Helmet-makers offer protection from lawsuits for rental shops | SummitDaily.com

Helmet-makers offer protection from lawsuits for rental shops

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Burton Snowboards is joining other manufacturers of helmets in offering to protect and defend rental shops from lawsuits resulting from accidents on the slopes.

But many local rental shop technicians and rental clerks are unaware of such indemnification programs, and, further, one buyer said the programs aren’t likely to have much of an impact.

Recognizing the growing image and attraction of the “extreme” aspect of snowsports, most Colorado resorts now require children in ski and snowboard schools to wear helmets. Helmets are also increasingly asked-for accessories, rental shop workers said this week.

Sam Paschel, senior business director for Red Helmets, Burton Snowboards’ line of head protection, said the company developed the program to complement its youth retention programs and make renting helmets easier in places where helmets are required.

Under Red’s program, rental shop workers are trained to visually inspect helmets for damage when they are returned to the store, how to properly size helmets on renters and other technical details. Burton then pays for the defense and judgments in certain lawsuits that might be filed in the event of accidents related to the helmets.

“We have this type of thing for our boards and bindings – they get pretty used and abused, and we want to make sure these types of things are still safe at the end of the month or the end of the season,” Paschel said. “To have a rental product and no policy or system where people are inspecting it didn’t make much sense.”

Boeri and Oboe are also developing similar programs with their helmets.

Indemnity programs probably won’t put more helmets on skiers and boarders in Summit County, though – that’s because rental shops are handing them out for free already. St. Anthony’s Central Hospital neurosurgeon Dr. Stewart Levy sponsors a helmet-promoting program that provides headgear to stores around the state, as long as stores put helmets on children without charge. Most stores provide helmets to adult renters, too.

With more technical gear in the industry – skis, boards and bindings – indemnification is a big deal. The pieces are designed by engineers and must conform to engineering standards. To allow shop techs to work on them, indemnification is necessary – no one would do the work if there was a danger of getting sued.

But with helmets, said Gordon Wade, a buyer for Christy Sports, there’s no engineering, no risk that needs indemnifying.

“It’s a fairly informal deal,” Wade said. “But I’m not sure that it will come of age, nor that it needs to.”

Wade added that most clerks and techs are already trained to inspect helmets and make sure they fit properly. Most waivers at rental shops also include language about the importance of helmet use.

But the bottom line, Wade said, is people want helmets. Most other rental shops contacted for this story agreed: You don’t have to push helmet use anymore. Wade also said that, even if someone hadn’t rented skis or a board from his store but still wanted a helmet, that person could rent one at no cost.

The growth of helmet use is a curious phenomenon. Ski patrols, resorts and associations such as the National Ski Areas Association promote the use of helmets, which many snowriders initially resisted, despite their widespread use in biking and motorcycles. Paschel said he likens the trend to the use of helmets in sports such as football and hockey.

“It’s sort of inevitable,” he said. “You look at hockey, and now you don’t see a player without one. In football, they went from no helmet, to leather helmets, to the kind they wear now. I think snowboarding and skiing will go the same way.”

Injuries still occur, despite widespread use of helmets in Summit County and elsewhere. A common reverse-psychology argument is that wearing a helmet adds to users’ bravado – making them more dangerous than when they weren’t wearing a helmet. Industry figures and retailers discounted that logic. Paschel pointed out that the same argument was offered when seat belts were first mandated in cars.

“And I’ve never had a person come in asking for a helmet because they wanted to go faster,” Wade said.

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