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.”


  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?

    • 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).

  7. Thank you for sharing this horrible story. I am sorry for your loss. As a pediatric trauma nurse I am all too familiar with tragedy. Consequently, when scouting I err on the side of caution to avoid disability and death on scouting events on my watch.

    I get many of the same comments I see above when I refuse to allow certain activities or cancel events due to weather conditions or insist upon extra supervision.

  8. Problem is the helmets are not available at the local walmart like bicycle helmets are. I don’t see scouts spacial ordering/buying a helmet to sled once a year. Rent-maybe if they are renting skis at an outing. I assume they (ski slopes) mandate it with rentals anyway.

  9. Our Pack requires Bicycle Helmets during our annual sledding outing. We started about 3 or 4 years ago after a few serious collisions. We also require bicycle helmets during bicycle and skating outings. Last week, during skating, a scout lost his balance and hit his head on the ice but was wearing a helmet. Everyone rushed over, but he was fine, do injury and I think the helmet helped a lot.

    I’ve read many articles about the down side or helmets for both winter sports (ie interferes with balance while skating, vision while skiing, promotes a false sense of confidence, etc…). There may be some truth in that for experienced athletes or adults, but for young children who lack experience, tend to horse play or otherwise lack good judgement, helmets can be a real benefit. I wouldn’t go without them in scouting given the age/diversity in experience you would expect of the group.

  10. I will always have my son wear a helmet, and strongly recommend all parents have their scouts wear helmets. Two winters ago my son’s sled veered to the right while sledding and he flew had first into a tree. We got lucky with just a concussion, large hemotoma, and seven stitches above his right eye. This was one of the scariest moments in my life, and I wouldn’t wish it on any parent. Wear a helmet. Period.

  11. I don’t think that mandating helmets is the right thing to do. There will always be risk, and we need to recognize that. There will always be kids who hurt themselves, and overall this is part of growing up and no big deal. While our heart goes out to the Millers this tragedy is not something to base policy on. (The child was sledding alone when he struck a ski-lift pole; this should not be possible if other rules and common sense were being followed. And wearing a helmet would not necessarily prevent grievous injury or death; many kids helmets are actually of limited value.)

    And what are you going to tell a 12 year old with his helmet? Be safe? Is he safe because he was wearing a helmet? That it’s OK to tear down the hill next to the lift poles? The Moral Hazard argument (the argument that the safer you make risky behavior the more you encourage it) applies far more to children than it does to adults.

    If a child needs a helmet to be safe then he shouldn’t be doing it.

    I do not believe that the lack of a helmet was the cause of the Miller’s loss. Rather it was the lack of supervision and application of the leadership and safety guidelines that we already have.

    • Not sure I agree a helmet would have made this horrible situation any better. Let’s say this youngster had a helmet. But instead on instant death he became a quadrapleagic?

      There are some other things to this story that don’t make sense. He became seperated and hit a ski lift pole. Was he somewhere he did not belong? Skiing. Snowboarding and tubing are not required programs. Neither is welding, automotive or kayaking. They all have inherit risks. I’m sorry for your loss. But unfortunately kids are killed everyday. Some even when every precaution is taken place.

  12. When I was a kid a friend of mine died while tubing at a ski resort in MN. So as an adult I’m won’t go tubing and I don’t allow my scout packs to go tubing, but when they go tubing I ask that they wear helmets when sledding. I guess I am a little over protective of my scouts.

  13. You are not over protective, you are doing the right thing. What do youth and adults do when bike riding? They wear helmets. The reason is if there is an accident and they hit their head. It is protection. Will this save everyone, maybe maybe not. But it is the only added protection we have. When we are entrusted with the children of others we need to take this seriously. We need to look at every child as if they are our own, I know I do. At the end of the day did the kids have fun, you bet they did. Did the helmet take away any of that fun, you know it did not. US adults did not grow up wearing helmets for anything. These kids have, it is second nature for them. It is like seatbelts. When I started driving it was an option I could purchase, no requirements. Now it is a requirement. We need to learn from our past and move on finding the best solution. Wear helmets, check the area to be sure it is safe? Are there trees or other objects that would possibly cause serious injury? That is what is being said here. The Miller’s lost a son, they care about all the kids and they also want what is best to help precent anybither family from going through what they have and not to stop the sport or event. Today helmets are all we have to help protect the kids, someday hopefully there will be something else. Please never make the solution by stop doing an event. We need to make it better, lets keep the kids outdoors where the fun is and have fun ourselves.

  14. to essayons926 & Seeder. Ian was NOT sledding alone. He was with the rest of his troop. They were sledding on a bunny trail of a ski resort. The reason he became separated was only because he decided to ride on a saucer that last run of the night, lost control and hit the ski lift at the bottom of the bunny hill.

    I am only saying this because you are speaking without knowing the facts. Helmets are proven to reduce head injuries. Granted Seeder might be right, but why take chances on head injuries? If it would have saved our son, I don’t know. But since this is Scouting, and not national or state law.. Helmets are prudent and should be required,

    And Seeder, would you let a kid weld without a welders face mask?

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