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Alpine Canada

Canmore Ski Champ’s Harrowing Crash Raises Safety Questions

Amidst a mixture of rain and snow, the World Cup race turned perilous, leading to Kris Mahler's dramatic crash and a severed C7 vertebra

The sport of Ski Cross isn’t for the faint of heart.  

Canmore’s Kris Mahler, a three-time World Cup medallist and national champion, learned that the hard way after suffering a serious neck injury from crashing on his head in a December 12 race on the slopes of Arosa, Switzerland.

If you’re not familiar with it, Ski Cross is a timed-race ski competition that incorporates terrain features traditionally found in freestyle skiing. It includes big-air jumps and high-banked turns.

What sets Ski Cross apart from other alpine skiing disciplines is that it involves more than one skier racing down the course.

It’s like motocross on skis.

Safety Overlooked?

Poor course conditions at a World Cup Skier Cross Race might have contributed to a very close call for a Canmore-based gold medallist.

Mahler’s crash was captured on video and is painful to watch.

Mahler’s broken C7 vertebra | Kris Mahler | Instagram

He severed the C7 vertebrae in his neck but is expected to make a full recovery.

Mahler told Rocky Mountain Outlook that his accident had him concerned about safety standards and course preparation on the World Cup circuit.

Conditions were harsh the night of the race, which was held under floodlights. 

It had been raining earlier in the day before turning to snow, dumping 15 to 20 cm on the course. 

Then it started raining again during the race.

Mahler said if conditions had been different, he probably wouldn’t have been injured.

“Hopefully, conversations come up from this with FIS [the International Ski and Snowboard Federation] and the organizers, and we kind of look at the safety in situations like this when conditions aren’t great,” he said. 

“I think there could have been some mitigation in that turn or all the way down the course just for some better up-keep of the course so there wouldn’t be that build-up of snow, and we wouldn’t result in that crash happening.”

Snow had built up at the bottom of the jump where the crash happened. 

Mid-air, he tried to avoid a collision with teammate Reece Howden.

Things went wrong. He blew the landing and crashed hard in the soft snow.

FIS’s Response

The International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS), which governs ski cross, said in an emailed statement that although “the races in Arosa had challenging weather, the jury felt that the conditions were still stable enough to ensure a fair and safe competition.”

FIS  also said it is shocked by the severity of Mahler’s injury and plans to analyze the accident.

“The safety of the athletes is at the heart of everything that FIS does, and we are always striving to make our competitions and courses as secure as possible while at the same time providing athletes with top-level competitions. … We all wish Kris the best in his recovery,” the statement said.

Incredibly, after the crash, Mahler got back in the saddle and skied down the rest of the course.

Wow!

At the finish line, he checked in with the medical staff.

It was only after getting an MRI 24 hours later that he learned how bad his injury actually was.

“I didn’t really have your classic cervical spine issues in terms of neurological impingements like the hand or feet,” Mahler said, adding that he also injured his knee and ankle. “I still had full control of all of that stuff, so, from my perspective, I just took a really hard hit.”

He Will Strap Them On Again

Mahler is out for the season and will spend the next six weeks in a full neck cast from his belly button to his neck.

Mahler in the hospital in Switzerland | Kris Mahler | Instagram

He’s stoic about the accident and says he’s not done with racing.

“It’s part of the game,” said Mahler. “If you want to play the game, you got to be willing to pay the price. That crash just happened to be a high price that day.”

He’s bounced back before. 

In 2017, Mahler was sidelined by a knee ligament injury

Mahler started alpine racing as a kid growing up in Ontario, then dabbled in Ski Cross in his teens. 

After high school, he took a break from ski racing and moved to Alberta to play college volleyball.

The snow called him back, so he dove into the exciting sport of Ski Cross full-time.

In 2019/20, he won his first World Cup gold at Val Thoren, France.

Like a true Albertan, Mahler may be down, but obviously, he’s not out.

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