When Mark McMorris was seriously injured in a backcountry snowboarding crash last month, the snowsport world collectively gasped. Another major injury to one of the world's best in a community that has lost way too many great athletes, way too soon.
Despite having a long recovery ahead of him, McMorris is lucky — lucky to be alive but also lucky the accident occurred in Canada. Getting hurt is expensive and injuries like those sustained by McMorris can quickly lead to an insurmountable medical bill, especially if they happen south of the border.
In sports like alpine and freestyle skiing and snowboarding, the injury risk is high. As most athletes in these sports will attest, it isn't a question of if you'll sustain an injury, it's a question of when, where and how bad.
"We now mandate that all snow sport athletes carry sport accident insurance," says David Pym, managing director of the Canadian Snowsports Association. "It's to ensure all of Canada's athletes competing at the International Ski Federation (FIS) level are safeguarded when training and competing out of province and out of country."
The insurance is well used. Between 2014 and 2016, the group representing the 10 Canadian ski and snowboard federations competing under the FIS umbrella saw insurance payments of more than $1 million paid out to cover otherwise uninsured claims stemming from Canadian athletes being injured.
According to Pym, it isn't the number of incidents that are increasing, it's that costs of treating those injuries that continue to rise, especially when an athlete is hurt in the United States.
Read the fine print
It isn't just life-threatening injuries that wreak havoc on the system. In 2015, an athlete sustained an arm fracture in Colorado, resulting in a final claim of $105,000 Cdn. Problematically, sport accident insurance is like any other kind of insurance — the more you use it, the more expensive it gets.
It's a conundrum that concerns Freestyle Canada CEO Bruce Robinson.
"I do worry it's not sustainable, that premiums will rise if we continue to exceed the pool," he says. "We saw some of those signs this year with the implementation of a deductible. But it's the cost of doing business. Our priority is protecting our athletes, especially when they are traveling and competing out of their home province and outside of Canada."
Every athlete should know that the key to any insurance policy is reading the fine print.
Sport accident insurance only covers the risks associated with the athlete's sport at supervised training environments and competitions. That means, without private insurance, athletes like McMorris aren't covered when taking part in non-team sanctioned activities. Trips to the backcountry, heli-skiing, unsanctioned professional events and other activities performed outside of supervised training camps and approved competition aren't within the scope of the insurance coverage provided by the CSA.
The mandated insurance is a much-needed safeguard for our athletes. But like any insurance policy, it's buyer beware.
The onus is on the athletes themselves to understand where and when those safeguards end and to protect themselves accordingly.