I am late to the party and I'm okay with it.

Finally, from silence a whispering campaign came from all sides and I succumbed.

I heard it from my wife, friends, colleagues and complete strangers—the ones behind me in the lift lines, walking the steps in the lodges and out on the decks during apres ski.

All it took was a great price, free shipping and a click on Cyber Monday.

Less than a week later, I donned one for the first time on the slopes.

"Can you hear me?," I asked my wife on the chairlift.

"Yes," she said.

"What?," I yelled.

I am now a helmet-wearing member of the Snow Nation.

I ski along with other bucketheads. The National Ski Areas Association says 78 percent of all skiers and snowboarders across the U.S. wear helmets. From 2002 to 2015, helmet usage has increased incrementally every year from 25 percent to the aforementioned number.

That number is even higher around here. In the Northeast, 83 percent of jibbers and carvers wore helmets last season.

And just to show how smart the 17 and under crowd is—or their parents and grandparents— 85 percent of young rippers across the country wore brain buckets last season.

I know helmets are a line of defense against potentially lethal, high-speed encounters with trees along the trails. I also know a helmet can reduce head injuries by 30-50 percent.

But for me, skiing is a bastion of freedom, one built upon hurling myself down a mountain at breakneck speeds and loving the motion, and feeling the adrenaline taking over and leaving my worries behind. Helmet? Hah!

Besides, I'm an adult and had chosen to use that “get out of jail free card” that comes with membership: hypocrisy.

I would never drive without wearing a seatbelt. I ride a bicycle often and would never pedal without a helmet. Plus, I once crossed diagonal train tracks in the rain, that resulted in my bike sliding underneath me and my head slamming hard on the wet pavement. I was wearing a helmet. I took it off and ran my fingers along the small dent. I had a holy crap moment.

That never translated to the slopes though.

I didn't grasp it when Michael Kennedy, a son of Robert Kennedy, died in a skiing accident in 1997 Aspen, Colorado. Nor when Sonny Bono did the same less than a week later at Heavenly Ski Resort in Tahoe. Both weren't wearing helmets.

Every season I read about skier and snowboarder deaths or injuries. Even in my circles, it turned out I knew somebody whose life was claimed while strapped in. In early March last season, a skier died at Wildcat in Pinkham Notch, N.H. His name was Sam Moore, originally from Brunswick. That name sounded familiar. I searched my computer and found I had interviewed him the season before, riding the lift with him at the very mountain he died.

In late March last season, my helmet-wearing wife and I were riding a lift at Sunday River when we looked down and saw ski patrol at work. We figured we were witnessing a rescue operation.

That's what we thought until we returned home and saw on the news it was a recovery mission.

Both of those skiers wore helmets.

Helmets are another protective layer, but they don't always work. Some 35 skiers and snowboarders died on slopes in the last U.S. season. Twenty-eight were male and seven female, 29 skied and six were snowboarders, and 26 of those who died were wearing helmets.

Based on 53.6 million skier and snowboarder visits to ski areas last season, there's less than one fatality per one million visits.

Good odds if you ask me.

Interestingly, helmets are not mandatory on Maine's slopes. Nor on neighboring New Hampshire trails.

Actually, the NSAA reports only one state in the country that requires those under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while skiing or riding: New Jersey.

So, I will continue to wear my helmet, another piece of equipment I'll probably lose at some point like all those sunglasses. Why? Because if I can have one more shot of living in a battle with a tree or rock or whatever, it's worth it.

And to those who don't wear helmets, like all of those ski instructors, and freeskiers and riders in cool knitted wool hats, you'll hear me whispering all right—right on.

Just don't tell my wife.

Coming up

Vacation week begins this weekend. The 9th Annual Maine Ski Heritage is at Sugarloaf Saturday presented by the Ski Museum of Maine. At Mt. Abram, enjoy the spaghetti dinner to support the Mt. Abram Ski Club followed by a 7 p.m. torchlight parade Saturday.

The Kennebunk River Band plays Blizzard's at Shawnee Peak for apres on Valentine's Day.

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