Wednesday, March 18, 2009


What is your name?

What day is today?

Where are you?

Who is the President of the United States?

Joanne has been a member of the ski patrol for about a dozen years. She has repeated these questions, or ones like it, every time there is any suspicion of a skier having sustained trauma to the head. I am sure that the Natasha Richardson situation is a nightmare that all patrollers fear.

From all reports, Richardson showed no evidence of injury or disorientation. Conversing and joking about the incident, Richardson apparently presented no warning signs. Was she checked to see if her pupils were at all dilated? Was her speech at all compromised? The actions of the patrollers will no doubt be dissected in the coming weeks.

Would this have been an avoidable tragedy if Richardson had been wearing a helmet?

In a report by Liz Robbins,(the LEDE, Notes on the News from the New York Times, March 18, 2009) she cites Jasper Healy, a professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology, who has been tracking skiing and snowboard fatalities since the 1970's. "Helmets do seem to make a difference in the head-injury statistics: Mr. Shealy’s research found a 35 percent reduction, and he said that other studies had found as much as a 50 percent reduction in head injuries.

“Typically, in the scenario that results in death, you need something more than a helmet to save you,” Mr. Shealy said. Referring to helmet-wearing, he said, “Where it really comes into play is if you fall into hard-packed snow, and that can turn a serious head injury into a minor injury.”

"Helmets have been shown to protect the heads of recreational skiers traveling at a rate of 12 to 17 miles an hour, but typically not at higher speeds."

Patrollers and ski owners will no doubt have many conversations concerning the incident involving Ms. Richardson and its future impact relating to safety and first aid at the mountains. No answers will come easily, and unfortunately, for one highly recognizable figure, they will come too late.


David B said...

This might be a wake up call to all skiers. We have skied in days of yore, en familia, when helmets were not even considered, but today I would think about the necessity of helmets.
Now if we can come up with a chest and/or shoulder protector.

Robert said...

Jo, Alex and I have worn helmets for years (Richie remains a holdout).

I don't even notice that it is on my head except for the warmth it provides.

I have taken a few good falls over the years where the helmet might have saved me from injury (I will never know, but I would think the drawbacks to wearing a helmet are limited)

Hopefully I will convince you to venture back on the slopes next winter

Anonymous said...

having cracked one helmet, I hate to think what my head might have looked like!