Nik Zoricic (photo: Alpine Canada)

Alpine Canada Focuses on Ski Racing Safety

Calgary (AB), Canada – Alpine Canada president Max Gartner has announced the appointment of a national safety consultant as part of a series of initiatives and recommendations unveiled following the conclusion of the second annual Ski Racing Safety Summit held last week.

The summit, which brought together leading experts from the Canadian ski community and included a special focus on improving safety in ski cross, was held Tuesday and Wednesday at Canada Olympic Park (COP) in Calgary, Alberta. Participants included Predrag “Bebe” Zoricic, a longtime ski coach and the father of national team ski cross racer Nik Zoricic, who tragically passed away in March following a crash at a World Cup race in Grindelwald, Switzerland.

Gartner announced the appointment of Ted Savage, the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) technical delegate commissioner for Canada, as a national safety consultant. Savage will help develop a safety strategy and coordinate safety initiatives in alpine, para-alpine and ski cross, as well as lead calls for change nationally and internationally.

Nik Zoricic (photo: Alpine Canada)
Nik Zoricic (photo: Alpine Canada)

“The safety of our athletes is our number one priority and one of the key recommendations to come out of the second annual Ski Racing Safety Summit was the need to be a leader in safety both domestically and on the world stage,” said Gartner. “Safety is not just a tag line for us – we intend to walk the talk and make it part of our DNA. Ted’s appointment will help us to develop a safety strategy and encourage everyone involved in ski racing, from athletes to course builders and race organizers, to work together to make our sports and disciplines safer.

“Nik was a great friend and teammate,” Gartner added. “It’s essential that lessons are learned and we all work together to make sure we can continue to enjoy the exciting discipline of ski cross while making sure it is as safe as possible.”

Savage has worked on the alpine World Cup circuit and at Olympic Games since 1983 as a FIS technical delegate, a race organizer and as a technology professional. He also has experience as a firefighter, first responder and Coast Guard auxiliary in search and rescue. As the FIS TD commissioner for Canada, Savage has overseen the crafting of the educational material and certification of the top race officials in North America. Alpine Canada already employs race quality and safety coordinators for individual sports; Savage’s new role will help to bring together those staff and other experts in the field.

“We can’t ignore our responsibilities in terms of responding to the obvious challenges of recent events,” Savage said. “We need to build on Canada’s ability to influence the rest of the world in skiing. We’ve always been leaders in both performance and event execution. Safety is first and foremost a result of partnership with all stakeholders.”

At the urging of his family, Swiss police conducted an investigation into Nik Zoricic’s death following the incident in Grindelwald. The results of the investigation have not yet been released. Gartner said he was delighted that Bebe Zoricic was able to play such a key role in the Safety Summit and he looks forward to continuing to work with the Zoricic family.

“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,” Bebe Zoricic said. “Canada will lead by example and other nations will follow. If changes are applied it will reassure parents, supporters and the ski community that ski cross is safe and is well on the way to be a leading ski sport. On a personal note, these changes would bring peace to our family and I’m sure Nik would be happy to see these changes.”

Alpine Canada is the national governing body for alpine, para-alpine and ski cross racing in Canada. One of the key goals of the summit was to discuss the safe introduction of ski cross domestically, while the FIS is responsible for races held at the World Cup level.

Some of the key recommendations to come out of the Safety Summit include: appoint a national safety consultant; continue to integrate ski cross into the alpine club structure; continue to build officials’ development, coaching education, terrain management and age-appropriate athlete development pathway protocols; implement a pathway protocol for the safe integration of ski cross racing skills; and embrace ski cross as a discipline of alpine skiing. Alpine Canada is committed to hosting an annual Ski Racing Safety Summit and it is recommended that the organization update its mission statement to include responsibility for technical and safety leadership. The group will lobby FIS for greater resources in course building and testing at the World Cup level prior to teams arriving at races, and call on FIS to draw from decades of alpine expertise in safety and event execution and develop an athlete-centered approach to events.

Ski cross World Cup star Dave Duncan, of London, Ontario, said there have been some very positive discussions about safety, both at the recent FIS meetings in Korea and at the Safety Summit, and he called on FIS to take action.

“FIS needs to look at the recommendations and do what they can to make the sport safer at the World Cup level,” said Duncan. “Let’s not wait for another accident to take place before we implement the changes being proposed.”

Dave Ellis, Alpine Canada’s ski cross athletic director, said Canada has developed a reputation as a world leader in ski cross safety at the domestic level where there is a focus on developing skills in a safe environment. He said it’s important to keep the momentum going.

“One of the central reasons for integrating ski cross with alpine in 2010 was to capitalize on the strength of the system – solid officials, volunteers and coaching networks,” Ellis said of Canada Ski Cross falling under Alpine Canada’s jurisdiction. “The alpine skill set is the foundation for ski cross so it’s natural to have the ski cross discipline within the alpine system domestically.”

Over 60 representatives from the Canadian ski community attended the Safety Summit. Speakers included Savage, Helmuth Schmalzl, who works on the alpine World Cup tour as the FIS race director for men’s speed events, and Shawn Letton of ParkScapers, a Canada-wide program to help groomer operators and terrain park staff refine their skills.

A full report on the summit, including a detailed list of recommendations, will be developed in the coming weeks and communicated with stakeholders.

The first annual Ski Racing Safety Summit, held at COP in the spring of 2011, focused on improving safety in alpine skiing at the domestic level. Recommendations included amending the age at which young skiers begin downhill racing and launching a series of speed camps to teach the skills of downhill racing in a safe, methodical way.

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