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Be cool - wear a helmet

Ski helmets line a wall in the Smith booth at the Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show in Denver.
David Zalubowski
/
AP
Ski helmets line a wall in the Smith booth at the Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show in Denver.

Helmets can reduce head injuries by up to 50%, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Utah is experiencing some of the best snowfall in years, bringing more skiers and riders to the slopes.

Intermountain Park City Hospital’s trauma team was at Deer Valley’s Snow Park base area Friday to talk to skiers about how helmets prevent critical injuries.

Helmets can reduce head injuries by 30 to 50 percent, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Park City Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Wing Province took it a step further.

“Wearing a helmet can save a life,” said Park City Hospital Chief Medical Officer Wing Province.

“Or at least protect them from long-term neurologic outcomes that are negative. So let me put those in regular terms — we see a lot of people who come into the emergency department who slip and fall and hit their head, and it can be as serious as a brain bleed and a skull fracture, or it can be as benign as a concussion.

"But anything in between can have long-term effects on someone’s quality of life.”

A few years back, Mike McGurl was skiing Mayflower Bowl at Deer Valley.

“It was a powder day, like a lot of days we’ve had this year and I hit some rocks that were covered by the snow, and went down and actually crushed my left side," McGurl recalled.

"Had I not had a helmet, I would’ve been severely injured and maybe not be talking to you today.”

He ended up being in the intensive care unit for over a week.

Brent Wursten is a registered nurse who works at Intermountain’s trauma center. He said they see about 75 concussions per month during peak ski season.

“It’s pretty rare to fracture your skull or to have an internal brain bleed when you’re wearing a helmet," Dr. Wursten said.

"We do see it, but the odds go way, way down. We have had people come in not wearing a helmet that ended up having a hemorrhage in their brain, which is what we want to protect people from. And that’s what the helmet is really designed to do, is to protect from those serious injuries that are going to really be life-long injuries.”

He said most injuries they see either involve two skiers colliding, or people hitting trees.

A ski or snowboard helmet should fit snugly all around, with no spaces between the foam or padding and the person’s head.

It shouldn’t sit too high or low on someone’s head. To check, make sure the helmet sits low enough in the front to protect the forehead, about one inch above the eyebrows. The back of the helmet should not touch the top of the neck.

For skiers and riders active every winter, Dr. Wursten recommends a new helmet every three to five years to keep up with the evolving technology.

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.