Kelly VanderBeek hasn't competed since suffering a major knee injury in December 2009. She plans to return for next season. (Associated Press)
Coming into Alpine Canada's injury summit
, held in Calgary this week, I was hopeful we would find the magic bullet to solve the injury woes in our sport.
Being a realist, I knew this was unlikely, but my passion hoped for it none the less.
Sadly, after the research studies were presented and discussions were held, we all realized there was no single cause for the rash of injuries
we've been seeing. Therefore, there is no single or simple answer. This is a multi-faceted problem that will require further study and analysis before we'll see real change at the World Cup level.
However, do not dismay.
There are still concrete actions that can and will be taken within Canada, and a list of suggestions to be carried to FIS, the international governing body of alpine skiing.
I found a lot of the work presented at the summit was extremely interesting and I want to share it all. But the confines of this blog simply aren't enough to summarize two full days of work (with years of study, from around the world, behind the presentations).
Still, as the overachiever in me comes out, I will do my best to impart some of the things I learned in different areas:Technique
One surprising fact came a study of World Cup races by Dr. Erich Mueller of the University of Salzburg. It showed that the action sliding into turns before getting on the ski's edge (often called the "slide-and-catch technique," used regularly on the World Cup circuit) created higher G-forces than simply arching a full turn. This means that simply setting rounder courses won't necessarily reduce injury. In fact, it may only increase the need to use the slide-and-catch, especially in speed events where this technique is relatively new.
Also surprising were the results from testing prototype skis. These skis were made to represent specs that were considered extreme designs intended to slow us down by, for example, lengthening the ski, decreasing the sidecut, lowering the boot, etc. But it turned out that athletes adapted extremely quickly to these changes, and in some cases were even faster with the new equipment.
For that reason, equipment changes require much study, since mandating change may have an unpredictable outcome, like unintentionally making alpine more dangerous. This may seem crazy, but it happened three years ago when skis were mandated to be wider. It was thought this would make turning more difficult. In reality, it gave the athletes a better platform and increased the forces created in the slide-and-catch technique. Injuries rose dramatically after this change was implemented.
Still, equipment on the World Cup level is the No. 1 injury-causing factor. Change must come, and it will, just not this year.Water injection
Another surprising fact was that, statistically, adding water to the course doesn't increase the rate of injury. But inconsistent snow conditions do. Meaning, if the conditions in a course go from snow, to injection, and back to snow, athletes are more likely to get hurt.
There's no simple solution for this. Many facets of the sport will require change to ensure safer conditions for World Cup athletes. Luckily, this change is coming and with the science to back it up.Canada
On the Canadian front, there is more we can do. For one, limiting exposure to injury by limiting athletes' ability to race the downhill until they are 18 years old. This will coincide with increased training in speed elements. New policies will be in place to ensure this happens. To re-enforce this change, qualifying criteria for national-level teams will be changed. This will limit the need to force speed on athletes before they are physically, technically, and mentally ready.
This shift is intended to cultivate "bigger picture" development of our athletes. This will also leave more time for training tech and developing the required skills and strength to race the downhill.
Removing downhill from an athlete's schedule will free up time for her to develop stronger technical skills while reducing their risk and exposure to injury. My presentation
Fellow athlete Kelly McBroom and I created a survey with the intention to debrief athletes post-injury. My presentation was originally meant to be 15-30 minutes in length, but it quickly turned into 90 minutes as the discussions grew. Canadian men's ski racer Erik Guay was also in attendance and offered a balanced perspective to my own opinions, adding a great athletic influence to these meetings.
We received extremely positive feedback regarding the survey. Small revisions will be made based on the feedback received, and soon this study will extend beyond Canada's borders. Also, this survey will reach out to Canada's K2 (age 13-14) racers. This is exciting, since the K2 demographic has had no data collection with regards to injuries. Conclusions
In the end, I was extremely impressed with the quality of ideas, knowledge, and openness during these meetings. But I also left with a sense of worry that no immediate and obvious solutions existed, especially for top-level athletes. Still, I know changes are coming quickly and the proper research will back the decisions being made.
I love this sport and look forward to seeing how it evolves over the next few years.
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