MOLVENA, Italy — Broken collarbones. Shattered shoulders. Internal bleeding. Punctured lungs. Those injuries, and worse, are possible every time a world-class skier plunges out of a starting gate and slides down a snowy racecourse.
Given that, it is not surprising that skiing’s international governing body recently approved for use an airbag safety device that has been in development for nearly four years. But many racers have expressed reluctance toward the new technology.
To outsiders, this reaction might seem incongruous. What skier hurtling downhill at up to 90 miles per hour would not want a bit more protection, especially if his or her neck, shoulders and chest might be shielded in the event of a violent crash? But as often happens in pro sports, money and above all performance are factors that rival, if not surpass, safety concerns.
“As racers, we all want to go as fast as possible, and it does add a little weight, a little more of a hump on your back,” the United States Olympian Marco Sullivan said of the most recent airbag design, which resembles a skintight vest with a small computer sensor and a tiny gas canister tucked in its back. “If you’re the only guy wearing it, it’s probably a disadvantage as far as speed goes.”
Werner Heel, an Italian skier who has a partnership with Dainese, said he was willing to use the airbag only in training because he felt a bit “constricted” in the vest. Steven Nyman, an American who is not affiliated with Dainese, said he was offered one of the vests but turned it down because it was not made by one of his sponsors and because he did not trust it yet.
If the airbag goes off at the wrong time, Nyman said, “it’s sketchy.”
Kelley McMillan contributed reporting from Beaver Creek, Colo.