My answer: Wear a helmet! Whether it’s your first attempt at skiing or you’re a seasoned enthusiast planning to attack the moguls in Breckenridge, that’s the advice I give to everyone I know.
Research speaks to the importance of wearing a helmet. In 2012, physicians at Johns Hopkins performed a meta-analysis studying the efficacy of safety helmets. They concluded that safety helmets clearly decrease the risk and severity of head injuries in skiing and snowboarding and strongly recommended their use (J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2012;73: 1340-1347).
I know that research can be impersonal, though. So I want to tell you a story. When I was an undergrad at Dartmouth, I served as a residential advisor. Christina Porter was a classmate of mine who lived on my floor the winter of 2003-04. She was a talented artist. In February 2004, she took an introductory ski class at the Dartmouth skiway. On one run, Christina caught some ice and skied into a tree. After a six month struggle, Christina died. I tell Christina’s story not to scare but rather to inform, since her death was likely preventable, had she been wearing a helmet. Her father said, “I predict that like seat belts being required, that one day it will be so obvious that helmets should be worn.”
I had skied my whole life and had never worn a helmet. The day after Christina’s accident, I went to the local sports store in Hanover and purchased my first one. All my concerns – that the helmet would be uncomfortable, that it would limit my hearing or vision, that it would take away from the feel of the wind in my hair – they were all unfounded. I’ve worn a helmet every time I’ve stepped on a mountain since, and I encourage you to do so, too.
And while we’re on the topic of safety, I’d be remiss not to mention that the elevation of Breckenridge is 9,600 feet (2,926 meters) above sea level. High altitudes (such as locations up in the mountains) have less oxygen in the air, which causes increased breathing and heart rates to maintain the body’s oxygen supply, and can lead to altitude sickness. The Wharton Ski Club will be emailing out educational materials on managing altitude sickness. In particular, make sure to get enough rest and increase your fluid and carbohydrate intake to help minimize effects of altitude illness. Avoid alcohol and don’t overexert yourself when first arriving at high altitude.
Let’s have fun and create a culture of safety when we all go to Breckenridge. I look forward to seeing everyone on the mountain!
Dean Drizin WG’15 is a MD/MBA candidate and ski instructor at Vail.