LOCAL NEWS

Skier explains how a helmet saved him from serious head injury

Jan 20, 2023, 7:59 PM | Updated: 8:48 pm

DEER VALLEY, Utah — As part of National Ski Area Safety Awareness Month, Deer Valley and Intermountain Healthcare teamed up today to give away new helmets.  They also fitted helmets and talked with skiers about the latest technology in concussion protection.

When ski helmets first started to appear on the slopes about 25 years ago, people were among the minority wearing them on the mountain.  Today, it’s hard to find skiers and snowboarders, who are not wearing them. Mike McGurl can tell you why.

“I’m here because I had a helmet on,” the skier said.  McGurl was skiing at Deer Valley. “They had just pulled the rope on a powder day,” he said. “So I was super excited, and I jumped in and didn’t see some rocks and crashed and basically crushed my left side.”

He landed in an intensive care unit for a week with internal bleeding, broken ribs and a punctured lung.  His helmet only had scratches. “I don’t think I’d be here today, talking about it if I had not been wearing a helmet,” McGurl said. 

Dr. Austin Smith, medical director of the emergency department for Intermountain Park City Hospital shows a helmet that they were giving away Friday at Deer Valley. (KSL TV) Dr. Austin Smith, medical director of the emergency department for Intermountain Park City Hospital shows a helmet that they were giving away Friday at Deer Valley. (KSL TV) Dr. Austin Smith, medical director of the emergency department for Intermountain Park City Hospital talked about the latest technology in concussion safety in ski helmets at Deer Valley. (KSL TV) Dr. Austin Smith, medical director of the emergency department for Intermountain Park City Hospital talked about the latest technology in concussion safety in ski helmets at Deer Valley. (KSL TV)

He said he smacked his head pretty hard in the crash. “Not even a concussion,” he said. “The helmet saved me.“

Intermountain Healthcare and Deer Valley gave away 50 brand new helmets Friday.  They fitted people and got several old helmets off the mountain. 

“We see an enormous amount of head injuries with and without helmets,” said Dr. Austin Smith medical director of the emergency department at Intermountain Park City Hospital. “The ones without helmets seem to be a little bit more serious.”

Smith said they see more than 200 head injuries a year.  A high-speed crash while wearing a helmet still may lead to a concussion, he said.  Without a helmet the injuries could be much worse. “It may be a brain bleed, which is much more severe than a concussion, and is life-threatening compared to a minor concussion,” the doctor said.

Smith said the helmet is good protection with other benefits. “It keeps you warm,” he said. “They don’t weigh much anymore. So it’s such an easy, preventative way to not have a major head injury.”

The National Ski Areas Association reports that helmets can reduce head injuries by up to 50%.  Helmet technology has evolved as we learn more about concussions. Look for a yellow label that indicates MIPS technology. 

“Allows for the helmet to move a little bit to help absorb some of that energy whenever a skier takes a blow,” Smith said. 

McGurl offered advice to other skiers. “I just don’t go out and do anything like this without a helmet on,” he said. 

Smith said it’s a lot like wearing a seatbelt.  You can still get hurt wearing a seatbelt but, it’s going to reduce the severity of the injuries.

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Skier explains how a helmet saved him from serious head injury