Helmet legislation lowers the boom on brain buckets

Helmet sales are already one of the hottest aspects of a very hot snowsports market. But legislation that proposes to make helmet usage mandatory could really put sales over the top. SNEWS has the insight.
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Mandatory helmet-use legislation is making headlines from California to New Jersey and New York. But the repercussions of these pending rules are leaving many in the industry scratching their heads.

“The manpower involved in enforcement is the key stumbling block,” Giro director of sales Bill Treacy told SNEWS at the SIA Snow Show in Denver. “Resorts don’t want the burden of enforcement. The difference between passing the law and enforcing it is pretty big.”

Owned by Easton Bell, also a manufacturer of motorsports and cycling helmets, Giro historically leaves such legislation to lawmakers. But Treacy adds that pre-season orders increased up to 40 percent this year, largely due to increased awareness.

Other companies are also happy to let grassroots promotions run their course. “We just want to make the idea of wearing them seem like the logical thing to do,” said Smith’s Greg Randolph. “We make helmets because we want people to wear them.”

Earlier this year, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger terminated a proposed mandatory state helmet law (Senate Bill 880) for young skiers and riders only because it dovetailed with a separate bill stipulating new guidelines for resort signage and safety plans. But the concept has his endorsement, especially since California law requires kids to wear helmets skateboarding and bicycling.

Introduced by Morris County doctor Norman San Agustin, whose daughter was killed in a skiing accident 22 years ago, a similar bill is pending in New Jersey. If passed, it will be the first mandate for ski helmet use in the United States. A bill was also introduced in New York last March by Brooklyn assemblyman Felix Ortiz. It proposes mandatory helmet use for all resort skiers and riders, with $500 fines for violators and a $1,500 fine for resorts.

Manufacturers agree that if such legislation attempts are successful it could lead to a spike in sales. But it would mean more red tape for resorts, and usage is inching upward anyway. The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) reports that usage has jumped to 57 percent in the past 10 years. More importantly, 87 percent of children, 9 and under, wear them and 75 percent of kids 10-14 wear them. Helmets also sold at a record level in 2009/10, up 20 percent. The category’s 1.2 million units represented 25 percent of all units sold in the entire accessory mix.

Combined with the threat of legislation, self-policing and promoting might be enough to tip the scales even further. “There’s a culture here that keeps reinforcing itself with increasing helmet use,” said POC USA president Jarka Duba. “It’s like wearing a seatbelt. If you’re in a crash, you’re always better off wearing one.”

More than any law, it’s that message that seems to be resonating with retailers and consumers. “We’d rather not see helmet use mandated,” said Smith’s Randolph. “We’re a mountain culture brand, and part of that is freedom and less rules.”

--Eugene Buchanan

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at pkray@snewsnet.com. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!

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