Harsh reality of skiing without a helmet hits too close to home | SierraSun.com

Harsh reality of skiing without a helmet hits too close to home

Megan Michelson
Sun News Service

Before the accident, my older brother was a very quiet, introverted guy. He kept to himself, never raised his voice and always seemed entirely self-sufficient.

But I’ve never seen him as quiet as he is now, lying unconscious on his bed in the intensive care unit at Washoe Medical Center in Reno.

My 29-year-old brother, Miles, hit a tree while skiing with my mom, some friends and me at Mammoth Mountain last Friday. He suffered a severe head injury, as well as some relatively insignificant injuries ” a broken pelvis, cracked ribs and facial fractures. Right now, the doctors say it’s his head they’re worried about, so they’re keeping him totally sedated. Hanging bags of clear, liquid medicines are being pumped into his body through tubes and needles.

Miles wasn’t wearing a helmet that day. Neither was I, for that matter. I usually opt for a hat when I’m skiing, for comfort or appearance reasons, I suppose. But, now, as I sit next to his bed and listen to his chest rise and fall with the help of the respirator he’s attached to, I can’t fathom skiing without a helmet again. I can barely even fathom skiing again ” and I’ve been in love with the sport all my life.

Of the several other ski-related patients in the 44-person intensive care unit here, most of their serious injuries could have been prevented if they had been wearing helmets. Surely, my brother would have had some broken bones, but those will heal. His brain damage may not.

A 19-year-old boy, who was in a room next to my brother, wasn’t so lucky. He jumped off a cliff at Mt. Rose last week and landed on his un-helmeted head. His family gathered by the dozens to give the boy support and pray for him, but even that wasn’t enough. His room is empty now and we no longer see his family in the waiting room.

If Elizabeth “Bitzy” Roessler, the young woman who died at Squaw recently, had been wearing a helmet, she would probably still be here. And her friends and family wouldn’t be grieving the way they are now.

The nurses here don’t seem surprised to see so many ski accident patients. They’re just surprised people still aren’t wearing helmets. How many cases like this do people need to hear about before they get a clue, one nurse asked me.

I only need to see one. I hope you never have to see any.

People can get head injuries driving to the store or walking across the street ” some accidents are unavoidable. But for those of us who choose to participate in more extreme behavior, be it skiing, rock climbing, mountain biking or whatever, there are some protective measures we can and must take. Wearing a helmet is a good start. Making smart choices and using good judgment is another.

Professional skiers need to reinforce the helmet trend. They need to be seen wearing helmets in photographs, advertisements and ski movies. The younger generation needs to understand that wearing a helmet is not only cool, it’s crucial.

In my mind, there’s no excuse for skiers of all ages and abilities not to wear helmets these days. And if I only knew what was happening in my brother’s mind right now, I bet he would say the same thing.

Megan Michelson is a reporter with the Tahoe World, the Sierra Sun’s sister paper in Tahoe City.

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