently support the proposed law.
“It’s a really good idea. While deaths are not common (in this sport) they happen enough,” said Syracuse native Claire DiCosimo who was skiing for University at Albany with her friend Ali Grzyb, of Bolton Landing.
Both girls wore helmets, saying the protection is mandatory when racing.
Tony Borick of Manlius, who has been skiing for 30 years and does not wear a helmet, said he does not support the law.
“No way. I think it is everybody’s option what they want to do,” Borick said Saturday as he removed his ski gear in a locker room at Labrador.
Ithaca resident Josh Fonner, who finished a ski run at Labrador Saturday, felt similarly.
“Do we have to legislate everything?,” Fonner said.
As a lifetime skier who also races, Fonner said he wears a helmet when doing challenging runs but otherwise does not.
“Ski within your ability and be aware of your ability,” Fonner said, echoing the sentiment of many skiers who said safety is within the control of every skier.
National Ski Patrol member Brian Luton was chief of the hill Saturday at Labrador.
Luton said the patrol constantly deals with a fair amount of injuries, though many are knee and wrist injuries in addition to scalp lacerations and concussions.
Luton said he does not think resorts should have to enforce any law that might come about.
Luton is ambivalent about the proposed legislation.
“I would like to think the state wouldn’t have to play a role,” he said. “At the same time, I think helmet usage is a good thing.”
With all the obstacles on the slopes such as skis and poles that can pop off, trees and other skiers, helmets are a good safety measure, Luton said.
Ortiz’ bill would require ski resorts to make helmets available for rental and purchase as well as provide information regarding possible injuries from ski accidents.
Both Labrador and Greek Peak provide helmet rentals.
Ortiz is trying to pass the bill, A1059, during the 2011 legislative session. The bill had a Senate sponsor last year but does not have one yet this year.


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