After losing their son, family delivers plea for helmet use while sledding

Holly and Ron Miller never want another parent or Scout leader to suffer like they have.

On Jan. 16, 2010, their 12-year-old son Ian Joshua Miller was on a Scout trip to a north-central Pennsylvania ski area. He became separated from the group and was taking his final sledding run of the evening when his sled went out of control. Ian hit a ski lift pole, and the blow to his head killed him instantly.

The website for a charity Ian’s parents have established in his name says Ian loved being a Scout, attending weekend and summer Bible camps, cooking, playing goalie for his soccer team, scuba diving, and designing roller coasters on his computer.

Ian’s life ended too soon, and Holly and Ron say a $40 ski helmet would likely have prevented this tragedy. This doesn’t just apply to Ian. The Millers cite studies documenting 20,000 sledding injuries each year, with head injuries being the most common.

“If convincing other people to protect their children with helmets and a life can be saved, or a severe head injury can be avoided, then the effort we are putting into education about helmets while sledding will be worth it,” Ron says.

“We do not want to see another Scout, or any other child, suffer a head injury from sledding,” Holly adds. “We don’t want any other parent to feel the loss of a child in this way when it is so easy to have them wear a helmet.”

The BSA’s health and safety leader Richard Bourlon says he supports the Millers’ efforts to protect other children from injury.

He adds that sledding is not a required program in Scouting but rather an activity that some but not all Scouts participate in. Snowboarding and skiing, on the other hand, have merit badge components to them and are considered part of Scouting’s program.

“As such, the Sweet 16 of BSA Safety and our Winter Sports Safety Guidelines are in place — which include compelling aspirational language to wear helmets,” he says.

The guidelines state that helmet use is recommended in sledding and required in downhill skiing, snowboarding and operating snowmobiles (full-face helmets required for snowmobiles).

“We recognize that many accidents occur while sledding and we are saddened when even one Scout or Scouter is injured,” Bourlon continues. “We support the Millers’ advice on sledding safety — helmets and steerable sleds.”

As do I. Hearing Ian’s story and knowing how relatively inexpensive ski helmets are, it seems like an obvious step to protect our Scouts and children. Preventable tragedies are called that for a reason, and I applaud the Millers’ efforts and mourn the loss of their son.

Says Ron: “We hope that through Ian’s example another family will not feel the immeasurable pain that we do.”

20 thoughts on “After losing their son, family delivers plea for helmet use while sledding

  1. Seen some pretty bad wrecks during my years of sledding. Helmets are a good personal choice/thought for sledding and would make it mandatory for Scouting Activities. Most accidents which are collisions, end up with something broken. My favorite hill was closed many years ago due to. It was very steep and high speeds would send you into or yes flying over a two lane highway. Steering sleds to me have always been dangerous because of metal parts. If you’re going too fast and going to hit something, BAIL OUT you have NO BREAKS

    • Additionally most Scouts can’t afford the additional expense of steerable sleds. To me steerable sleds cause more problems than they are worth. If your going to hit something, like said above just bailout is probably the simplest solution.

      • Let’s not forget (especially scouters) to also sled in safe areas where you do not have to avoid roads, parking lots and trees, that also have a long enough flat place at the bottom, so you do not have to “bail out!).

    • John,
      Just to add my two cents. For scouters it should be the similar to the Safe Swimming rules. Make sure the area is clear of any obstacles (two lane highways, trees, parking lots. fence posts, rocks etc…) There should also be a clear run out at the bottom. This way no one has to “Bail Out!” Remember the primary focus on this blog is how Scouters protect other peoples children (the Scouts). I trust you would not let them sled over a two lane highway!

      • Really? I don’t think that John wouldn’t take proper precautions against obstacles that could pose a hazard to a Scout. It is about raising awareness and making sure the Scouts in our care stay safe and learn how to be safe, if heaven forbid they go out and try winter activities by themselves.

        • I agree with you, this is all about raising awareness for safety. I did the same stupid things when I was a kid and I did get some bumps and bruises. I wish I knew better on the high amount of brain trauma before my son went sledding on a ski slope and I just hope other people learn about it before we did-the hard way.

          And no, I really don’t think John would let his scouts sled onto a highway! I was just trying to clarify the need for a clear safe sledding area. Thank you for reading this blog and adding your thoughts.

  2. This article hits home with our Troop. Every February we take the Troop skiing, snow boarding, and tubing. Three years ago, one of my Scouts had a near collision with a tree, just missing it by inches. From that moment on, helmets were MANDATORY for all Scouts on the slopes whatever they were doing. They complain but we must realize as Scoutmasters, we have an incredible responsibility to bring their Scouts home safely to their parents.. Next week we go skiing again, the first thing they put on will be helmets. Almost learned the hard way, thank you God for saving us.

  3. I might agree with the idea… But you will never find me liking that idea, it is morbid thing to enjoy a death. But when I do understand what people are saying, a couple years ago while going down a hill near me, I also hit a tree while on a tube. I am fine now but for a couple minutes some friends said I blackout. As we all know though it is still one of life’s greatest pleasures whipping down that hill.

  4. To add my thoughts.., wearing a helmet while sledding does not take away from the fun! You are still happily speeding down a hill just inches off the ground. It is one of the greatest things to do. But unlike walking to school (Bart).the difference is the speed the sled is traveling, way more that a 2 mph walk!

  5. I would encourage snowboarders to use helmets because anyone who’s fallen while snowboarding knows that it is very easy to whack your head when you fall backward. However, there was a recent study that showed that helmet use did not reduce the rate of injury in snow sports, and some studies have shown an increase in serious head injuries with the increased use of helmets. They speculated that the helmets encourage people to try more dangerous things. So helmets may reduce the incidence of minor head injuries like bumps and lacerations, but they have not been shown statistically to help with serious head injuries and death.

  6. Is it just me or does this sound a bit weird:

    “He adds that sledding is not a required program in Scouting but rather an activity that some but not all Scouts participate in. Snowboarding and skiing, on the other hand, have merit badge components to them and are considered part of Scouting’s program.”

    This statement just doesn’t make sense. So skiing and snowboarding are part of Scouting’s “Program” but sledding is part of the “Program”. What in the world does this mean?

    • Sledding is just an activity, and can be done on some outings. Snowboarding and skiing are implemented into the actual program as laid in the Snow Sports Merit Badge.

  7. One day our children will be required by law to strap on a helmet prior to getting out of bed in the morning.

    • No law, no nanny state, just awareness! If you stop to think about it, sledding downhill at 20 mph or more is even faster than a bicycle. There are a lot of injuries. Broken arms and legs can mend. A broken brain can not. Since it happened to us because we did not think of it we just want people to realize the potential for serious brain trauma (possibly death) and think about protecting their scouts (and their children).

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