Helmets on the brain

This little thing might save your life, and it doesn’t look half bad, either.
Photo: Vlastula / Flickr

Since acclaimed actress Natasha Richardson’s shocking and untimely death following a fall on a beginner ski run in Canada, ski and snowboard helmet sales have increased noticeably. Visiting Brian Head, Utah this past weekend for X-107.5FM X-treme Radio’s Chill on the Hill outdoor concert, I noticed significantly more protected heads than usual.

Whereas it’s typical to see them on little tykes just starting out with their sport and on serious snowboarders who spent their time grinding on car roofs, it was immediately apparent from speaking with staff at the Brian Head ski resort that skiers and boarders in all skill levels and ages were donning protection against head injuries such as Richardson’s where a simple fall amounted to blunt trauma to the head. In Richardson’s case the injury resulted in an epidural hematoma, a bleed between the skull and the lining around the brain, which can take hours to present and diagnose. Sometimes it’s just too late.

In a sport where falling is a distinct possibility, and obstacles like trees, rocks, rails and even tabletops pop up as a matter of course or on purpose, it has always amazed me how much protection we afford our ankles, wrists and skin, but not our brains. Who wants to wear a cue that you’re a worry-wart or risk-averse?!

Actress Natasha Richardson at the amfAR Annual New York Gala on Jan. 31, 2008. Richardson suffered a head injury while taking a ski lesson in Canada that took her life on March 18, 2009.

Actress Natasha Richardson at the amfAR Annual New York Gala on Jan. 31, 2008. Richardson suffered a head injury while taking a ski lesson in Canada that took her life on March 18, 2009.

But with the increased visibility and cool-factor of snowboarding, it’s becoming not only OK for more snow sport enthusiasts to don helmets, but is also beginning to serve as a signal to others that the wearer is something of a bad-ass or a risk-taker. Reverse psychology to the rescue!

One Brian Head Resort rental tech said that rentals of helmets skyrocketed not only for children, but for parents, as well, as the reports of Richardson’s accident turned into news of her death. While a helmet rental makes sense for those flying to a ski destination or just trying out the sport for the first time (even more reason for protection; remember, Richardson was in a beginners lesson), if you think you’re going to ski more than five times in your life, you might as well just buy one.

Around Brian Head (which reportedly gets 80 percent of its traffic from Las Vegas, a mere three and a half hour’s drive) sports equipment stores noted a sharp rise in helmet sales. Brian Head Sports said they are now selling three to four helmets each day since Richardson’s death, which represents a lot for spring, regardless of their end-of-season sales. A little further down the road, Georg’s said they’ve sold 30-plus helmets in just the last five days. The resort’s own ski shop at the Navajo Lodge put helmets on sale for 40 percent off, which makes up for the lack of rental helmets affording no excuse to go topless.


Beyond the Weekly
Natasha Richardson, 45, Stage and Film Star, Dies (New York Times, 3/18/09)
Ski and snowboard helmet buying guide
McGhie's Ski & Bike Shop
4035 South Fort Apache, Las Vegas.
16 Cottonwood, #B, Blue Diamond.

And is it really that much of an investment? An “entry-level” helmet, says Randy McGhie, owner of Vegas’ own McGhie’s ski, bike and board shops, starts at $69 and goes up from there. My goggles actually cost more than that and they won’t stop me from head injury. What you’re paying for in more expensive helmets is really “the ventilation and the materials and the way they’re molded.” My own mid-level Giro Ember ladies freestyle helmet (graphite with white flowers for that all-important feminine look) has removable pads that reveal vents for spring skiing and soft ear pads that will keep my head warmer than a hat, hood or ear band ever could. Most helmets can even be upgraded for about $30 to accommodate ear pads with integrated speakers.

“I endorse [helmets], for sure,” says McGhie. “My wife and I have both been wearing them for three years now.” Following in his father’s snow tracks, McGhie’s own son is, of course, a snowboarder who performs all manner of tricks. “He’s wearing one now, too. I think my wife encouraged that.”

All ski and snowboard helmets are on sale at McGhie’s from now through the summer and into next fall when the next ski season begins. This includes helmets by Giro, Ride and K2. That’s 25 percent off on the protection of your most precious asset. I ask you, where else can you get that kind of return on a minor investment? And can you really afford not to?


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