Canadian alpine skier Kelly VanderBeek wants to see change when she puts her skis back on.
The veteran downhiller will speak Tuesday when Alpine Canada's two-day safety summit opens at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park. Alpine Canada organized the event in the wake of several serious injuries on the national team over the last two years.
VanderBeek hasn't raced since Dec. 17, 2009, when she tore ligaments and suffered two fractures in her knee in Val-d'Isere, France. The injuries cost her a berth in the 2010 Winter Olympics and the last season and a half of World Cup racing.
The 28-year-old says it's time for equipment and course safety to catch up with the speed skiers now reach, which is over 130 kilometres per hour.
"I want to get back racing and it's just too dangerous right now," VanderBeek said Monday.
"The equipment and the speeds have gotten to a point where, the way we create G-forces in a turn, is beyond the capabilities of the human body and we're unable to sustain those speeds and those forces. When something goes wrong, it goes really wrong."
The Canadian ski team has lost 10 skiers to long-term injuries at various times since December, 2009. The list includes former world champion John Kucera (knee), who, like VanderBeek, wasn't able to compete in the 2010 Winter Games.
Canada isn't alone in the injury department last season as Austria's Mario Scheiber broke his right shoulder blade and fractured his sinuses in a training run and countryman Hans Grugger required needed emergency brain surgery after crashing in Kitzbuehel.
Concerned that the rash of injuries will make parents afraid to enrol their children in ski racing programs, Alpine Canada chief executive officer Max Gartner says he wants to move quickly when the summit concludes Wednesday.
"We want to have some solid action items that we can implement right away domestically," Gartner said. "The urgency is, we want to make sure our athletes and parents of athletes know that we do everything we can to make the sport a safe sport."
About 40 people from national and provincial associations are expected to attend. The world governing body of skiing, FIS, will be represented by Dr. Erich Mueller of the University of Salzburg.
The injection problem
VanderBeek, who lives in Chilliwack, B.C., has reached the World Cup podium three times in her career and she was fourth at the 2006 Winter Games. She says speed can be reduced without the sport losing its glamour. Slower speed suits and moving away from injecting courses with water are ways to slow the athletes down.
Injection forms ice under snow and keeps a course from breaking down under the weight of skiers and changing weather conditions during a race. It's a contentious issue in the sport.
U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn was critical of the women's World Cup course at Lake Louise in December, saying injection had made it icy and unsafe. Race organizers gave those comments a cold reception.
"The biggest response from organizers and FIS is "don't worry your pretty little head about it" and this is for males and females," VanderBeek said.
In the macho and aggressive world of ski racing, athletes don't like to acknowledge danger because they don't want to feel, or appear, weak, she added.
"The reality is, it's very hard as an athlete to complain or voice concern over a safety issue because it opens yourself up emotionally to admitting that it's scary and potentially unsafe and most likely nothing will change and you have to run (the course) anyway,' VanderBeek continued.
"The only athletes who speak out are the very best athletes because they're confident enough to speak out and still be able to perform if nothing changes."
National team skiers Manuel Osborne-Paradis (knee), Ryan Semple (knee), Robbie Dixon (concussion), Francois Bourque (knee), Jan Hudec (broken hand), Louie-Pierre Helie (concussion, knee) and Kelly McBroom (broken ankle) were all sidelined during this past World Cup season.
Kucera, VanderBeek and Larisa Yurkiw (knee) were injured the previous season and have yet to return to racing.
VanderBeek required a second surgery in January on her knee. She hopes to get back on snow in August, when the national team heads to New Zealand for glacier training.
In the meantime, she hopes those in power in the sport listen to what she has to say Tuesday.
"I love this sport and I love the essence of the sport," she said. "I strongly believe you can maintain the essence of the sport and make it safer.
"You slow us down 10 or 20 (kilometres) an hour it's still going to be a gnarly, dangerous and crazy sport."