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VAIL SURGEON CITES “ALARMING” SURGE IN INJURIES IN CALLING FOR COURSE CHANGES
Slopestyle is dangerous. Skiers and snowboarders hurling themselves 100-plus feet in the air while spinning and flipping is inherently risky. And for women, it’s one of the most perilous pursuits of any competitive sport.
“There’s an alarming number of slopestyle injuries that have occurred in the last year or two,” said Dr. Tom Hackett, an orthopedic surgeon at Vail’s Steadman Clinic.
Hackett is a longtime team doctor for the U.S. ski and snowboard teams and works with the country’s top snowsports athletes at every major competition. There was a surge in athlete injuries at the Sochi Olympics, which hosted the first-ever Olympic slopestyle contests at the intimidating Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Of more than two dozen athletes who were injured in the park’s halfpipe, slopestyle course and ski/snowboard cross course, about three-quarters were women. The most serious accident of the Games involved Russia’s Maria Komissarova, who fractured her spine during a training run on the super-sized ski cross course, leaving her paralyzed.
The surge in recent terrain park injuries world-wide sparked Hackett to launch a study of slopestyle injuries at major competitions. It’s the first study of its kind. He has enlisted the world’s top course designers, engineers and athlete representatives to present his information to the International Olympic Committee and the International Federation of Skiing in Switzerland next month.
“Sochi was troubling. We need to talk about the future of the slopestyle, basically what’s going to happen in Korea,” Hackett said of the 2018 Winter Olympics set for South Korea.
While he hasn’t sat down and analyzed all of his data yet, there’s one obvious and troubling trend.
“We have certainly seen some alarming rates of injury in women for sure,” he said.
One reason for the high rate of injuries among women is that they tend to be smaller than men and with less body mass they often struggle to reach the speed they need to clear jumps that can span more than 100 feet of flat terrain before the snow slopes into a landing. When it snows during competitions and skiers and snowboarders lose speed on their approach to the jumps, women have a smaller window to make a safe jump. The slightest bobble in their approach can slow them and lead to a crash.
But it’s not just their size that leads to more crashes for women than men. The muscles in their legs fire differently, making them land differently than men, Hackett said. Women’s neck muscles in proportion to their head mass are different than men, leading to more head injuries.
“Concussions are a real issue for women,” Hackett said.