Skiing – Should skiers be required to wear a helmet on the slopes?

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The debate over whether or not skiers should be required to well helmets is a hot topic these days. In March 2009, the very beautiful and talented Natasha Richardson died after suffering a light fall while learning to ski. It was tragic and unexpected. The autopsy, however, definitely concluded that it was the seemingly harmless fall that she took which caused her death.

Doctors have talked about the lucid period after a fall. It’s a killer, and it’s very probably what caused Richardson to make a fatal decision. During this period of lucidness, the person who fell seems just fine. Like the British actress, they may even refuse treatment. They feel fine, they act fine, and they believe they’re fine. The problem is that they are not fine. Inside their heads, their brain is beginning to bleed and eventually swell. In approximately one hour, the situation becomes deadly and irreversible. However, if the person gets treatment, there is a fairly simple procedure that can save their life.

The key is time. If the person who fell can get to a doctor immediately, life-saving surgery can be done with a proven technique that isn’t even considered a complex operation. However, this is a narrow window of opportunity, and because of the lucid period that so many encounter, people like Natasha Richardson die.

The solution to these types of accidents and subsequent deaths on the slopes is to require anyone on skis to wear a helmet. It seems so simple, so why are people fighting it?

In NASCAR, drivers fought some of the new safety devices that were being offered to them in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Even though they were told that something like the HANS device could save their lives in a crash, veterans like Dale Earnhardt said no. Their reasons? It was too restricting. It’s bulky. It hampers their line of sight. Then, the legendary Earnhardt himself died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in an accident that caused his head to snap forward and back violently. Most everyone believes that had Earnhardt been wearing a HANS device at the time of the crash, he would have lived, walking away with probably no more than a headache. After his death, NASCAR mandated the used of the device. It was no longer an option.

This is what needs to happen with skiing. Resorts need to make it a requirement that if you ski on their facility, you wear a helmet, whether it’s on their most challenging monster hills, or on the so-called bunny slopes while learning to ski, as Richardson was doing.

The days of our hair blowing in the snowy wind while flying down a slope are gone. We know too much now to be so careless. In truth, any sport where a fall is possible should require a helmet as part of the basic attire. Just as helmets are required to be worn while riding a bike or playing sports that are traditionally known for their violence like hockey or football, they need to be required while skiing.

Locally, a poll of nearby ski resorts conducted last week after Richardson’s death reported that only fifty percent of them require helmets. Canadian officials at the resort where the actress fell say that’s it been a topic of discussion for quite a while and is due to be discussed again soon.

Personally, in addition to the loving and intimate legacy that Natasha Richardson leaves to her husband and children, I’m hoping that she leaves an equally strong one in the field of skiing. Just like Dale Earnhardt turned the tide for NASCAR, Richardson has a chance to do the same for skiing. It’s a huge loss and one can question why it’s needed, but if the recent tragic event can stir the winds of change and bring about legislation around the world that ultimately makes wearing a helmet on the slopes mandatory, then her death would at least mean something and save some lives. I’m sure that doesn’t mean a whole lot to her family, but it’s the stuff that legacies are made of.


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