LOUISVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – 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.

A young skier from Louisville is living proof.

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“I was your typical 17-year-old boy,” said Ryder Heuston. “Reckless, arrogant.”

(credit: Ryder Heuston)

He did big mountain, freestyle skiing.

“Big cliffs and jumps and stuff,” Heuston told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

On Dec. 23, 2018, Heuston 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.

(credit: Ryder Heuston)

“That sent me head first through another rock just below me,” he said.

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

“You could actually push on the roof of my mouth and my entire face would pop out,” he explained.

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Heuston’s helmet took a beating, splitting from the impact, but it also saved his life.

(credit: Ryder Heuston)

“No doubt. Without it I would not be here,” he said.

Heuston spent 18 days in intensive care at St. Anthony Hospital. His face was reconstructed with 36 screws and six plates. At Craig Hospital, he learned to walk and eat again, and worked on restoring his memory, language skills and more.

Eleven months later, he was back on the slopes.

“A lot more cautious and aware of what I’m doing” he said.

Now 19, Heuston is grounded in golf. He plays for the University of Denver and hopes to turn pro. He says he still has some issues with stuttering and he lost his sense of smell, but he gained Ollie, the dog his mother promised him if he survived.

Heuston has promised to be a role model when it comes to the use of helmets.

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“I will always protect my head after what I’ve done because it’s the most important thing and you only get one brain.”