On March 10th, Canadian skier Nik Zoricic tragically lost his life on the slopes of Grindelwald, Switzerland during a World Cup Skicross race. The 29-year-old athlete was among professional skiing elite, representing his country during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver during the debut of skicross. He was a talented athlete and a beloved member of the international skiing community.
During the fateful Skicross event in Grindelwald, Nik was heading into the finish line of the 4th heat when he went wide over the final jump and crashed into the safety nets that lined the course. Spectators at the event and viewers around the world looked on in horror as the young skier was tossed violently in an explosion of snow and ski gear, until his body finally settled on solid ground — lifeless. In spite of medical personnel’s best efforts, Zoricic was pronounced dead due to severe brain trauma.
He would be the second Canadian skier to perish during the 2011/2012 competitive season, after the loss of freestyle skiing pioneer Sarah Burke. Although course officials deemed the incident a “freak” accident, the decision was made to cancel the remaining events on Saturday as well as Sunday.
Over the coming weeks, intense debate was incited over the inclusion of these types of youth-oriented freestyle sporting events to Olympic and World Cup circuits. Essentially, skicross pits 4 ski racers on a course filled with rolls, banks and ridges — with the sole goal of ripping down the course as fast as humanly possible.
The debate has come to a head in the recent press conference held by the family of Nik Zoricic. They hold the position that his death was not a “freak” accident, but rather that the finish line was a “death trap”. They knew their son as an elite athlete and calculated risk taker. For Nik to have a perfect landing, and lose his life after barely missing the finish line by one meter — something must have been wrong. They feel the initial investigation results do not add up, and maintain that their son’s crash was caused by an avoidable oversight by those who were in charge of the event.
Even Christoph Egger, the President of Grindelwald Race Organizing Committee expressed “surprise” over Zoricic’s line of flight off the final jump. Officials maintain that many courses put jumps near the finish line, and nearly every track has certain elements that could be brought into question.
Earlier this week, legal documents prepared by the Zoic Family’s attorney, Tim Danson of Danson Recht LLP were delivered to FIS President, Gian Franco Kasper and Alpine Canada President, Max Gartner. Further reflection upon the circumstances surrounding Nik’s death has led the family to become dissatisfied with the current investigation. Multiple factors simply do not add up, and are in direct contrast to the official statement of the incident being a “freak” accident. They assert that certain aspects of the Grindelwald course such as the non-existent spill zone which is standard on most tracks, and the course and final jump being sloped to the skier’s right were significant contributors to Nik’s demise.
However, the Zoricic family is not announcing a lawsuit or any punitive measures. They held the conference to articulate a promise to take all legal options off the table in return for an in-depth, impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding Nik’s death. They remain committed to ensuring that no other athlete or family has to endure a needless loss over improper course design. Their goal is to prevent all parties concerned in the matter from being put on the defensive. The Zoricic’s seek to foster an atmosphere that encourages individuals with knowledge or insight into these matters to come forward so that they can speak honestly and openly without fear of reprisal. In fact, the family claims that four individuals with knowledge of the day’s circumstances have contacted them. These informants possess knowledge that could potentially prove that event officials were warned that certain elements of the course were unsafe prior to the race. Unfortunately, they have resisted coming forward publicly for fear of incurring a detrimental impact to their careers in the industry.
If the expanded probe unearth’s any details that could improve oversight and safety for athletes in the future, then perhaps Nik’s death would not be in vain. They simply want to prevent another family from enduring the heartbreak of losing a family member in circumstances where it can be avoided.