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Park City-based business aims to make helmets prevalent, fashionable

Published February 14, 2012 4:12 pm

Safety • Even as Park City-based Pret sets out to make head protection fashionable, it is clear that helmets cannot be seen as panacea for injury.
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Park City • It may have taken a mother's demands to get him to start wearing a helmet while skiing, but Trevor Jackson quickly understood the value of protecting his head.

Today, after four years of competing as a slopestyle skier, the 19-year-old won't be seen on the mountain without a helmet.

"When I first started skiing, I didn't wear a helmet. It was my mom wanting to take care of me telling me I needed to wear a helmet," said Jackson, a student at the University of Utah. "When I started doing jumps and rails, I realized how useful it was. I had a few slams where I hit really, really hard. If I wasn't wearing a helmet, I know I would have had a concussion and some head damage."

Helmets are not just for hard-core terrain park junkies. Most people hitting the slopes or backcountry these days — with skis or snowboards — have a helmet on when heading downhill.

Cranking out a unique and different ski or parka might be a challenge after years of competitive production, but there seems to be plenty of room for new helmets on the market.

Officials from Pret helmets, a Park City-based company, recognized the growing demand for helmets and started forming plans to enter the fray. They did so last year in Europe and are now aiming for a North American launch this fall.

"There has been an increased awareness of the benefits of having a helmet, and there has been a new generation of helmets launched over the last couple of years," said Jay Burke, a spokesman for Pret. "We wanted to get in and really focus on the best safety features and give people some solid fashion choices infused with high performance."

Fashion and function are important because a skier or snowboarder has to be comfortable in a helmet to wear it when on the slopes or in the terrain park.

In other words, a helmet can be the safest model on the planet and it doesn't mean anything if it is left in car because it is too hot or looks dorky.

Pret helmets have passed both the European and North American safety standards, even though the ASTM standard for U.S. and Canada is not legally required and is only a recommended standard for ski helmets.

Terrain parks and halfpipes are often stocked with artificial snow, which can set harder than the real stuff and make for more intense landings. Rails, halfpipes and other trick launchers are, of course, unforgiving hard items that lift skiers or snowboarders to heights that can create some wicked falls.

So, while it seems that all the use of helmets would be reducing the number of concussions, at least one organization says the brain-jumbling injuries have increased in recent years.

"Generally, I would comment that the number of concussive injury I am seeing is significantly more than a year ago," said Melinda Roalstad with Think Head First in Park City.

As the co-founder of Think Head First, Roalstad should know. She served as the former medical director for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, where she clinically assessed Olympic-level athletes.

Think Head First — thinkheadfirst.com — has a program designed for the management of mild head injuries and helps individuals and organizations decide when it is appropriate to return to sports safely.

"Helmets definitely help in reducing severity, but they do not prevent concussions," Roalstad said.