• Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet
  • Torch Magazine
From actress Natasha Richardson's fatal ski accident in 2009, to the skiing deaths of Michael Kennedy and Congressman Sonny Bono less than a week apart at the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998, respectively, mishaps on the slopes can affect anyone at anytime during the skiing season.

Richardson's ski accident in Mont Tremblant, in Eastern Canada, is a recent accident that reminds us how quickly things can turn fatal. Because she was a novice skier, she took the responsible precautions of taking private lessons but overlooked using personal protection equipment. Richardson was not wearing a helmet when she fell on a green trail run. She didn't think she had suffered any serious injuries. Hours later, however, she died from epidural hematoma, which is an injury that is often caused by a skull fracture.

Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy, was skiing in Aspen, Colo. Kennedy and his friends decided that it would be fun to toss a football while skiing down Ajax Mountain. Kennedy also was not wearing a helmet and struck a tree resulting in brain injuries that led to his death.

Sonny Bono was skiing on the Nevada side of the Heavenly Ski Resort, which is located near South Lake Tahoe, Calif. While skiing an intermediate slope, Bono veered into a wooded area just off the main trail. Such "tree skiing" is popular with expert skiers who like the fresh powder available off the beaten path. Bono also struck a tree, and suffered massive blunt head trauma. He was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. According to the coroner's report, Bono's death was immediate.

Brian Gannon, a 20-year veteran of the slopes and the director of ski patrol at Heavenly Ski Resort, was the first to respond to Bono's mishap.

"The number one cause for mishaps (on the slopes) is speed," Gannon said. "It all boils down to speed and then losing control."

Gannon gives some helpful safety tips that will help avoid injuries or worse.

1. Always stay in control, and ski at a speed within your ability.

2. Wear a helmet.

3. Stop at a safe place for you and others. That means, generally not stopping in the middle of the run, not stopping underneath a roller or a blind spot where you cannot be seen from above.

4. Observe all closures and warning signs, and stay out of closed areas.

5. If you are traveling into side country type of terrain, travel with a partner and have at least a basic knowledge of safety and rescue techniques. Also have the proper equipment, like a beacon, shovel and probe (and know how to use it).

6. Know how to use the lifts by learning to get on and off of them properly.

7. Maintain your equipment. Keep the edges sharp, and ensure your bindings are cared for and not too old while having them checked every year by a technician. Do a release check on them.

8. Keep your eyewear in good shape. If they are all scratched upped, replace them. It is a good idea to have clear goggles or glasses for the early-season conditions. When you get toward the late afternoon, especially when you have overcast skies, you won't be able to see very well when wearing dark glasses.