Alpine Canada applies the brakes to ski racing

May 31, 2011

Health & Safety, regulation

Alpine Canada, the national governing body for alpine and ski cross racing, announced a series of measures aimed at improving safety in domestic ski racing as well as a strategy to work with FIS (the International Ski Federation) to improve conditions at the World Cup level.

The changes are in response to a rise in serious skier injuries; more than half of Canada’s national team didn’t compete throughout the 2010-11 season due to injury (read article here). Erich Mueller, a ski safety expert from the University of Salzburg and a member of the injury research team for FIS, says that 42% of World Cup skiers suffered injuries in 2009 and that 23% of those injuries resulted in athletes missing at least eight days of training and/or racing (read article here).

Kelly VanderBeek, a skier on the national team, opines that, ‘We know there are risks but we’ve gone too far.’ VanderBeek appreciates that ski racing is an inherently dangerous sport but qualifies it: ‘It doesn’t have to be this dangerous. It’s just taken a quantum leap in the severity’ of injuries sustained by skiers.

Max Gartner, President of Alpine Canada, correctly notes that, ‘In order to have a sport with a good balance between risk and reward’ it is necessary to recalibrate and rethink their approach.

Changes include (see Alpine Canada’s press release here):

  • avoiding the use of injecting water into the snow thereby making the slope resemble a skating risk to make the course hard and fast
  • setting courses in Canada with a focus on reducing speed
  • lobbying FIS for different ski suit materials to be used at the elite/World Cup level to create more drag and slow down ski racers
  • recommending mouth guards and back braces be used at all levels (their cost can be prohibitively expensive so they aren’t yet mandated)

It is noteworthy that in a sport where the need for speed is essential for winning, the national governing body for alpine and ski cross racing has recognized that the best courses and gear needn’t be the fastest. Alpine Canada has appreciated that the technologically-inspired means of making skiers go faster has disrupted the balance between risk and reward and have accordingly and properly taken measures to slow things down.

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