Sarah Burke, freeskier, in critical condition; extreme sports too risky?

Original Post by Jeannine Stein on January 11, 2012

Sarah Burke, the Canadian freeskier who crashed during training on the halfpipe in Park City, Utah, is reportedly in a coma.

Burke is “intubated and sedated,” according to a University of Utah Health Care physician interviewed by ESPN. Her prognosis is still unknown, but Burke’s condition is putting the spotlight on serious injuries in the world of extreme sports.

Snowboarder Kevin Pearce sustained a head injury at the same location while he was training for the 2010 Olympics.

Although extreme-sport injuries get considerable media attention, are extreme athletes truly at higher risk than more mainstream athletes? Are freeskiers more in jeopardy than downhill skiers or luge competitors? That’s tough to determine because injury statistics for extreme sports aren’t thoroughly tracked and studies on injuries are few and usually sport-specific.

Dr. Thomas Hackett, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo., said he’s noticed that for some extreme winter sports, the challenges and tricks have gotten tougher: “The halfpipes are 22 feet tall now,” he said, “and a few years ago they were 18 feet tall, and before that, 16 feet. It’s part of the progression of the sport. If you look at someone like Sarah Burke or Jen Hudak, the girls who really started the sport, they were for years doing tricks and maneuvers that almost no one else in the world was doing.”