ThinkFirst program reminds skiers of need for helmets, safety on the slopes |

ThinkFirst program reminds skiers of need for helmets, safety on the slopes

Lucio Gernetti presents the punctured, but intact helmet he was wearing when he crashed while skiing in Breckenridge on Jan. 9. The helmet prevented a tree branch from impaling Gernetti's head during his high-speed crash.
Courtesy of St. Anthony Summit Medical Center

A few centimeters of hardened ABS plastic is all that kept a tree branch from impaling the back of Lucio Gernetti’s head.

Gernetti, a Vail Resorts employee, survived a high-speed crash while skiing the Amen Trail in Breckenridge on Jan. 6. Gernetti was taken to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, where he needed surgery to repair a broken femur and was treated for a gash on his scalp. But without his helmet, Gernetti could have wound up a human skewer.

“I know myself and I know I’m fearless,” Gernetti said from his hospital bed this past week. “I also know sometimes it can end bad, so I always wear a helmet. My helmet saved my life.”

Stories like Gernetti’s are hard reminders of why it pays to wear a helmet on the mountain.

As part of the National Safety Month campaign for snowsports, the ThinkFirst brain and spinal injury prevention program will have booths at three local resorts this upcoming weekend to educate and encourage skiers and riders to protect their noggin with helmets while following the rules of the mountain.

This is the 11th year that ThinkFirst has hosted skier safety booths in Summit. ThinkFirst is part of the National Injury Prevention Foundation and operates through the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s trauma service department. The program seeks to prevent brain and spinal injuries through education, research and advocacy.

On Jan. 19 and 20, ThinkFirst will be hosting booths at Breckenridge, Copper and Keystone resorts, and hosted a booth at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area this past weekend. Aside from educating about skier safety, ThinkFirst also distributes helmets to folks in need with a suggested donation at cost of their purchase value.

Last year, ThinkFirst presented its safety program to 56 ski school classes and 285 children across the four resorts and distributed 218 helmets. ThinkFirst estimates having reached over 10,000 community members over the past year with its safety campaign.

Aside from the safety education booths, ThinkFirst also conducts safety training programs for elementary, middle and high school students in Summit County.

“We educate them about anatomy, physiology, and how their body works,” said Holly Adnan, chapter director for ThinkFirst’s program in Summit. “We also teach them about making smart choices, and that if you have a brain or spinal cord injury, it affects the rest of your life; doctors can’t fix your brain or spine the way they fix a broken arm.”

Younger students are given interactive demonstrations of what brain trauma is like, using gelatin brains to show what the brain looks like and how fragile it is, crashing egg-laden cars to demonstrate the traumatic force brought on by impacts, and dropping melons with and without helmets to show what the impact can do to an unprotected brain.

Speakers who have personal experience with brain or spine injuries are brought in for older students. Summit High School alums such as Jeremy Green, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a teenager, and Carlos Santos, a former SHS football player who suffered a spinal injury, share their own stories of living with those catastrophic injuries.

ThinkFirst also teaches skier safety by drilling students with the Responsibility Code, which governs on-mountain behavior and is meant to ensure safety.

Adnan said that helmets have a 68 percent efficacy rate of preventing severe brain injuries, making wearing a helmet a no-brainer. Regardless, she acknowledges that some people will never wear a helmet.

“Common reasons we hear about not wearing a helmet is because those people claim to be expert skiers or snowboarders, and are really safe out there,” Adnan said. “But we like to remind them that it’s not always about what you’re doing, but things you can’t control, like other skiers.”

It should be noted that helmets do not offer safety all the time or at all speeds; for an impact at high speed, there is little that can save a person from mortal injury. So even with a helmet, skiers should always know their physical and skill limitations.

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