A severe crash at the World Cup ski cross event this weekend in Switzerland led to the death of Canada's Nik Zoricic.
The athlete from Toronto died from head injuries he suffered after he went off course below the final jump and crashed into fencing alongside the course at Grindelwald, Switzerland on Saturday (March 10).
Zoricic, 29, was airlifted from the crash scene to a nearby hospital in Interlaken. The International Ski Federation (FIS) announced later that Zoricic died of "severe neurotrauma."
Alpine Canada president and CEO Max Gartner confirmed that the accident happened after the final jump on the course, and he expects FIS to conduct a full investigation into the incident. Until he knows more, he said the team's focus was on Zoricic's family, athletes and coaches with the team and grieving the fallen skier.
"We look at our athletes as members of our family. It's hard," said Gartner during a Saturday press conference, his voice breaking with emotion.
Gartner said he has known Zoricic since he was boy.
"I had the fortune to have known Nick quite well from his Alpine days. His family is very involved in skiing, his dad is a famous ski coach at Craigleith that has worked with a lot of great skiers," said Gartner. "Nick was a model athlete. He was an extremely dedicated young man who went about his business and found a home in ski cross, and has had some podium results. I can only say that it was a pleasure to work with him and know him."
Olympic champion Ashleigh McIvor also spoke to the media, her own voice rough. She has known Zoricic since she was 13 and they both qualified to race for Canada at an international juvenile ski race.
"What a lot of people don't know about our sport is that the men and women travel together and we're on the road together, and those guys are like my brothers and the girls are like my sisters. Obviously this is just absolutely horrible," she said.
As some in the media questioned the safety of the sport, McIvor defended FIS and the precautions taken before races.
"The fact is that there are risks associated with sport and pretty much everything I do in life. I have lost a lot of friends in the mountains, like my friends from cities have lost friends to car accidents and other things. We're probably just as safe in our sport as driving down the highway, and FIS really does every single event (safely). They overdo it to make the course safer... they do their absolute best to make it safe to the point where athletes say 'what, that was going to be fun.'
"I don't think fingers should be pointed. The fact is we do these sports because we love them. There are risks associated with them, and they do what they can to minimize them but there's only so much you can do."
The World Cup race was cancelled after the crash. A race scheduled for Sunday, the final race of the season, was also cancelled. While it no doubt seems trivial to the athletes, Whistler's Marielle Thompson will finish at the top of the women's ski cross standings.
The death of Zoricic follows the loss of Sarah Burke in Utah during a superpipe event in January. There have been no recorded deaths in the sport of ski cross since it became a World Cup discipline but there have been two deaths in snowboardcross in the past decade.
--With files from Andrew Mitchell