Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Interest: Backpacking, scrambling, skiing, mountain biking, skim boarding, running
This is a phenomenon that has affected all sports and has not required regulation. When I was a kid, there were still goalies in the NHL who didn't wear face masks and nobody wore helmets. Now masks are universal, helmets are worn by the vast majority and additional items like face shields are common place.
Look at cycling: a few years ago, none of the pros on the Tour de France wore helmets for road stages, now almost all do. Or downhill mountain biking: full helmets with face protection are standard.
It's partly just safety consciousness but it's also (I think) due to the advent of better materials and designs. Effective, light & comfortable helmets are available where this didn't used to be the case. Taking bike helmets as an example, 20 years ago about the only helmet that offered substantial protection was a huge, heavy and poorly ventilated beast made by Bell that made the wearer look like a mushroom on wheels.
The advent and popularity of "extreme" sports may also be a factor. Ski films used to feature folks doing big turns down untouched powder slopes. If somebody fell, they would get snow down their neck. Now it's all about jumping massive cliffs and racing sluff down mega-steep slopes. The young, cutting edge guys and gals grabbing the attention are wearing helmets because it would be just plain insane not to. And if the image setters wear helmets, then it must be OK (nor dorky) for everyone else.