The relatively limited ski terrain in Ontario has resulted in large youth participation rates for competitive ski racing at both private and public ski hills.
At many ski areas, grownups have followed suit and are racing in adult racing leagues. The level of experience and skill in these so-called beer league races is highly variable. At my hill, Devil’s Glen, there are ex-national team skiers racing against ham-and-eggers like me, who finish three or four seconds behind the leaders on a 40-second GS course.
Organizers are careful to ensure maximum safety for adult racers. Helmets and course inspection are mandatory, safety nets prevent tree collisions and weekly gate training sessions are strongly encouraged before each race. Despite the term beer league racing, no one consumes any alcohol until after the skiing is done.
Despite all these precautions, last year three adults out of the approximately 40 registered racers at the Glen required emergency orthopaedic surgery following accidents while running gates. All were expert skiers who had raced many times before and did regular practice gate training.
This is far in excess of the serious injury rate for skiers overall of approximately two injuries per 1,000 days on hill. A “serious injury” is defined as one that results in urgent medical attention. Traditionally, most injuries have been knee, head/face, shoulder, lower leg and thumb/wrist injuries—in that order. These injuries fall into a wide range of seriousness, from a mild knee or thumb sprain to life-threatening head injuries.
Two possible factors that may have contributed to the excess in injuries last year are equipment issues (many are skiing on FIS racing skis designed for much younger bodies) and muscle fatigue, with most accidents occurring in the afternoon.
Beer league racing has improved my skiing and has helped rekindle my love for a sport I was passionate about while growing up in Montreal. It’s humbling to finish two full seconds behind my 13-year-old daughter in the annual parent/child race, but I blame that on the fact that my wife refuses to let me buy a downhill suit. In her words, “Those are not meant for people your age.”