A day before New Year’s Eve, 2010, Newport Beach resident Chris Crocker stood by his car in the parking lot of the Snow Summit Mountain Resort and had a decision to make.
Should he wear his helmet today or not?
He didn’t much care for the helmet, but this day he was with his young daughters and decided to set a good example. He put his helmet on. That decision saved Crocker’s life, and instead of returning home without a father, his daughters gained a new appreciation for wearing helmets on the slopes.
And it’s a lesson Crocker wants to share more widely.
Crocker is by no means a beginning skier. He’s been an instructor twice, in Lake Tahoe and Colorado, and prides himself on having been an avid skier since high school.
But that didn’t make him immune to what was basically a freak accident that nobody could foresee and could happen to anybody.
“We were in the family fun zone area of Snow Summit, by chair 9,” Crocker said. “It’s an intermediate skiing area that had fresh powder. I just made a bad turn.”
His bad turn aimed him directly towards a tree, and when one of his skis got stuck in a harder patch of snow, it threw him off balance. He had no chance to change course. He barely had an instant to turn his face away from the tree – to the left 90 degrees – before he smashed into it. His right shoulder and head took the brunt of the collision. The helmet saved his life and even kept him conscious throughout the whole ordeal.
His helmet was a type that has a memory foam on the inside that considerably slowed his head’s impact upon hitting the tree. It’s a helmet designed for downhill racers and engineered for multiple blows to the head, as the memory foam goes back to its original place after impact.
A lot of people have been saying to Crocker, “That’s what happened to Sonny Bono isn’t it?”
He replies with, “It’s the exact same thing that happened to him, but I was wearing a helmet.”
The day before this devastating accident, Crocker was out free skiing without a helmet. He never thought that skiing intermediate runs would lead to the ski patrol removing him from the mountain on a stretcher. But just a week before his accident and a week after, a couple of other skiers on local mountains died in incidents nearly identical to Crocker’s.
It took six ski patrolmen 30 minutes to extract Crocker from the tree and get him on a backboard. He remained conscious throughout, and actually found some calmness looking up at the trees knowing his affairs were in order and, in a worst-case scenario, his family would be taken care of.
He broke two ribs and his tibia, and the doctor said the accident was as if he stepped out onto PCH and was hit by an SUV traveling at 25 mph. But because of his helmet, he didn’t sustain a single injury from the neck up.
He spent two weeks in bed recovering, and since, has moved his rehab to Cal Sports Rehab over by Fashion Island.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Crocker said. “I hope my story will encourage mothers to buy their children helmets and make sure they were them.”
He mainly wants people to hear his story and learn from it. Life should not be taken for granted, he says, and taking the risk out by simply wearing a helmet is something everyone can do. Soon, he’ll be starting a facebook campaign and a full social media attack to encourage children and adults to wear helmets while skiing and snowboarding.
It’s already working.
One of Crocker’s friends, Mike Adler, said that when he hung up the phone upon hearing of the accident, he had a message for his children: “I told my two teenage daughters they’re not skiing without a helmet anymore, and I might even strap inner tubes to their waists.”
A couple weeks ago, Crocker celebrated his 40th birthday with his family. The next day he headed back to Snow Summit to deliver pizzas to the ski patrolmen that saved his life.