Some experts are calling for a mandatory helmet law, one year after the death of British actress Natasha Richardson following a ski lesson at Mont-Tremblant.

Richardson, the wife of actor Liam Neeson, was taken off of life support and died last March 19th, two days after she hit her head during the beginner lesson.

She was not wearing a helmet.

While her death was shocking at the time, trauma experts say there are 200 to 250 cases of brain injury a year in Quebec.

And while helmet-use on ski slopes is up, experts including neuropsychologist Dr. Alain Ptito want governments to make them mandatory.

"It seems obvious to me," Ptito told CTV's Caroline Van Vlaardingen.

"It seems obvious to me that if you're going at a certain speed and there is a risk of impact -- the obvious thing is to protect yourself as best you can."

Dr. Ptito, who works at the Montreal Neurological Institute, has been studying the effects of head injuries on memory and the thought process.

He has scanned the brains of athletes with and without head injuries to compare their brain function.

"What we see is the more severe the symptoms, the less the activation patterns."

Financial costs

He said that the effects can last months and even years and that if public safety doesn't prompt governments to act, politicians should be motivated by the financial costs.

"If the government wants to save money I think they should make (helmets) mandatory because it's very expensive to treat a head injury," said Ptito.

Think First, a Quebec group that promotes brain-injury awareness, says it could cost $8.2 million to care for a healthy 20-year-old who's unable to work after a head injury.


Quebec ski hill operators say helmet use on the province's slopes has grown from just over 10 per cent to close to 80 per cent over the past decade.

But that still means one in four skiers and boarders aren't wearing them.

Human cost

Benoit Ballard knows first-hand the effect that head injuries can have on quality of life.

On April 15, 1999, Ballard was snowboarding down a beginner's run called Cameron's Trail at Lake Louise, Alta. when something happened.

"They said I was screaming . . . ‘cause I hit my head very hard on the ice, I guess," said Ballard, 31.

He was not wearing a helmet.

Ballard spent the next 40 days in a coma and he awoke with only limited use of his left side.

He can move his right hand but it takes effort to open the left. The toes on his left side are always in a curled position.

"Every step I take from morning ‘till night, I have to think of the step I'm going to take," he says "That's my life."

Ballard spends several hours a day in a rehab centre. He says he's lucky to be alive but still has regrets.

"I'd give anything I have just to go back on April 15th because I'd be wearing a helmet, that's for sure."