University of Vermont

University Communications

National Ski Patrol Partners with VT Helmet Safety Program

Release Date: 12-04-2009

Author: Jennifer Nachbur
Email: Jennifer.Nachbur@uvm.edu
Phone: 802/656-7875 Fax: 802-656-3961

(This article was adapted from a news release by Michael Carrese, Fletcher Allen Marketing and Communications)

The National Ski Patrol Association (NSP) and PHAT, a ski helmet advocacy program directed by University of Vermont/Fletcher Allen pediatric anesthesiologist Robert Williams, M.D., have formed a partnership to promote increased use of helmets at the nation's ski areas. NSP will assist PHAT (Protect your Head at All Times) with distributing information explaining the benefits of ski helmets around the nation, and will include information about PHAT on its website. The Burlington Free Press features a front-page story on this alliance in its December 4 edition.

A study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that nearly 8,000 head injuries each year could be prevented if all skiers and snowboarders wore helmets. Currently supported by Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care, the PHAT campaign was launched in 2002 by Williams and piloted at Smugglers' Notch Resort in Jeffersonville, Vt. PHAT takes a no-pressure approach to increasing helmet use by encouraging ski areas to make sure all images of skiers depict them wearing helmets; distributing posters and stickers designed to appeal to young skiers and boarders; urging ski areas to mandate helmet use for employees; and using informational booths and drawings for helmets to attract attention to the issue.

"In just a few years, PHAT has created an effective, non-coercive program to increase usage of ski helmets and raised the visibility of the issue across the nation," says Tim White, executive director of NSP. "We're very pleased to be partnering with PHAT to help skiers and snowboarders of all ages have a safer experience on the slopes."

"I can't overstate the importance of the National Ski Patrol's help with this initiative," says Williams. "Our program is based on the use of role models, and research shows the public recognizes ski patrollers as leaders in both skiing ability and safety. Their example will help change the culture at ski resorts and establish the use of ski helmets as the norm."

In Vermont where its efforts have been concentrated, the PHAT program has proven effective at ski areas. For example, at Smugglers' Notch Resort, helmet use rates were approximately twice the national average for the 2007-2008 season.**

"In the past several years, the medical literature has made it very clear that helmets are effective in reducing the chance of a head injury while skiing or snowboarding," says Williams. "They certainly won't prevent all head injuries, but the time has come for all skiers and riders to wear a helmet every time they hit the slopes."

**A study released in 2008 by Williams and colleagues at the University of Vermont shows that more than 80 percent of children (under 18) are now in helmets at Smugglers' Notch, up from 60 percent in the 2002-2003 season when PHAT started its program. Helmet use by adults at Smugglers' Notch has nearly doubled, with almost 60 percent of adult skiers and riders now using helmets, up from 30 percent on the 2002-2003 season. The study, based on more than 30,000 observations of skiers and riders over four winters at the resort, shows that among children (under 18), female snowboarders are the least likely to wear a helmet while male skiers are the most likely to wear a helmet.

The National Ski Patrol is a Federally Chartered nonprofit membership association dedicated to serving the public and the mountain recreation industry. For more than 70 years, the NSP has been at the forefront of safety and emergency care education programs. The association's 27,000 members represent 98 percent of the nation's patrollers. For more information, visit www.nsp.org.