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Adventure Risk Report
Posted: 09 Jan 2013 05:51 PM PST
Photo: Vancouver SunTop Adventure Risk Management Stories from 20121. Sarah Burke and Nic ZoricicThe tragic January 19 death of Canadian ski star Sarah Burke shocked the freestyle ski world. A head and neck injury sustained from a fall while training in a Park City superpipe eventually proved fatal, and made mainstream headlines across the continent. The response to the event was surprising in its breadth and scope.This event tops the year's headlines because it opened a real debate on risk. Her death was only occasionally brushed off (by media reports) as a part of 'extreme' sports. The more thoughtful response asked the question 'How big is too big?' when it comes to action sports such as superpipe (and a long list of other similar activities). Jon Heshka and I played a role in this debate with a full page piece in the Vancouver Sun (link here), which was picked up by the CBC's Fifth Estate, who interviewed Jon on the topic (link here). I was later asked to speak at Laurentian University on the topic.That Nic Zoricic's death followed only one month later was equally shocking. Competing on the Canadian National Ski Team in ski cross, Zoricic went down on a Swiss course and crashed into a safety fence. He succumbed to his injuries. Heshka again led the national debate by being interviewed on both CBC and Global news (link here). What are the limits to competition in 'extreme' sports? More fundamentally, who gets to choose the risk? These events allowed for these questions to be asked in a public forum – a rare occurrence. We'll be keeping our eye on skicross this year, as in the wake of Zoricic's death there were clear and critical voices calling to reign in the courses these athletes are competing on (link hereand here).2. Mt. Everest deathsIn a weather window that saw 300 people summit Everest, the odds caught up to those on the tail end of the train. A Canadian woman with little mountain experience was one of the casualties in yet another round of high media attention Everest disasters (link here). Her story was fairly strange, and turned into a CBC documentary (link here). I always cringe at these stories, because it invariably glorifies the place all that much more.More interesting is the commercial back story, one not discussed openly. Shoddy operators abound on that and many other big mountains, and commercial guide groups / private party conflict seems to be emerging (link here).3. Head injuriesThis is the non-headline of the bunch, and will likely stay on the radar in the year to come. Head injuries are an epidemic in contact and action sports. Something clearly has changed in either the ability of the human cranium to sustain impact, the limits of helmet technology, the nature of certain activities, or perhaps just our tolerance for risk. Regardless, we have become, over the past year, acutely aware of the potential severity of even seemingly minor head impact (link here).4. Zip linesThis is like bungee jumping deja vu all over again. Zip lines are popping all over the place – it really is ridiculous – can the market place really sustain so many? No chance. But like bungee jumping, shoddy or ignorant operators will kill or injure enough people to get zip lines within the cross hairs of government regulation (there is already a pretty substantial list of those injuries, including a couple of lawsuits). Bungee jumping was essentially strangled by regulation (for the better, likely) with only the serious and professional operations surviving. Many states and provinces are already debating regulation, but are yet to wrap their heads around it (link hereand here). Some, such as Hawaii (link here), just plain old aren't will to spend the money on it. Yet.5. Raft guide convicted of criminally negligent homicideIn what was at first hard to believe, but as details emerged became even harder to believe, a raft guide was apparently under the influence of alcohol when a client was swept away and drowned. What became clear that this was not a 'bad apple' story, but is the story of a company operating with little regard for safety or basic regulations (such as requiring bus drivers to be licensed). The Attorney General in New York State shut the operation down for a long list of infractions. It's hard to say there are any lessons here than to hope that this is not typical – I thought the rafting industry had cleaned itself up from this 20 years ago (link here).For a full review of the year's adventure risk headlines, review @JeffJacksonMRbk on Twitter.
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