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Natasha Richardson ski accident underscores importance of wearing helmets

March 18, 2009 |  9:10 am

A snowboarder wears a helmet while taking a jump at Bear Mountain resort in Big Bear.

To wear a helmet and feel a little goofy, as skiers and boarders often feel when they don protective head gear for the first time? Or to appear cool and feel free while skiing or riding without one?

Actress Natasha Richardson may have answered this question for a lot of people. Her condition is grave, according to some reports, and her fall Monday at Mont Tremblant ski resort near Quebec was not violent and did not seem serious.

She was not wearing a helmet but was on a beginner slope, where many falls occur but very few turn out to be serious. Richardson, 45, appeared fine but an hour later complained of headaches. She remains hospitalized and doctors have not revealed her condition. At least one media report described her as being brain dead.

More people wear helmets these days. I recently skied at Aspen, Colo., and at Northstar-at-Tahoe in Truckee, Calif. I did not wear a helmet but felt out of place.

It seemed as though at least 50% of skiers and riders wore them. I felt like some old dude clinging to the past.

At some resorts, such as Wrightwood's Mountain High, which caters largely to young snowboarders, the percentage of people wearing helmets is even higher. They know there are careless riders on the hill. And they know what it feels like to catch an edge and slam head-first onto an icy snowpack.

I won't go so far as to say helmets should be required, but I will say they ought to be seriously considered by anyone visiting the slopes -- even if it's only the bunny hill.

--Pete Thomas

Photo: A snowboarder wears a helmet while taking a jump at Bear Mountain resort in Big Bear. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times