Skiing fatality raises questions over helmets
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – A 15-year-old British girl who died Saturday in a ski accident on the Nevada side of Heavenly Ski Resort has been identified as Rachel Louise Williams of Hayle, England.
Witnesses said Williams struck a tree while skiing in bounds on the Stagecoach lift area. Heavenly Ski Patrol and Tahoe-Douglas County Fire Department officials attempted to revive the girl. Autopsy reports indicate she died of injuries to the head. The sheriff’s office said she was not wearing a helmet.
Her skiing experience was not known.
Williams was one of 30 students and seven adults visiting with a tour group from the Hayle Community School in England. Williams’ father flew to Reno from England on Sunday afternoon.
The accident has raised questions about the need for snow sport safety devices. Heavenly requires snowboarders to have leashes attached to their boards and skiers must have brakes of some kind. This helps prevent boards from colliding with skiers and boarders.
The ski area rents helmets, but it does not force children or adults to wear them.
Dennis Harmon, managing director at Heavenly, said that while there is definitely more use of helmets than there has been in years past, it is still “a personal decision.”
He did say that most children enrolled in ski classes are choosing to wear them.
Helmets remain a personal choice, said public relations supervisor for Sierra-at-Tahoe, Ben McLeod. He does, however, advise helmets for amateur use and thinks wearing a helmet sets a good example for kids.
“When you are first learning, it really helps,” McLeod said.
The United States of America Snowboarding Association requires all competitors to wear helmets during competitions. The association is not the only group trying to lay some ground rules for snow sports.
Last year, the New Jersey Legislature passed a law requiring participants under the age of 14 to wear helmets while “downhill skiing.” This includes the operation of skis, snowboards, sleds, toboggans and similar vehicles.