Starting this winter, Vail Resorts will require all employees and children younger than 12 who participate in resort lessons to wear helmets while skiing.

Vail Resorts include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly.

Helmets will be provided to every employee as part of the standard uniform, and helmets will be part of children’s rental packages and must be worn unless parents sign waivers.

The edict comes after 45-year-old actress Natasha Richardson died last month after suffering a ski accident head injury. She was not wearing a helmet.

Some industry analysts have no doubt that the high profile case that stirred debate about ski helmets prompted Vail’s decision.

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“Absolutely, even in such tragic accident there’s a silver lining – if there can be one – and that’s that it has raised awareness of the importance of wearing a helmet,’ said Dave Byrd, director of education for the Lakewood, Colo.-based National Ski Area Association.

But, John Garnsey, co president of Vail Resort’s Mountain Division, said the idea has been in the works for more than a year.

“Natasha Richardson’s death was certainly a timely tragedy, but this policy would have been implemented even if that hadn’t happened,” he said.

Garnsey said some employees readily accepted the policy, but that there was also some grumbling.

He said that he doubted there would ever be need for a policy to require all adult skiers to wear helmets.

“It’s an evolution of our sport,” he said. “Most people are seeing how important it is and have already decided to wear a helmet, but adults can make their own decisions about safety.”

Garnsey also said the decision to implement the policy did not come with out some financial consideration.

“We’ll be buying about 6,4,000 helmets,” he said. “So, it’s quite an investment. We’ll be working with a number of manufacturers to see who will give us the appropriate discount.”
2008/2009 NSAA helmet-related statistics:

39 – the average number of U.S. ski-related fatalities each year

43 percent – the number o U.S. skiers and boarders who wear helmets.
25 percent – the number of skiers who wore helmets in 2002.
70 percent – the number of children age 9 or younger who wear helmets
59 percent – the number of adults age 65 or older who wear helmets
32 percent – the number of skies aged 18 – 24 who wear helmets
20 percent – the number of cyclists who wear helmets, according to the National Traffic Safety Administration