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Pro Bono Activity

Rick Howell formed Howell Product Development in 1972—while in high school—specifically to define the type of pro bono skiing safety standards development activity that would be provided to the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) sub-committee on Skiing Safety.  Since that time, Rick Howell has provided significant pro bono work to organizations that have made a major positive impact on society—especially in skiing safety.  

Rick Howell joined the ASTM Skiing Safety Subcommittee shortly after the conception of the subcommittee in 1973 and actively participated in one of the subcommittee's first meetings in Montreal.  For a period of 14 consecutive years, Rick Howell actively participated in many areas of skiing safety standards development within the ASTM Skiing Safety subcommittee -- and this activity (together with the pro bono contributions of many others) caused a major impact on the standards that are in place, today.  Specifically, Rick Howell's pro bono focus within ASTM included the creation and dissemination of a "Skiing Safety Bibliography" that included all known (at that time) bio-mechanical and epidemiology research related to skiing;  and the exploration of "defining" ski binding retention (anti-pre-release) characteristics of alpine ski bindings.  The pro bono "retention" work involved a collaboration with Professor Eugene Bahniuk of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio;  Claude Gantet of Salomon, SA in Annecy, France;  and Walter Knable of Marker GmbH in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany.  This collaboration also became a  de facto  mentorship that proved to be valuable in future skiing safety and product development activities — especially because Gene, Claude and Walter were geniuses in biomechanics and engineering field-testing — and their efforts generated real and meaningful change.

Concurrently, in 1977, Rick Howell was asked by Wolfhart Hauser, MD, of Munich, Germany to smooth-over the English translation of the German 'IAS Ski Binding Safety Recommendations that were being refined.  This pro bono activity transformed from 'smoothing-over' to actively recommending many changes within the IAS Recommendations, all of which changes were accepted — and became 'IAS 150'.  A few of the key changes included the elimination of the so-called 'Tibia-Method' from the IAS recommendation (which method Prof. Malcome H. Pope had decisively disproved several years earlier, but had largely gone unheeded in Europe);  the incorporation of a 'correct way' to perform a "self-release check" based on collaboration with John S. Perryman;  and most significantly — proper lever-arm corrections were devised for the force-settings that correspond to recommended levels of release torque within the new SI-units of deka Newton-meters (daNm) (which became the so-called 'DIN's') — based upon the integration of input from Dr-Ing Peter Biermann of Geze GmbH in Leonberg, Germany and Gordon C. Lipe, of Skaneateles, New York. 

The German Industrial Norm (DIN) organization of Berlin, Germany largely-adapted the IAS 150 Recommendations to become the so-called "DIN standard" (DIN 7881) which, within a few years, became largely-adapted as the international standard for ski-binding release selection (ISO 8061).  This standard, with little fundamental change since 1977, is — still today — the standard for the selection of alpine ski release torque utilized by ski shops and skiers, world-wide.  This  pro bono  collaboration-work (by many) caused a major improvement in skiing safety, contributing, in-part, to a 50% reduction in the incidence of skiing injuries since the early-1970's — and transformed the prevalence of skiing tibia fractures from ~15% of all skiing injuries in the early-1970's to ~3% of all, today.... though it must again be emphasized that scores of other people across many nations, especially in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland, were actively involved in the development of these safety standards, too.

Rick Howell was chairman of the Ski Binding Research Committee (2005 — 2011) within the International Society for Skiing Safety (ISSS), a  pro bono  organization that he joined in 1974.  Rick Howell's activities within the ISSS led to the development and presentation of the new "Valgus Torque Test Method" presented at the 2005 ISSS conference in Nagano, Japan — which presentation exposed how ordinary alpine ski bindings do not sense the signature abduction forces and valgus moments generated by the Phantom Foot or Slip Catch injury mechanisms that are the primary cause (estimated to be ~70%) of all skiing ACL knee-injuries (the boot-induced anterior drawer injury-mechanism (BIAD) is, by a far lesser degree, a secondary injury mechanism — estimated to contribute toward ~10% to ~15% of all skiing ACL injuries).  Refined-methodology for valgus torque research was presented by Rick Howell at ISSS-Scotland in 2007— a watershed event in the research of skiing knee injuries.  It is anticipated that future valgus torque testing will cause those operating within the existing ski-injury research paradigm to become enlightened about the true resultant forces, torques and moments that pass between the snow surface and skiers' hips during Phantom Foot and Slip Catch injury mechanisms — thereby fostering a positive disruption away from the existing skiing-safety paradigm

Presently, skiing ACL-injuries are, by far, the most prevalent type of injury in alpine skiing (~18 to ~23% of all).  Therefore, the development of bona fide  solutions that foster knee-friendly skiing must be the main focus of ski-injury research and development at this time.  Real solutions will expand the skiing performance envelope in the same ways as when tibia-friendly ski-bindings saturated skiing back in the early nineteen-seventies — causing tibia fractures to become almost non-existent (~3% of all) over the past 25-years. 

To avoid the 'Catch-22' of proving the 'knee-friendly validity' of certain ski-binding mechanisms through the formal utilization of prospective intervention studies, it is believed by Rick Howell (based on information derived over the course of his career in alpine ski-binding development) that 'preliminary validation' can be posited utilizing plausible bio-mechanical evidence (valgus torque)  ONLY IF   the the proposed ski-binding-intervention does not cause side-effects regarding compliance with minimum international safety standards (ISO 9462, 9465 & 11087)  AND  if it is in compliance with 'standard industry practice' (informally-defined by the major alpine ski-binding companies) — especially pertaining to anti-pre-release function and durability because even infrequent pre-release and infrequent durability-problems can cause severe injury or fatality.


Rick Howell also served two terms on the Board of Directors of the Helen Day Art center in Stowe, Vermont (1992-93);  two terms on the Board of Directors of the Rotary Club of Stowe (1993-94);  successfully managed a year-long market-research project, pro bono, for Stowe Area Association (market demand research for a regional conference-center in Stowe, 1996);  and served four semesters at Norwich University, in Northfield, Vermont, as a mentor for senior accounting majors (2003-04).