Former aerials world champion Veronika Bauer rocked the skiing community this month by filing a lawsuit against the Canadian Freestyle (CFSA) Ski Association and one of its doctors.
In the suit, Bauer alleges that Dr. Jeffrey William Purkis cleared her to return from a concussion suffered in 2012 before she was ready. Bauer then suffered another concussion in 2013 and has experienced "severe and continuing concussion symptoms" that have left her unable to work. She is seeking a wide range of damages including general damages for pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent physical disability, loss of earnings past and prospective, loss of earning capacity and loss of opportunity to earn income, past and prospective, among others. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
With concern over concussions reaching a fever pitch, local clubs have explained they are confident with how they handle athletes who may have suffered a concussion and those who are returning to action from a head injury. Club representatives reached by Pique have said they'll maintain the status quo when it comes to concussions.
Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC)executive director Mark Tilston stressed the club is diligent in ensuring anyone who may be concussed is taken care of as safely as possible.
Unlike the CFSA, WMSC does not officially have a doctor on staff. Though a concussed athlete may be cleared to return by his or her own doctor, Tilston said the club will conduct additional tests before athletes are allowed back on the mountain.
"Even though a doctor may have cleared them for skiing, just as a double-check (with the athletes who have done a baseline screening), we will do another King-Devick test (concussion screening ) with them just to make sure," he said. "If a doctor's cleared somebody to ski, for me, that means then we can have a look but it doesn't mean that we'll definitely take someone skiing just because the doctor said that they can."
Tilston, adding that skiing also impacts the nervous system, explained that athletes are encouraged to get a baseline concussion screening done before starting the season, though it's not mandatory. There is a benefit, he said, as athletes can take vision screening, which is useful in the high-speed sport, at the same time.
"We actually combined it with performance-vision screening, an advanced eye test, (which is) something I see that has huge value on the performance side," he said.
In certain disciplines of skiing, like freeskiing, athletes can sometimes disappear from view. Though alpine racers are easier to keep an eye on, Tilston said all athletes should let someone know if they've hit their heads and may be injured.
"We endeavour to see them at all times," he said. "If you crash or if you take a knock, then tell your coach."
Tilston said any club member who is potentially injured would be removed from action immediately.
"If they hit their head, we'll take them out of play," he said. "The trouble with concussions is they're so varied, there are so many symptoms and so many different ways in which a concussion can show itself. It's a very, very difficult scenario."
The Whistler Blackcomb Freestyle Ski Club offers moguls, slopestyle and halfpipe programming. In a statement, head coach Jeff Fairburn said the sport is one where athletes, by nature, can put themselves at risk for a head injury. However, he said the club strives to keep those injuries from happening and has safeguards in place if they do.
"Our goal as a club is to minimize the risk of concussions and any other injuries... Our proactive approach includes proper warm up and progressions leading up to our highest-risk manoeuvres on snow, water, and trampolines," he explained, noting their athletes are also encouraged to complete baseline testing and the lead coaches have concussion training.