February 1, 2011
Canada to host crash courseSummit to discuss ski safety after another spill
By IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency
CALGARY -- Max Gartner sounds like a nervous father trying to keep his kids from running around the house, knowing at any moment the high speed will cause an injury.
As president of Alpine Canada, Gartner has watched skier after skier go down with scary injuries, and now it's time to protect the athletes from themselves.
The latest is downhill racer Manuel Osborne-Paradis, who returned to Calgary Monday evening after crashing Saturday in Chamonix, France.
The Canadian ski star faces surgery on a torn ACL and recovery from a broken tibia and dislocated ribs resulting from a crash at 120 km/h.
So it was perfect timing for Gartner to announce Monday that Alpine Canada will host a safety summit in Calgary to figure out how to prevent these devastating accidents.
"At the elite level, these guys create forces that have never been that high," Gartner said. "You can get bigger and stronger, but when you get off-balance, you cannot withstand those forces.
"Manny will say it's the risk involved. It's not their job to look at safety. That's our job. Athletes in general are competing to win.
"Whatever you set in front of them, they will push the limits. Then others try to copy it."
There is no easy answer to this problem.
Osborne-Paradis actually hit the safety netting in his crash, and he got off lucky. A week ago, Austria's Hans Grugger needed emergency brain surgery following a horrific crash at Kitzbuehel, and he is slowly emerging from a coma.
Even when question about a way to prevent his particular crash, Osborne-Paradis said the solution would be complicated.
"What I would have done is have more of the turn down before you head into there," he said upon arriving in Calgary Monday evening.
"But that takes away most of the risk factor. It's a risky game. I knew it was there. I thought I took a less aggressive line because I knew there were accidents there.
"I wanted to make it through there without taking any risks. Even with that line, I still fell."
Osborne-Paradis sits on an athlete's safety committee in Europe and has heard several suggestions on what to do. It requires going through a hill-by-hill examination and even then different people want different changes.
One of the major problems, Osborne-Paradis says, is the conditions change from one section of courses to another thanks to water injections into certain turns.
Athletes set their skis for one type of snow, and they don't react as well to another.
"Inject them all or not at all," he said. "That's something we all agree on."
Since getting injured, Osborne-Paradis has said many times this is an inevitable part of his sport -- and he doesn't want anyone to fully take away the danger.
"The scare factor makes it so this is a sport not everybody can do," he said. "You need to be an elite athlete to do it.
"It's the same as any other extreme sport. That's why you get a rush from doing it. You wouldn't get a rush out of it if it wasn't dangerous."
Although he's joining a long list of injured Canadian skiers, Osborne-Paradis is remaining positive, adding maybe he needed the time off to recharge the batteries anyway.
"I can't go home and sulk," he said. "If I look at the big picture -- and it's probably a year before I race -- it's depressing.
"Maybe I will be back by Christmas. It won't be my best season. I will need some time to get back on my downhill skis."