By Warner Nickerson
I want to express my deepest condolences for Charles Christianson who ended his season three days ago at Nastar Nationals. It’s not Nastar’s fault and later in this blog I applaud them for what they're doing, but it just sucks all around. Charles hasn’t gone a single season in five years without a big injury so I was pretty impressed when he was in the final stretch a week ago with only a mostly broken hand, beat up shoulder, and bad back. It was looking sooooo good.
Charles went to Nastar Nationals because he pretty much doesn’t back down from a single opportunity. If you ask him what “opportunity cost” is he probably has no idea because he fits absolutely everything into his schedule. When he got a call to attend Nastar Nationals, win a fully paid berth to Chile with the ski team, and get some great notoriety he jumped at the chance and flew out to Colorado. There wasn’t a single GS race in the US and Canada – they were all cancelled due to weather – and his mostly broken hand couldn’t handle cross blocking so Canadian Nationals Slalom was out. He looked at it as a way to get ready for U.S. Nationals a few days later at the same resort, Winter Park. It was a good plan.
The first day, he had the fastest time qualifying with a 0.01 handicap, which means he’s basically the fasted dude in American on GS skis. As you look at those results a little closer, an old superstar AJ Kitt is the pace setter and based on his time a zero handicap is 4 tenths behind Charles. So day 1, Charles was looking good.
Ted Ligety and a few others were there to keep everyone on their toes. It’s is really cool that Ted attended the event because for many it’s the first time they get to see the fastest GS skier in the world. One of ski racing’s biggest challenges is that very few people understand how impressively fast the athletes are skiing. The general public can’t see where they stack up against the best. It’s not like golf. Golf is such a great sport because you see progress very easily and on every single course you know what a scratch golfer will shoot. If you shoot in the 90s where par is around 72 and the best pros would shoot in the low 60s or high 50s on relatively easy courses you can appreciate and understand how impressive the best golfers are. The general public can’t show up at Solden and compete. Nor can they even see how icy and steep it is on the couch from home.
This is exactly what Nastar is doing. They are have done a great job at creating a handicap system that explains where the general public stacks up against the best skiers in the U.S. and I applaud them for that. I remember racing Nastar in my early years and have always been impressed with what they are doing. It’s just too bad that the weather was so soft.
After Charles won the first day, he start last the next day based on the seeding… not good in extremely soft snow.
By the time Charles pushed out of the gate, it was around 1:30 PM after tons of snowboarders, telemark skiers, and racers competed all on one course. Charles was hammering the course and half way down coming into a left footer Charles explains in mid air in between turns, “I saw the big hole and tried to avoid it. My inside ski landed first, but directly in the hole. It twisted, I felt things shift…” In that situation, you just have to make the best decision you can, brace for impact, and hope for the best. His right ski smashed into the hole and basically stopped as the rest of his body continued. He skied out of the course, not falling, knowing things were very wrong with his right leg. Unfortunately, the intense impact of the hole in the course tore his ACL, meniscus, and fractured his tibia. Not awesome. Charles gives a more detailed description on his blog.
This is a similar situation as Benni Raich and Resi Stiegler blowing out their knees in the Team Event at World Champs and World Cup Finals, respectively.
You never know when you’re going to get hurt. It can happen in training, racing, or even walking across an icy street. You can’t blame anyone for what happened; it just sucks and is inherent in this sport. After the injury on Sunday, Charles immediately drove to Vail, Colorado. He had an MRI done Monday morning and went into surgery Monday night. They repaired the meniscus and now he’s on crutches for 6 weeks with only 90 degrees of mobility in his right knee until his next surgery in 8 weeks on his ACL. It’s too bad they weren’t able to do both surgeries at once. As Charles explains, “The second surgery is really bumming me out.”
Visit Warner's blog at: WWW.WarnerNickerson.com
Charles Christianson photo from Kranjska Gora by Gepa