Entries in Skiing (3)


Head Injuries Common in Skiing Accidents

JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT/AFP/Getty Images(SALT LAKE CITY) -- The death of freestyle skier Sarah Burke has forced the safety of extreme sports into the spotlight.

Burke, 29, died Thursday, nine days after crashing on a half-pipe course in Utah. The Winter X Games champion and 2005 half-pipe world gold medalist suffered "severe irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest," according to a statement from her publicist.

Competitive skiers and snowboarders are no strangers to injuries ranging from serious to fatal. In 2001, American gold-medal-winning skier Bill Johnson experienced a near-fatal crash that put him in a coma during an attempt to qualify for the 2002 Winter Games. More recently, at the 2006 Turin Olympics, skier Lindsey Vonn crashed during a training run. The accident ended her metal hopes but she was able to walk away with only a hip injury.

Kevin Pearce said snowboarding gave him the ride of a lifetime until an accident on a Utah half- pipe in 2009 left him with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). After battling through years of rehabilitation, Pearce regained his ability to talk, walk, and eat. In December, he hit the slopes for the first time since the accident.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 1.7 million Americans experience a TBI every year. Experts say sports-related injuries are the second leading cause, and the extreme nature of skiing and snowboarding makes these sports particularly hazardous.

"For any sport that involves inverting yourself or increases the chance you might lose your balance, there's always a risk of head injuries," said Dr. Alan Hoffer, a neurological surgeon at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. "That's probably more true for a sport like hers, but we certainly see head injuries -- even severe head injuries -- in what might be considered safer sports like football and hockey. Flipping in the air increases your risk but in other sports you can get knocked down."

"It's certainly a real tragedy when things like this happen."

In Burke's case, Hoffer said, it is difficult to tell exactly how her injury led to her death. Initial reports suggest that Burke ruptured a vertebral artery, a blood vessel that supplies the brain, but Hoffer said the additional head trauma may have been the culprit.

While Burke was wearing a helmet at the time of her accident, Hoffer said that even this type of head protection cannot prevent all injuries to the brain.

"The goal of helmets and any protective equipment in general is to buffer the effects of an impact," he said. "Certainly, as we see in other sports such as football, they're not able to prevent all injuries."

Hoffer said that if there is anything that casual skiiers can learn from this tragedy, it is to approach the slopes with caution -- and to know how to react quickly to a situation in which a friend or loved one may have sustained a TBI.

"Even casual skiers do have some risk," he said. "You can never tell when you're going to catch an edge and go flying head over heel. People run into lift poles or jumps and come down badly. Know your limitations. Don't go on a run that's too difficult. And make sure you're somewhere that if you do need help, you can get it."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Safety on the Slopes

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MORRISTOWN, N.J.) -- With skiing and snowboarding being two of the most popular sports in the U.S. and 9.9 million Americans taking part in these activities every year, seasoned skiers and boarders know that falling is an accepted part of the learning curve for beginners, and an inevitable event among even the most experienced in the sports.

Thankfully the risk of injury is low. The risk of being injured on the mountain is 1 in 500, the risk of sustaining a serious head injury is 1 in 5,000, and the risk of being killed on the mountain is 1 in 1 million. In this regard, skiing and snowboarding are safer sports than bike riding or swimming.

Nonetheless, head injuries can and will occur on the mountain, so it is important to take steps to prevent an injury and to know what to do if an injury occurs. The most common head injury occurs from falling and hitting the snow or ice, says Dr. Christopher Magovern, a cardiac surgeon at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, N.J.  This is a particularly common injury for beginner skiers or boarders. Skiers usually strike the side of their heads, and boarders usually strike the back of their heads. Another, more dangerous injury occurs from colliding with a stationary object, commonly another skier or a tree.

In an effort to limit head injuries on the mountain, Dr. Magovern says your goals should be to: 1) prevent these sorts of falls in the first place, 2) decrease your risk of head injury by wearing a helmet, and 3) if you do sustain a head injury, be able to recognize the symptoms and know when to seek medical attention.

The first line of defense against head injuries is to ski responsibly -- that means always ski under control. When you stop, make sure you’re in a spot where others can see you, and stay away from trees, unless you really know what you’re doing -- they’re unforgiving.

The second line of defense is to wear a helmet. Can wearing a helmet make a difference? You bet it can. A helmet will reduce the risk of head injury, but it won’t make you invincible. What we’ve learned about wearing helmets is that it will decrease your risk of head injury by 20 percent to 50 percent -- it can mean the difference between a major head injury and a minor head injury, and it can mean the difference between a minor head injury and no injury at all.

But helmets do have limitations, Magovern notes. If you’re barreling down the mountain at 60 mph like Franz Klammer, injuries you sustain in a fall may overwhelm the protective capabilities of a helmet.
The average recreational ski or snowboarding helmet is designed to provide protection when skiing at speeds of less than 15 mph. Because it is common for skiers and boarders to reach speeds of 25-40 mph on some intermediate trails, recognize that, at these speeds, a helmet may not provide complete protection. For a helmet to provide proper protection at those speeds, it would have to be 7 inches thick, 20 inches wide, and weigh 10 pounds...and that’s simply unrealistic.

Magovern says the bottom line is that although helmets cannot provide ultimate protection for all falls, they will prevent or lessen the degree of head trauma for most falls -- and because there’s no good reason not to wear a helmet, just strap one on.

He adds that order to get the most protection from your helmet, it’s important that it fit properly. First of all, never use a bicycle helmet or skateboarding helmet; they are not designed for skiing or snowboarding. Your helmet should be snug, but not tight. Finally, ensure that your chinstrap is always fastened securely.

As recently as 2011, 46 states in this country had motorcycle helmet laws, 37 states had bicycle helmet laws, and not a single state had any law mandating the use of helmets on the slopes. Our European colleagues have been ahead of us in this regard -- in 2009, Austria mandated that all children less than 14 years old must wear helmets.

But things are changing; in April 2011, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a bill that mandates that children less than 18 years old must wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding or their parents will face fines that range from $25-$50. Similar legislation is pending in New York.

Finally, the last line of defense against head injuries on the mountain is to be able to promptly recognize an injury when it occurs, so treatment is not delayed.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Olympian Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson Carried Traumas to His Death, Experts Say

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(SALT LAKE CITY) -- Jeret "Speedy" Peterson was the only Olympic skier who could pull off his gravity-defying signature jump -- the Hurricane. The breathtaking aerial move consisted of five twists and three somersaults at more than 50 feet in the air. The jump never failed to draw wild cheers from awestruck spectators.

This jump won Peterson a silver medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Feb. 25, 2010. Exactly 17 months later, to the day, 29-year-old Jeret "Speedy" Peterson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a Utah canyon.

The death was unexpected for those who knew the famously kindhearted athlete with a twinkle in his eye and a genuine but mischievous smile.

But behind that smile and his passion for a risky sport was a lifetime of painful and traumatic events that psychologists said likely stayed with him through both personal and professional highs and lows.

Peterson had spoken publicly about his struggles with alcohol, depression and suicidal thoughts. He had been the victim of sexual abuse as an infant, which his mother later told him about, turning him into an activist for sexually abused children. He also lost his 5-year-old sister in an accident involving a drunken driver.

"When you've had trauma in the past, like the loss of a sibling or sexual abuse in your history, those things are always part of your life story, and other stresses can bring them to the foreground, while good times can push them to the background," said Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist and professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University.

Months before the Turin Olympics in 2006, a friend of Peterson's committed suicide in front of him. Peterson came in seventh place in Turin and was sent home early from the Games for getting into a brawl with a friend after a night out celebrating with the team.

"If you know someone who has committed suicide, it does increase your risk of committing suicide," Kaslow said. Other risk factors include substance abuse, childhood traumas, depression and loss, all of which Peterson experienced. Kaslow said that these risks could be managed through good social support, coping skills, religious or spiritual involvement, or therapy.

"Here is a guy who's had traumas etched into his memory and obviously caused him problems throughout his life," said Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In 2010, Peterson said that he had stopped drinking. But last Friday, he was arrested outside Hailey, Idaho, for drunken driving. He pleaded not guilty.

The Vancouver Games were redeeming for Peterson's career and public image. Even though he had been the 2005 World Cup champion, a seven-time winner on the World Cup circuit, a three-time American champion and a three-time Olympic team member, he was often remembered for his tumultuous experience in Turin.

But when he nailed his signature jump in Vancouver and came away with the silver medal, he walked off Cypress Mountain with tears streaming down his face and hope for the future.

"I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything," Peterson said after winning his medal. "There's light at the end of the tunnel, and mine was silver and I love it."

Unfortunately, this healthy outlook was not to last.

The psychologists who spoke for this story, neither of whom had treated or been in contact with Peterson, said that the time between peaks can be very difficult for those whose occupations center on thrilling events.

"Oftentimes when you have people like Olympiads or people who go on space shuttles, they're at the height of their careers and their lives," Kaslow said. "For some of them, it's really hard to figure out what's next. When they don't have that fun center to take up a big part of their [lives], they feel lost, and some people become more vulnerable."

Peterson was enrolled as a student at Westminster College in Salt Lake City this year, where he was working toward a degree and had not yet decided whether he would train for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

"Once the glory is over and you come back down to baseline, somebody like that is at risk of slipping further into depression," Klapow said. "Nobody's paying attention to them anymore, the glory is not there, and now he has time to be with his thoughts again."

These thoughts led Peterson to drive to the remote Lambs Canyon in Utah, between Salt Lake City and Park City, late Monday night. There, Peterson called 911 and told police where they could find him after he shot himself, police said. A suicide note was found near his car, but police have not disclosed its content.

Despite Peterson's troubled past, news of his death shocked those who knew him as the charismatic boy from Boise, Idaho, who had a passion for the open air and a determination to do what others said was impossible.

"We cannot always predict things," Kaslow said. "While we oftentimes associate suicide with people who are depressed and disengaged from life, there are a lot of people who kill themselves who seem to be doing well in life."

Klapow emphasized that problems such as depression and alcoholism cannot be viewed simply as weaknesses that people need to "buck up" and overcome. They are illnesses that can be managed but must be taken seriously, because otherwise, they can lead to tragic outcomes.

Today, the athletic community is reeling from the loss of one of its most talented stars.

"The silver medal is the thing that people recognize, and it's the iconic representation of excellence in the Olympics," Tom Kelly, the vice president of communication for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, told ABC News. "What we remember him for is someone who took his sport to a new level that it had never seen and it may never see again."

After the Vancouver Games, Peterson returned to his native Boise, where his community came together to celebrate its hometown hero. Many children came to a rally held in his honor where he received a key to the city and basked in the pride of his town and his accomplishment.

"This is a sad day for Boise and for all of us who admired 'Speedy' Peterson's accomplishments, both on the slopes and in his life," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter in a statement. "The hundreds of kids who came to City Hall to shake Speedy's hand after he 'medaled' in Vancouver last year are a living testament to his power to inspire and motivate. It is truly tragic that, in the end, there was one hill he wasn't able to conquer."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio