Alaska Musher Adds Helmet After 2014 Concussion

January 28, 2015

A decision to wear a helmet is already paying off for veteran long-distance musher Brent Sass.

A chunk is missing from the brim of the downhill ski helmet he now wears on the trail, the result of a crash into a tree training run.

“It’s already come in handy,” he said of his new headgear. “I was like, ‘There’s the sign.”‘

Sass was without a helmet last year as he sped toward the final check point of the Yukon Quest, the 1,000-mile annual race between Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and Fairbanks, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Just minutes behind eventual winner Allen Moore, Sass dozed off and fell from his sled. His head smacked the surface of a frozen lake and the resulting concussion forced him to scratch. He had to withdraw from the Iditarod a few weeks later and his concussion symptoms lasted for months.

The former University of Alaska Fairbanks cross-country skier resolved to take better care of himself during future races, and that includes wearing a helmet.

Quest manager Alex Olesen said some mushers wear snowmobile or ski helmets in treacherous Iditarod stretches but he hasn’t heard of anyone who used one in the Yukon Quest.

Mushers are wary of using a hard-plastic helmet during extreme cold, he said.

“I think the potential for hard things conducting cold and the potential for discomfort keeps them from wearing them,” Olesen said.

The transition to the helmet has been surprisingly smooth, Sass said.

He likes his chances in the Quest, which begins Feb. 7 in Whitehorse. The most effective cure for his concussion symptoms, he said, was new litters of puppies born this summer.

“They were really able to help me,” he said. “There’s no better rehab than running around with a bunch of puppies all the time. There’s really nothing better.”

Sass, 35, has a reputation for backcountry prowess. He was given a special award by race officials in 2011 for leading two other teams off American Summit during a blizzard. His teams have thrived in mountainous portions of the race.

Sass won the Gin Gin 200 three weeks ago and finished sixth in the Kuskokwim 300.

“The team is going to be as good or better as last year,” he said. “It’s up to me to hold it together, which I couldn’t quite do last year.”

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