Teenager Who Survived Terrible Skiing Accident Is Now Advocate For Helmets On Colorado Slopes

Skiers and snowboarders are not required by law to wear helmets on the slopes in Colorado. Many experts say wearing a helmet helps reduce the chance of a serious head or brain injury.

Video Transcript

JIM BENEMANN: Well, skiers and boarders are not required by law to wear helmets on the slopes in Colorado. But boy, just about every expert will tell you, wearing a helmet dramatically reduces the chance of a serious head or a brain injury.

Our health specialist Kathy Walsh live right now at Craig Hospital. Kathy, you met a young skier who knows firsthand why those helmets are so important.

KATHY WALSH: This young man, Jim, has been skiing since he was five. Back in 2018, he had a horrible accident on the slopes. He says his helmet saved his life.

RYDER HEUSTON: I was your typical 17-year-old boy.

KATHY WALSH: Ryder Heuston and skiing.

RYDER HEUSTON: Reckless, a little arrogant.

KATHY WALSH: Big mountain, freestyle skiing.

RYDER HEUSTON: Big cliffs and jumps and stuff.

KATHY WALSH: On December 23, 2018, Ryder took off from Pyramid Rock, an infamous 45-foot jump at Breckenridge Ski Resort. The expert skier missed his landing by a foot and came down hard on a rock.

RYDER HEUSTON: That sent me headfirst through another rock just below me.

KATHY WALSH: Ryder broke his back and his skull, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and shattered all the bones in his face, except his jaw.

RYDER HEUSTON: You could actually push on the roof of my mouth and my entire face would pop out.

KATHY WALSH: Ryder's helmet took a beating, splitting from the impact. But it also saved his life.

RYDER HEUSTON: No doubt without it, I would not be here.

KATHY WALSH: Ryder's face was fixed with 36 screws and 6 plates. At Craig Hospital, he learned to walk and eat again and worked on his memory, language skills, and more. Eleven months later, he was back on the slopes.

RYDER HEUSTON: A lot more cautious.

KATHY WALSH: Now 19, Ryder is grounded in golf. He plays for the University of Denver. He says he still stutters a bit and he lost his sense of smell. But he gained Ollie, the dog his mother promised him if he survived. Ryder has promised to be a role model.

RYDER HEUSTON: I will always protect my head after what I've done, because it's the most important thing. And you only get one brain.

KATHY WALSH: Ryder spent 18 days in Craig and then three months as an outpatient. He is now an advocate for helmet safety on the slopes.

I'm Kathy Walsh, CBSN Denver.

JIM BENEMANN: Wow, Kathy. And what a job by those medical teams. That's just miraculous to see how well he's doing.