With its national ski cross team enduring a tragic death, more blown knees and a retirement due to injury, Alpine Canada focused on ski cross at last week’s safety summit and those from the local racing community who attended were pleased by the results.
The summit, held Sept. 18 and 19 in Calgary, produced several recommendations, including the appointment of Ken Savage to a newly-created national safety consultant position. Other suggestions included embracing ski cross as an alpine discipline, continued integration of the discipline into alpine club structures, and a protocol to safely introduce ski-cross skills to athletes.
Nigel Loring, Rob Boyd and Drew Hetherington made up the Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) delegation at the summit and came away encouraged by the talks.
“Having recognition that safety is the first and foremost on everybody’s minds as soon as we enter the field of play, for national ski teams, their staff, and it trickles all the way down — It’s creating a culture of safety,” said Loring, WMSC executive director. “As you bring more focus on to the challenges the sports have, the more common solutions we can (find).”
Loring saluted Savage’s appointment.
“His job will be to look critically at how safety issues are being dealt with across the board, not just at the World Cup level but within … the domestic and local schedules,” said Loring, who also lauded the recommendations related to ski cross.
While the WMSC has had a ski cross program for several seasons, many alpine clubs are just starting to bring the discipline within their folds.
“Now, it’s more laid out in a progressive format,” said Loring. “When we’re talking about development at the club level, we’re thinking of small tracks — no air, it’s rollers, bumps, gliding sections and GS sections.
“It’s similar to ball sports. Sometimes, they’ll introduce a bigger ball or smaller field of play (for novices), and that’s the logic being applied here.”
Some of the recommendations focused specifically on World Cup racing, requesting that the International Ski Federation (FIS) be lobbied “for greater resources in course building and testing at the World Cup level prior to teams arriving at races. The aim is to ensure course building and safety are of the highest standard.”
Ontario’s Nik Zoricic was killed in a finish-line crash at the 2011-12 season’s final World Cup race in Switzerland. His father, Predrag “Bebe” Zoricic, participated in the summit and was also satisfied by the outcomes.
“My hope was to raise awareness about safety in ski cross — and that happened at the summit — and to present a united front to push for change internationally for athlete safety,” Zoricic said in a press release. “On a personal note, these changes would bring peace to our family and I’m sure Nik would be happy to see these changes.”
World Cup racer and Whistler resident Dave Duncan said he’s also been encouraged by recent discussions regarding safety, at FIS meetings in Korea as well as at the summit, and challenged the world’s governing ski body to heed the recommendations.
“FIS needs to look at the recommendations and do what they can to make the sport safer at the World Cup level,” said Duncan in a release. “Let’s not wait for another accident to take place before we implement the changes being proposed.”
There were approximately 60 ski racing minds in attendance at the summit, which was the second annual gathering of its kind held by Alpine Canada. Last year’s event also produced a number of recommendations, and Loring said some of those initiatives are being noticed at the club level, particularly when it comes to downhill racing. The 2011 summit suggested skiers not compete in downhill races until at least age 17, while speed camps were held across the country to introduce the discipline to younger racers.
“That took people a little bit aback,” said Loring. “But, it didn’t really affect our goals as a club as far as developing the skills in racers who want to learn about downhill.
“Whether or not we compete at it until the athletes are older doesn’t mean we can’t train and develop those skills.”