Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

So much stupidity, so little time

I began skiing (gack!) 59 years ago. Yes there was skiing. No, you didn't have to carve your own equipment out of a clump of birches. There were proper ski areas (gee, six or eight in all of NH) and numbers of joint-challenging local rope tows. There was only a little snow-making, no interstate highways, and a very limited number of safety procedures. (I still remember an accident involving a brain pan and a broken bamboo ski pole with which I shall not darken the light of day.) There were maybe half a dozen TV stations in all of New England. Most of southern NH could receive Boston TV, but Boston TV weather ended below the state line.

Back then, prospective skiers had some excuse for not understanding that, on average, places with high elevation get more snow than places with low elevation. Absent much in the way of snow-making, they had some small reason for tying their own urban snowfall (or its absence) to the likelihood of snow in their favourite ski area.

Today, there are scores of ski areas, all with snow-making. There are dozens of sources of electronic communication prepared to give skiers hour-by hour conditions anywhere in the world, never mind New England. I-93 can take you from metro Boston deep into the White Mountains in less time than it took to get from Boston to Manchester in 1953. Thus, any skier who judges their prospects of snow by conditions in their urban backyard is a blithering idiot.

In days of yore, we were taught to have considerable care for our personal safety, because most of the adult skiers around us had gory first-person stories to share. Few of us exited our teens without minor injury. Then there were those ill-disguised spots of pink snow where some of the casualties had happened. These influences made one thoughtful. The late ski pioneer and author Newt Tolman once wrote that, since the 1920s, each improvement in skiing technology had led to fewer broken skis and more broken skiers.

The helmet is a new arrival in recreational downhill skiing. Somehow, the learning curve on the limits of helmet use seems to be much slower for skiers than it has been for cyclists. Despite all the evidence offered by years of "agony of defeat" footage, all the international skiers carried off the slopes held together by their clothes, I suspect that far too many skiers have fallen into a false assumption that ski helmets confer invulnerability and immortality. Bike helmets reduce the likelihood of traumatic brain injury at all skill levels. Ski helmets can do the same. Consider, though, that even a novice skier can easily reach speeds three times the average speed of professional cyclists, on surfaces just as damaging as pavement. If helmets encourage skiers in the deadliest skier behaviour--skiing above one's ability--then they become part of the problem, not the solution.

Over the past two years, a depressing number of ski fatalities have included the words "...was wearing a helmet...ran into a tree." Once upon a time, running into a tree was considered prima facie evidence that the victim was skiing above his/her ability.

Helmets have instructions. Those of us who have written documentation know how futile it can be to get people to read the fuckin' manual. Possibly we need documentation aimed not at those who wear the helmets, but on those who sell or rent them, many of whom are below the age of optimum brain development.

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Blogger massmarrier said...

Loving, "carried off the slopes held together by their clothes"

12:06 pm  
Blogger Uncle said...

Taking a bow.

11:46 pm  

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