If you, like me, spend any consistent time on the slopes, helmet usage is often a factor when distinguishing veteran shredders from newbies. Newer skiers and boarders will likely focus on style and comfort, not safety. You can spot them by their expensive headbands, ear muffs, and hats. Experienced shredders, however, know the importance of safety; large, sleek helmets and reflective goggles are tell-tale signs of a frequent and life-long skier.
I, however, haven’t always been so quick on the uptake. As a teenager and young adult, I was more concerned with “looking the part” than anything else. Not wanting a bulky, fluorescent helmet to detract from my speed and stunts, I opted for a more stylish beanie when heading out with my skis. I began wearing a helmet reluctantly, and only at the insistence of my friends and family. Until the accident, I hadn’t realized the importance of safety.
I remember the day like it was just last week. My sister and I had come to the top of a double-black diamond trail in Breck, I think it was Mustang, but it could have been that split around Dark Rider and Blackhawk, but in that general area. The drop was steep, but not enough to intimidate us into another route. 70 feet wide, half a mile long, and made of icy corduroy—we’d seen worse. She went first, dropping down into a low tuck and bombing straight through. It looked like there was enough space and snow at the bottom to make for a smooth landing, but she fell onto her side to facilitate a faster stop, waving up at me to indicate that she was okay. I was up next.
Always the more cautious skier, I began the run with a few quick slalom turns before setting my skies straight. Something happened in the space between these turns and the attempt to point my tips downward—I caught an edge on the ice and, in a split second, lost control. I fell onto my side in an attempt to prevent serious injury. This was the worst decision I could have made; the force of my body hitting the ground only sped up the uncontrollable descent. I closed my eyes and, when I opened them, found myself several feet into the woods at the bottom of the trail.
I looked up to see my sister skating toward me in a panic. My gear was scattered across the side of the mountain. I’d lost both poles, a ski, a glove, and my goggles—a total yard sale. The helmet remained on my head, but felt strange. I took it off to find it cracked almost completely in half, held together by the fibers of my chin strap and adjustable pads. Stunned, we called ski patrol, who then helped me into an ambulance. I was diagnosed with a concussion and allowed to go home that evening.
Though my recovery was quick and relatively painless, that helmet, cracked open and lying in the snow, haunts me. In the years since, I’ve come to appreciate ski safety, as well as the types of helmets and the new technology available to consumers. With recent equipment developments, helmets can be fashionable and have utility beyond providing a hard surface between your head and the rocks below. Ski safety is a lesson I won’t soon forget, and this site explores just a few of the nuances of helmet design and construction.