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Alpine Canada calls safety summit to help curb injuries

Alarmed at the numerous crashes and severe injuries to Canada's ski team this season, Alpine Canada has called a summit to find ways to make the sport safer, scheduled to be held in Calgary in April.

Alarmed at the numerous crashes and severe injuries to Canada's ski team this season, Alpine Canada has called a summit to find ways to make the sport safer.

Canada's governing body of alpine skiing will host a gathering April in Calgary to examine the country's domestic ski programs, but the international ski community will be also be invited to participate, president Max Gartner said Monday.

"There's got to be some urgency to it and some changes coming fast," Gartner said Monday night at the Calgary International Airport. "The amount of significant injuries are just way beyond what I think is acceptable."

Gartner was waiting at the airport for Canada's latest ski casualty, Manuel Osborne-Paradis. The 26-year-old from Invermere, B.C., skier broke his left leg and tore ligaments during a fall Saturday in Chamonix, France. Ottawa's Ryan Semple also suffered a season-ending knee injury while training on the same hill last week.

They join Robbie Dixon (concussion), Francois Bourque (knee), Jan Hudec (broken hand), Louis-Pierre Helie (concussion, knee), and Kelly McBroom (broken ankle) as skiers sidelined this season. Add in the knee injuries suffered last season to John Kucera, Kelly VanderBeek and Larisa Yurkiw — none of them are back racing yet — and Canada's disabled list is long.

Canada is not alone is losing skiers to high-speed crashes. Austria's Mario Scheiber broke his right shoulder blade and fractured his sinuses training last week while countryman Hans Grugger needed emergency brain surgery after crashing in Kitzbuehel two weeks ago.

"It seems like there are a lot of very significant injuries that are happening and not only to the Canadians, but world-wide," Gartner said. "It's our responsibility to make sure this gets brought into balance."

Course layout, equipment and when young skiers graduate from the shorter, slower technical events of slalom and giant slalom to the speed events of downhill and super-G will be among the items on the table at the safety summit, Gartner said.

"We want to make sure we have some solid recommendations and we can implement them right away," he said.

Lighter and faster equipment, injecting courses with water to keep them from breaking down during a race — which also makes the track icy — plus stronger, more powerful athletes have combined to push the boundaries of ski racing.

Testing the limit

Gartner believes the severity of the injuries this season are a consequence of the athletes testing the very limit of their sport.

Osborne-Paradis said the top speed by a male racer on the World Cup this season is 147 kilometres per hour.

"It's the speed that we're going through the turns with," Osborne-Paradis said. "Downhills have so many more turns than they used to, but we're still making it down in the same amount of time.

"If it means shortening [courses] or making them slower, or straighter, I don't really know, but something should be done soon."

Kucera is certain the sport wouldn't be less entertaining if the skiers were forced to go a few kilometres slower.

"If we find a ways to slow things down a little bit, nobody is talking about slowing it down 20 kilometres an hour, but if you slow it down just five or 10 kilometres per hour, it's still going to be exciting," he said earlier this month. "You're still going 120 kilometres per hour instead of 130. It definitely lessens the risk. That, and course preparation are a big thing."

Gartner is in a hurry to make ski racing safer because he doesn't want fear of injury influencing parents to steer their children away from the sport.

"I just want to make sure people don't avoid going into the sport because they're getting these messages with the catastrophic injuries that are happening," he acknowledged. "That's a concern for us, getting people in the sport and keeping people in the sport."