Schenectady County

Helmet plan irks ski operators

Brooklyn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz should have given the state’s ski industry more than a heads up bef

Brooklyn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz should have given the state’s ski industry more than a heads up before he formulated what an industry spokesman said is a flawed helmet bill.

The Brooklyn Democrat presented his proposal last week, just weeks after he presented legislation that would ban salt in restaurants and impose a $10,000 fine for violators.

“We’re not policemen; it’s not Disneyland…it’s an athletic, participatory sport,” said Scott Brandi, president of the state’s industry organization, Ski Areas of New York Inc.

The Ortiz bill would impose enforcement on ski area operators, who would be subject to fines if skiers were caught without helmets.

“We’re terrified that this bill could be passed as written,” said Tim Woods, president and general manager of Windham Mountain in Greene County. A third violation would close down the area, he noted.

Compelling ski areas to enforce such a law, Brandi said, would drive up insurance costs while also burdening operators with hiring additional employees. “It would put some of areas out of business,” he said.

Woods said Windham has 750 acres but has only 250 developed as skiable terrain. Under such a law, the entire property would have to be supervised. “To place the onus of enforcement on the area would be incredibly problematic and leave us exposed,” Woods said.

Brandi said his organization, which represents 35 of the state’s 48 ski areas, advocates the use of helmets. But, if Ortiz had consulted Ski Areas of New York before composing the legislation he might have produced what Brandi termed “a workable bill.”

Ortiz, Brandi said, “never asked for our opinion…what makes sense.” As it stands, the bill is flawed, containing unenforceable and troublesome provisions including a restriction forbidding anyone to enter a ski area without a helmet. Many areas operate restaurants that also cater to non-skiers, Brandi said.

Brandi said a “workable bill” would be modeled after the bicycle law requiring helmet use by children under 14 and leaving responsibility with participants.

The bill would also require ski areas to supply helmets. He said many already do, making them available to rent or purchase.

Woods said he concurs with Brandi that the bicycle helmet law is the model for the ski industry. It places responsibility on families.

Increasingly, Brandi said, skiers are wearing helmets. Helmet use has grown from 25 percent in 2002 to 48 percent in the 2008-09 season, he said.

Brandi said state lawmakers have to consider the importance of the New York ski industry, which contributes an estimated $1.1 billion to the economy while employing about 17,000 people.

With a national average of 39 deaths per year among about 60 million skier visits, Brandi argues the sport is safer than most endeavors.

Under the Ortiz bill, ski areas would be fined $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second infraction and would face suspension of their operations for repeat offenses.

Even before the two legislative proposals offered this month, Ortiz was well known for suggesting that school children be graded on their weights, that a tax be placed on junk food, video games and commercial that promote junk food and that exotic dancers be licensed and taxed.

Critics of the tax on exotic dancers referred to it facetiously as the “pole tax.”

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