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Skiers don helmets at resort

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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 yesterday—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,” she added.

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,” said Greg McEvoy of Ottawa, who has been wearing a helmet for the past five or six year.

“It’s unfortunate, very unfortunate.

“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,” he noted.

The resort in the Laurentians issued a statement yesterday 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, eventually was 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 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 yesterday.

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.

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 138 people were hospitalized across Canada in 2005-06 because of a head injury sustained while skiing or snowboarding.

Kumpf said Richardson’s case is a sad one that likely will 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,” Dodge, an Ottawa resident, said as she came off the Tremblant ski hill.

“Everybody should wear one.”

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