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Peanut Gallery; Accident provides reminder of human vulnerability

Sherry Mays

I’m going to write about the latest ski accident, but not because it is shocking, tragic or unfortunate. I want to write about how wonderful the sport of skiing still is and why it, like most other sports, has always been dangerous.

Jimmy King, Squaw Valley’s mountain manager, was noticeably shaken by the news of Briana Pearcy’s death. We all were. The 11-year-old died after sustaining impact injuries in a skiing collision at Alpine Meadows last week. Through painful pauses in dialogue, Jimmy asked me, as a part of the local press, to make a point to use this tragedy as a positive message. He asked me to the step up to task of raising the awareness that accidents like this don’t need to happen.

No accidents need to happen, that’s why they are called accidents. But I also believe that things happen for reasons and maybe the reason for Briana’s death was to remind us that we’re not invincible. I’m part of the crowd that is more than familiar with this notion – I broke my back almost two years ago, while riding horses, something I’ve done since I was five. It was a stupid injury, but there was nothing I could have done to prevent it, except not to be on a young Arabian gelding that day.

We live in the mountains, which makes us risk-takers in the first place. We zoom around in our four-wheel drives, take chances just by walking out our front doors onto icy steps that don’t seem to thaw until spring and commute to Reno through rain, sleet or snow on I-80.

I’ve seen people, including myself, get hit in the face with softballs, tear ligaments in recreational leagues and soar ass-over-tea kettle off mountain bikes. We’ve all had painful roadrash sometime in our lives. I’ve also seen friends, men and women, jump off 50-foot cliffs in extreme competitions.

Growing up, my friends and I never wore helmets, knee pads or wrist guards. We have our scars to prove it. Sports have changed and so has technology, and more and more children are participating in sports at a higher level than a lot of children did years ago. That’s good, but with the higher number comes an increase in the number of injuries.

So when I heard the outcry by local athletes as to whether helmets would be made mandatory on the slopes, I didn’t pay much attention.

Ski industry leaders said legislation mandating helmets would never make it to the California law books. The number of accidents just aren’t there and accidents like Briana’s don’t happen every day. Not like motorcycle accidents. We can make our own choices about recreating safely. It is our responsibility to recreate within our abilities.

Children don’t always have this sense of rationality. Children don’t have the same sense of fear that keep us from going above and beyond our abilities. They are invincible. That is why I am asking local parents, who haven’t already made the decision for their children to ski safely, to do it now.

It is our responsibility to keep our children safe.

Whatever reasons adults have for not wearing helmets do not apply to children. If they find themselves in the same situation Briana was in, even if her death wasn’t caused by her massive head injuries, offer them another chance of living. The $100 investment in a helmet could help avoid years of pain. Heck, for a $5 rental fee, a helmet could save a life. How can we put a dollar amount on the price of a child’s life?

Do it now, make helmets a part of every child’s skiing checklist. Skis, boots, poles, gloves, goggles…and a helmet. Begin a habit now, one that could be lifesaving.

Sherry Mays is a Sierra Sun reporter.


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