Better Life, Close Shave

Better Safe Than Sorry

Close Shave: Better Safe Than Sorry Featured
How a skiing accident got me to start listening to my wife.

If we’re at odds, sometimes it takes me a while to find my wife’s point of view.

Put on the sunscreen lotion.

Yeah, I do sunburn easily. But I hate putting that stuff on. Nah, I just put it on an hour ago. I’m going to go in the water . . . Four days later I’m still looking like a lobster.

It can sometimes feel like nagging, but one day the request came out so sincere. Please, if you could do one thing for yourself . . .

I’ve been a snowboarder for a long time — probably 18 years. I don’t know why I’d always willfully avoided the advice to get a helmet. It’s easy to say I thought I was invincible. But it’s got to be more complicated than that because I did wear a helmet when I played football.

I played football from the time I was eight through high school. Linebacker. We played a 3-4 defense, and the other inside linebacker had some pretty serious concussion problems. After his first injury, we both upgraded our gear to make sure our heads were safe.

But I never put that same consideration forward when it came to snowboarding.

Not even after I saw a good friend of mine smack his head on ice while we were snowboarding and get knocked out cold.

He was a speed guy. A friend and I convinced him to hit one of these big tabletops. Give it a shot. He just bombed the hill, cleared the entire jump, stomped the landing and his board went out from underneath him and popped the back of his head. From downhill, we saw him kind of shaking, and we thought he was laughing because he had bit it really hard. But what actually happened was he was knocked unconscious and having a seizure.

Instead of spending the day snowboarding I spent the day waiting for him to wake up.

I felt like I had good control over my snowboarding — and I just wouldn’t buy a helmet. Helmets felt like it made the thrill less tangible.

Besides, I always hated to go to the shops at the base. So many families with little kids, trying to get them to gear up. I didn’t want to have to rush to make a decision and risk losing out on a run.

I grew up with four guys, and we snowboarded every day after school in the winter. As we got older, we’d go snowboarding on a biannual trip somewhere exotic. One of the guys is really safety conscious – you know, the guy who comes in with the sound advice when the shenanigans start. He was saying it was so stupid that I didn’t wear a helmet.

But just before my buddies and I met in Utah for our trip, my wife looked me in the eye. We’d been married two years. Please, if you could do one thing for yourself, do this helmet thing.

Okay, okay, sure . . .

Jen stays back in Connecticut. I go off to Snowbird Mountain. There was a cool base lodge area and before we go up I decide to go into one of the stores and buy a helmet. There were no lines. The salesman was friendly. He helped me find one that fit. It was a simple black helmet with some air vents – which I thought was kind of handy because I wanted to stay cool while I was riding. The chinstrap felt awkward, like it was constricting my neck. But I bought it, left the tags with the salesman and strapped it on. I was able to get my headphones plugged in and listen to some jams, so that was good.

We get to the top of the mountain. Beautiful sunny day. But you could barely stand it was so windy. And I send a picture to Jen of me in my new helmet.

It was my first run in Utah. First ride ever with a helmet in ten years of snowboarding. My friends go first. I look down on a moderate trail to one side. Then a giant bowl with a long precipice running off in one direction where my friends had gone.

I take off and I’m riding along the peak. There are trees along the way. Really deep grooves. It was hard to turn or speed check. You just had to keep your knees moving and riding through it. I was picking up a lot of speed, looking for a place off the right side of the mountain to drop in. As I’m looking, I’m in the grooves between all these trees and BOOM! I’m knocked horizontal in the air and the next thing I know I’m sitting up looking into this crazy drop in.

I’d clipped my head on a tree branch. I take off my helmet and find a big dent. I couldn’t have had a closer shave. Had I not had that helmet on I’d have had to be airlifted out of there.

I was able to get up, drop in and ride through. Where were you? my friends asked.

“Look at this,” I pointed to the helmet.

When I got back home, I got that really special over-the-top told-you-so eye roll from Jen.

I may not be the perfect husband. But I do pay more attention to her point of view.