A series of proposals aimed at reducing the number of serious injuries in ski racing was unveiled earlier this week by Alpine Canada after the conclusion of a two-day Safety Summit held in Calgary. The summit brought together leading doctors, scientists, coaches, athletes, equipment specialists and other experts from the ski community.
Following a series of presentations, discussions and workshops, Alpine Canada Alpin (ACA) president Max Gartner announced a series of measures aimed at improving safety in domestic ski racing, as well as a strategy to work with the International Ski Federation (FIS) to call for improvements at the World Cup level. "We have taken a big step forward," said Gartner. "By focusing on the risk factors related to injuries we were able to determine where we are at from a scientific point of view and examine what changes can be made, both now and over the longer term, to reduce injuries. "Safety is a multi-faceted issue that has to be addressed at a number of levels. At the domestic level, we need to communicate these changes and recommendations to our stakeholders. At the elite level, we will put together a proposal to present to FIS." Gartner said a detailed document will be put together outlining key initiatives and recommendations agreed at the two-day summit, alongside a strategy for rolling out those plans at the domestic and international levels. Highlights of the proposals and recommendations agreed at the summit include: – Consistent snow preparation: Avoiding the use of water injection when building courses for domestic ski racing – Quality course setting: Ski courses in Canada to be set according to conditions, with a focus on reducing speed – Jump progression: Specific jump training to be introduced for young Canadian skiers, to improve their skill level – Suits: ACA to lobby for different ski suit materials to be used at the elite/World Cup level to increase padding and slow down ski racers – Helmets: Alpine Canada Alpin to conduct safety testing of helmets used by national team athletes – Mouth guards and back braces: Their use will be strongly recommended at all levels of ski racing – Nationwide tracking system for athletes to be introduced to monitor physical testing, injuries suffered by Canadian skiers of all ages – Team selection criteria: Young Canadian skiers to be encouraged to race technical events (slalom, for example) before they focus on downhill racing, which will not commence until age 18. There's a bigger injury risk factor with downhill racing due to increased speed. – Examine use of sleeves and other devices to reduce the risk of knee injuries – Improve the management of skiers "It was really good to have representatives of the provincial ski organizations here to be part of this process," said Gartner. "We've made some progress, particularly with how we approach speed events – going from skill development at the lower level to increasing the age at which skiers are eligible to race in downhill to 18. We also want to make sure we create consistent snow conditions, preferably without the use of water injection. The general aim in course setting will be to reduce speed." At the World Cup level, ski, boot and binding setup has been found to be a significant risk factor for injuries. FIS is working on rule changes and equipment modification in those areas, but they are not expected to be introduced some time after the 2011-12 season. "The big thing we are waiting for is equipment changes," said Gartner. "We have to be patient because it takes a little more time to implement these things at the international level." ACA also plans to lobby FIS to change the fabric used in the suits worn by elite skiers. More padding and a reduced emphasis on making the suits as aerodynamic as possible could help to reduce injuries, said Gartner. Ten national ski team members, including North Vancouver’s Manuel Osbourne-Paradis, Whistler’s Ashleigh McIvor and Chilliwack’s Kelly VanderBeek all suffered serious long-term injuries over the past two seasons. VanderBeek was the main athlete representative at the Safety Summit. The 28-year-old said she is optimistic that the proposals put forward at the meeting will make a difference. "I have come to realize that there's no silver bullet when it comes to safety," said VanderBeek, who has developed an athlete survey to gain feedback from skiers who suffer injuries. "But I'm very hopeful looking forward." Physiotherapist Chris Napier (of SportMedBC) was a member of the Canadian Core Medical team working with the Canadian Ski Cross squad at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. He’s worked directly with some of the national team skiers who are recovering from injury. While complete injury prevention is difficult, Napier told SportMedBC.com making the sport less dangerous is a possibility. “It’s such a physical sport and the body takes a beating, but there are many factors that can be addressed and that could lead to fewer injuries. “Athlete conditioning, strength training, course safety, equipment, along with snow and weather conditions all play big roles. Fatigue levels also affect the athletes. The racing, travel and time change can catch up with them during the ski season. "But focusing on these issues will help these athletes out in the long run." The two-day Ski Racing Safety Summit was the first of its kind held in Canada. – with files from Alpine Canada and the Canadian Press