Two weeks ago, professional freestyle skier Sarah Burke suffered a head injury while training for a competition on the same halfpipe where olympic snowboarder Kevin Pearce also suffered a traumatic brain injury while training for the 2010 games. Pearce survived. Burke, ultimately succumbed to her injuries; both of these accidents bring to the forefront how dangerous it is every time we step in to our skis or strap on our snowboards — a danger we often ignore.
How big is too big?
Can you imagine a halfpipe with a 28 foot wall? Probably not. But ten years ago if you had mentioned 22′ superpipes people would never have imagined those either. That’s the pace of progress.
As long as we keep building bigger booters and more ridonculously super superpipes, people are going to get broke off with some regularity. Some of them will never ride, or ski again. Some will never walk again. Others will, unfortunately, die. Sooner or later, someone has to step up and say “No f*cking way that’s just too gnarly”. But he, or she, probably won’t because that’s not how they’re wired; the hubris of a competitive spirit.
What about Progression?
Does anyone really believe that, if we were stuck with 18′ pipe walls, that we’d all think pipe riding/skiing is lame? I doubt it. We just wouldn’t be seeing as many double- or triple-inverts. Will that ruin progression? I don’t think so. There’s a contingent of folks who are not stoked on the spin-to-win mentality that is dominating most competitions these days (what, you mean you don’t have all four doubles on lock?)
So no, I think progression would be just fine, “bigger” does not always mean “better”.
There will always be avenues for the truly daring to express themselves. The backcountry, and to another extent, urban skiing and riding, present limitless opportunites to get rad. It’s possible that the perfectly groomed nature and “controlled” environment of a contest halfpipe or jump set creates a moral hazard, actually making things more dangerous because of a false sense of security.
The Fine Line Between Risk, Reward, and Safety
We all know the sports we participate in are dangerous. Even at an amateur or recreational level many of us routinely put ourselves much closer to death or serious injury than most people probably imagine. We pretend to accept that risk, but really, I think we’re usually pretending it isn’t there. That’s part of the thrill, right?
There may be relatively safer ways to do things, and some limits truly are “for your own good”. I’m not in favor of the wussification of sports like, what the NFL is doing to football is tragic and how baseball players cart off the field if they sprain a finger. But snow sports might look to other organizations like NASCAR that throttles engines, and engineers tracks in such a manner to reduce speeds, etc. Perhaps the competitors can learn from tragedies like Sarah’s, or near-tragedies like Kevin’s, and scale things back a bit, or put the brakes on the “build it bigger” mentality.
Nah I’m not going Jerry Spring on you. I don’t have all the answers.
It’s unfortunate that it often takes a tragedy like this to make us collectively reconsider just what the f*ck we’re all doing out there, like it stops everyone right where they stand.
For now, our thoughts are with Sarah’s family & friends.