OUT OF THE GATE
An update on the FIS investigation BY HANK MCKEE
Are Ski Racing Injuries on the Rise?
Andreas Strodl is up and out after crashing on the injected Lake Louise course late last month.
SkiRacing.com DECEMBER 16, 2010 | 5 GEPA
“You can die,” says Picabo Street in a scene from
the Jalbert Productions film “The Thin Line.”
True words. Ski racing is a dangerous sport. That’s
part of the appeal. And ski racers have died: Ulrike
Maier, Regine Cavagnoud, Gerhard Pfaffenbichler are
among the most recent. Others such as Silvano Bel-trametti have been paralyzed, or, like Matthias Lanz-inger, faced amputation. The chances of a skier getting
a World Cup win without sustaining an injury requiring
surgery are virtually nill. In any given season, according to FIS statistics, there will be about 40 time-loss
injuries per 100 athletes among the alpine, snowboard
and freestyle disciplines.
Without question, racecourses are much safer than
they once were. Hay bales were once the padding of
choice. On the 1.72-mile Birds of Prey downhill track
at Beaver Creek, there were 1.5 miles of “A” netting
and 5.7 miles of secondary “B” netting. Ski bindings
once included thongs of leather that strapped the racer to the skis. They now release in every conceivable
Ski racing injuries happen no matter what the precautions. Racers are traveling in excess of 70 miles per
hour on boards with razor sharp edges. A layer of Ly-cra isn’t going to protect their bodies in a crash. Mistakes hurt.
It is the international governing body of the sport, the
FIS, that has taken on the responsibility of protecting
the skiers. Race organizers must provide rescue services and facilities according to strict guidelines. It’s a
demanding set of protocols.
According to FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis the
organization has been seeking solutions in a very intensive way since 2005 when the FIS started the Injury
Surveillance System (ISS) Project with Oslo Research
Center, which has been investigating the cause of the
injuries. “Basically,” said Lewis during an interview at
Birds of Prey, “they have confirmed what most insiders
already knew, that we have too many knee injuries.”
So no surprise there. But while the initial stages of
the studies done at Oslo under the direction of Roald
Bahr, the center’s chair, relied extensively on reports
from technical delegates, ski team medical personnel
and athlete interviews, the ISS Project has continued
to gain in sophistication.
Detailed bio-mechanical analysis of video is trying
to isolate the precise reasons for — and moments of
— injury. It is, says Lewis “very sophisticated, very serious work.”
Last year the University of Salzburg and the Technical
University of Munich joined in, “and they are implementing a number of practical steps based on the results of the research in Oslo,” says Lewis.
On-hill (and, presumably, in-lab) testing of ski set-ups,
course preparation and the physical conditioning and
rest schedules of the athletes are all being examined.
The most recent addition to the studies is the implementation of a group of professional forerunners who
will ski on prototype equipment. “And these are not
just small modifications,” suggests Lewis, but prototypes in every sense of the word.
The FIS is teaming with equipment manufacturers