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Holy Helmets!

New Michigan law proposes skiers be required to pay $100 fine if caught without head protection.

Michigan skiers and snowboarders may be asked to pay a $100 fine if they choose to ski without protection on their noggin, according to a new law being proposed.

In December, 13-year-old Clare Dougherty died from a head injury incurred at Shanty Creek Resort in Michigan. A helmet may have prevented the tragedy, authorities say. Shortly after, Rep. Bob Constan proposed a new bill that makes helmets mandatory for skiers and snowboarders. With last week's Safety Awareness Week, many skiers, snowboarders and resorts across the country are discussing issue.

According to an intensive study on helmet use in skiing by the U.S. Product Safety Commission, approximately 44 percent of head injuries annually could be prevented or lessened with the use of a helmet. A common concern among skiers, however, is that a person will ski less cautiously with the sense of security provided by a helmet.

"I always wear one when I mountain bike, so it doesn't make sense not to wear one when I ski, skier Rob Jones said. "But I think sometimes (with a helmet) you don't worry as much about your head, so you have more confidence to ski other stuff.

Many resort managers think that helmet use should be a personal decision. Brian Lawson, the public relations director for Crystal Mountain in Michigan, said a helmet should not replace common safety practices on the hill.

"We think helmets are a personal and a parental decision. We certainly encourage all our skiers and snowboarders to wear helmets, Lawson said. "(However) it's a lot more important what's in your head than what's on your head. A helmet is definitely no substitute for good common sense and knowing the responsibility code on the slopes.

As helmet requirements become more common, resorts in places such as Colorado, Utah and California are formulating opinions on the subject.

"Sierra and Northstar take the approach that wearing a helmet is an individual decision, Sierra and Northstar-at-Tahoe's Public Relations Director Kirstin Cattell said. Cattell believes that a law of this sort would not affect skier visits, as well.

Some laws would propose mandatory helmets for children only. Thom Parks, vice president of corporate affairs for Bell Sports, a company that makes helmets, said, "Below a certain age, I think it is a good idea to have a requirement for headgear. However, Parks says that it should be a personal decision for adults. "Personally, I tend to be not so much in favor of laws for skiers and snowboarders. I strongly believe in the helmets. What I fear for skiers is any reduction in the sport itself, which is a great, healthy thing for people to get involved with.

While several states, including Michigan and New Hampshire, have proposed helmet laws for skiers, President Michael Berry of the National Ski Areas Association said, "No one has come up with a law that makes sense to skiers and boarders as well as owners and operators. Perhaps once this balance is attained, the ski and snowboard industry may see some changes in regulations for headgear.

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