Skiers don helmets at Que. resort where Richardson suffered fatal head injury

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MONT-TREMBLANT, Que. - The beginner's hill where actress Natasha Richardson suffered the head injury that apparently led to her death was dotted with skiers wearing helmets on Thursday - many of whom said they had donned the protective gear because of the Broadway star.
That's as far as anything resembling a tribute to Richardson could be seen in the posh resort although the 45-year-old actress was a hot topic of conversation.
A sad frown creased people's faces when the subject came up and they expressed bewilderment about how such an improbable tragedy could have happened.
"It's very sad," said skier Sylvia Kriksiz, who got her helmet upon hearing about the tragedy.
"I started wearing a helmet. I intend to continue."
Richardson, an award-winning stage and screen actress, had no head protection when she took what's been described by resort officials as an innocuous spill during a private lesson Monday on one of Tremblant's beginner slopes.
"It's quite unusual. You don't expect someone who has a fall on something that's relatively and fairly innocuous to have such a severe accident after the fact. It's unfortunate, very unfortunate," said Greg McEvoy of Ottawa, who has been wearing a helmet for the past five or six years.
"We had a member of our ski club who had quite a serious injury up here who's now a paraplegic so a lot of us took heed of that and started wearing helmets."
The resort in the Laurentians issued a statement Thursday saying it was deeply saddened by Richardson's sudden death, and offered condolences.
The resort also pledged to co-operate in any future investigation regarding the incident.
Tremblant spokeswoman Catherine Lacasse said the resort has decided not make any further public comment out of respect for the family.
Resort officials have said Richardson seemed fine immediately after her fall and initially refused offers of medical care.
The Tony-winning actress, who began to feel unwell about an hour later, was eventually hospitalized in Montreal and later flown to New York, where she died Wednesday night.
Yves Coderre, director of operations at a local ambulance company, told The Globe and Mail that paramedics were sent away after being dispatched to the mountain. Richardson declined treatment, he said.
By the time another ambulance was called later to Richardson's luxury hotel nearly two hours later, her condition had become worse, Coderre told the newspaper. The resort said in a statement Tuesday that the ambulance was called an hour after her tumble.
The medics tended to her for half an hour before transporting her to a hospital in Ste. Agathe, a 40-minute drive away, the Globe reported on its website Thursday.
The New York medical examiner's office said Richardson died accidentally from a blunt impact to the head and the cause of death was epidural hematoma, which is bleeding between the skull and the brain's covering.
Her death has renewed a call for mandatory helmet laws.
In Quebec, Sport and Leisure Minister Michelle Courchesne said she would consider the idea in time for next year's ski season. Last month emergency room doctors called on Quebec to make helmets mandatory.
The debate also surfaced in Ontario last month after a 13-year-old South Korean exchange student who wasn't wearing a helmet hit a tree and died. Despite calls to make helmets compulsory for children, Premier Dalton McGuinty said it's up to parents to keep their kids safe.
But John Kumpf of the Ontario Alliance for Action on Brain Injury said a mandatory helmet law makes perfect sense, despite the controversy over the issue.
"Quite clearly there are people who don't agree," Kumpf said.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information's latest figures, which do not include those from Quebec, indicate that 138 people were hospitalized across Canada in 2005-2006 because of a head injury sustained while skiing or snowboarding.
Between 1990 and 2008, at least 39 people died on Quebec's ski hills, according to the provincial coroner's office.
A report released last year suggested that of the 26 deaths between 1990 and 2004, 14 were the result of head injuries. Helmets were worn in just two of those 14 cases.
Kumpf said Richardson's case is a sad one that will likely throw the spotlight on how fragile the brain if the message isn't already getting across.
Skier Karen Dodge said she's glad she bought a helmet.
"I bought a helmet after the accident," said Dodge, an Ottawa resident, as she came off the Tremblant ski hill.
"Everybody should wear one."

Organizations: Globe and Mail, Ontario Alliance for Action on Brain Injury, Canadian Institute for Health Information

Geographic location: MONT-TREMBLANT, Ottawa, Broadway Quebec New York Montreal Ste Ontario Canada

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