Over the course of the 2018/19 season, from summer preparatory training to World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra, over 40 athletes dealt with injuries that sidelined them for a portion of the season or ended it altogether. Knee injuries were quite popular over the course of the season, with exactly 50% of the injured athlete’s denoting some kind of knee injury. Tibula/fibula fractures were also a popular injury coming at 18% of 2018/19 injuries.
These statistics come as no surprise. In May of 2018, the FIS’ Injury Surveillance System, in collaboration with the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center (OSTRC), conducted a survey assessing injuries reported across all FIS disciplines from 2006 to 2018. The injuries included in the report do not represent all injuries in the World Cup, only those of athletes interviewed, but Alpine still stood out as one of the most injury intensive disciplines, just behind Freestyle skiing. Forty percent of injuries obtained in alpine were denoted as severe. Forty-one percent of injuries occurred in the knee, and 47.4 percent of injuries were joint or ligament related.
What is it about skiing, specifically alpine skiing, that makes it such a high-risk sport? Lindsay Winninger, renowned physical therapist of Lindsey Vonn, Laurenne Ross, Breezy Johnson, and other female speed skiers on the United States Ski Team, associates high injury rates with just about anything that falls outside of an athlete’s control. Weather, snow conditions, temperature changes, changing light on course, in addition to the movement of the athlete. Alpine ski racers experience extreme forces from skis, snow, and speed that easily lead to injury with even the smallest change of body position.
“Alpine athletes sometimes have to absorb G forces in their turns based on the speeds they ski at. One small move can change their body position and that can change their ability to combat those forces,” says Winninger. “The forces overtake them and a crash ensues. They also create angles that you won’t see in other disciplines. Those angles require certain levels of strength and power to not only create them but to also stabilize their bodies in those angles. Certain terrain can really challenge a skiers ability to stabilize in a ski turn. Not too many skiers can pack it into the ground going 70mph and walk away unscathed. I always say a crash in ski racing is like jumping out of a moving car on the highway, you’re going to get hurt.”
Headed into the summer training months and 2019/20 season, 43 World Cup athletes seek to recover in order to continue competing at alpine’s highest level. Ski Racing Media took a look at all of the athlete’s who walked away from this season with injuries so you know which comeback stories to watch for in the upcoming season.
Marco Schwarz, 23 – After seizing three medals at World Championships in Are, Sweden, the 23-year-old up-and-comer experienced an awkward landing during the super-G in Bansko’s alpine combined, later discovering that he tore his ACL and damaged his meniscus.
Cornelia Huetter, 26 – At the beginning of the season, the speed specialist struggled with a cartilage fracture post-Lake Louise that forced her to the sidelines for five weeks. Then again, just before World Championships, Huetter struggled with an aggravated ACL and a calf muscle tear and was unable to make a strong comeback for the remainder of the season.
Stephanie Brunner, 25 – Brunner had returned to the circuit in October, fresh off of rehab from the first serious injury of her career, only to once again tear her ACL and damage her meniscus just ahead of the Kronplatz tech weekend.
Anna Veith, 29 – Just one day after her teammate sustained a season-ending injury training for Kronplatz, the Olympic super-G silver medalist suffered a similar fate. She was diagnosed with a torn ACL in her right knee and underwent immediate surgery.
Valerie Grenier, 22 – The promising young talent for the Canadians sustained a season-ending injury in the form of a tibia-fibula fracture in the right leg, as well as a right ankle fracture, during a downhill training run in Are, Sweden.
Manuel Osborne – Paradis, 35 – The 2018 super-G World Championship bronze medalist’s season ended before it even started with a fractured left tibia-fibula in Lake Louise downhill training late November.
Jean-Baptiste Grange, 34 – While competing in the slalom in Wengen, Switzerland on January 20th, Grange ruptured his ACL and fissured his external meniscus in the left knee.
Tessa Worley, 29 – A hard crash the Lake Louise super-G in December resulted in a small lesion on the external meniscus of her right knee, causing her to skip out on the St. Moritz and Val Gardena series. The Frenchwoman made a speedy recovery and finished third in her return to the circuit in the giant slalom in Courchevel, France.
Taina Barioz, 30 – Within the same week as Worley, Barioz ruptured her ACL and sprained her left knee following a fall in giant slalom training in Switzerland. On May 7th, 2019, she announced her retirement from the World Cup, saying that at 30 years of age, she had had enough with the injuries.
Stefan Luitz, 27 – Luitz’s rollercoaster of a season ended in a left shoulder injury after a fall in Adelboden mid-January. In February, Luitz underwent surgery and walked away with two screws and a reconstructed of the joint socket.
Andreas Sander, 29 – The German speed skier suffered an ACL tear in the right knee while racing in Bormio, Italy prior to the New Year.
Thoma Dressen, 25 – Beaver Creek’s downhill race led to the season injury of the 2018 Kitzbuehel champion, who walked away from the U.S. with an ACL and PCL tear in the right knee, as well as a dislocated shoulder, the first major injury in his career.
Christof Innerhofer, 34 – The former super-G gold medalist ended his season with a microfracture in his left fibula and an ACL tear after a fall in the Italian National Championship super-G in March.
Federica Brignone, 28 – In August during summer training in Zermatt, the Italian Olympic bronze medalist incurred a strained LCL and a bone contusion after a hard crash training in Zermatt. She returned to the tour strong, winning the Killington World Cup, but continued to aggravate her injury. In Garmisch, Brignone ‘s left knee was showing distortion and excessive swelling, yet she pushed on and continued to compete throughout the rest of the season.
Sofia Goggia, 26 – The Italian speed star missed out on the beginning of the season due to a fractured ankle sustained while training in Austria in October. Goggia was able to return to the circuit in January, kicking off her season with a second place podium in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen super-G.
Riccardo Tonetti, 29 – While training in early March, the Italian suffered a traumatic laceration to his hand that caused extensive tendon and nerve damage. While the injury did not need surgery, Tonetti sat out the remainder of the season to recover.
Federica Sosia, 24 – Sosia had to be to airlifted off course after a hard crash in the Garmisch downhill, where she sustained a fibular fracture in her left leg.
Emanuelle Buzzi, 24 – Just after crossing the finish line of the Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland in a career-best sixth, Buzzi lost control and crashed into the finish, fracturing his right tibial plateau.
Peter Fill, 36 – The two-time downhill crystal globe champion had been struggling with a muscle problem from the previous season. Then he crashed hard in the Beaver Creek downhill, a back hematoma further added to his pain, and he opted to sit out the 2018/19 season in order to fully heal before returning to racing.
Elena Fanchini, 34 – Early in 2018, Fanchini had been diagnosed with low-grade neoplasm (an abnormal mass of tissue that could lead to cancer). Her return to the circuit was halted when she crashed during training in Copper, Colorado, suffering from a left knee contusion, a fracture of the proximal fibula, and a fractured finger.
Johanna Schnarf, 34 – Schnarf had been looking forward to participating in her sixth World Championships later in the season prior to a season-ending injury during Copper training, after displacing her tibia and fibula in her left leg.
Ragnhild Mowinckel, 26 – While training in Soldeu, just ahead of World Finals, Mowinckel crashed after a long jump and tore her ACL and damaged her meniscus.
Nina Haver-Loeseth, 30 – After crashing through the finish in the slalom in Semmering, Austria, the Norwegian discovered she had incurred a tibial fracture and meniscus tear in the right knee.
Kjetil Jansrud, 33 – Kitzbuehel’s downhill training led to a crash that resulted in Jansrud breaking his left hand. He was able to return prior to World Championships in Are, where we won the downhill title after failing to find the podium in races prior.
Ilka Stuhec, 28 – Stuhec was already having a comeback season, after an injury in early 2017 forced her to miss the entirety of the 2017/18 World Cup season. Stuhec was able to return to the podium once again at venues such as Val Gardena – Groden, but sustained a PCL tear, that did not require surgery, yet still did not allow her to compete in World Championships or World Finals.
Ana Drev, 33 – Drev ended her season on January 12th after a training crash prepping for Kronplatz landed her in the hospital with an ACL rupture in her right knee. Given that the 33-year-old has had multiple season-ending injuries before, the Slovenian team is unsure whether or not she will return next season.
Estelle Alphand, 24 – Alphand’s season ended early when the young tech skier broke her ankle during her first run of giant slalom in the Killington World Cup.
Marc Gisin, 30 – Gisin’s crash in the Val Gardena downhill went down as one of the worst of the season, resulting in an airlift off of the course and over an hour course hold. Gisin spent some time in intensive care prior to being diagnosed with several fractured ribs that caused injuries to his lungs, as well as minor fractures in the pelvis and spine.
Michelle Gisin, 25 – While racing in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen super-G, Gisin suffered cartilage damage and an ACL strain in her right knee and opted to undergo immediate surgery in order to preserve her knee and prepare for next season. Given the state of her brother, Marc, after the downhill in Val Gardena, the young Swiss woman also felt the need to spend time at home with her family.
Lara Gut-Behrami, 28 – During downhill training in Soldeu prior to World Finals, Gut-Behrami took a tumble that resulted in severe back bruising and a syndesmotic ligament tear. Her injuries were not severe, but she did not compete in the World Finals.
Thomas Tumler, 29 – Tumler’s crash during the Kvitfjell, super-G led to a metacarpal fracture in his left hand. After having surgery to repair the fracture, the Swissman opted to sit the rest of the season out.
Niels Hintermann, 24- Hintermann took a hit during Kvitfjell training that also resulted in a fracture, this time of the wrist. Hintermann’s injury also required surgery.
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Lindsey Vonn, 34 – The winningest female skier of all time took her last stand at World Championships in Are, Sweden after an early-season injury in Copper Mountain finally sent her body over the edge. After much rehab, Vonn attempted to make her much anticipated comeback in Cortina in January, but soon realized that her body would not be able to continue. She finished off the season with an LCL tear, three fractures, and bone bruising in her left knee. Under the knife, she received LCL reconstruction, a lateral meniscectomy, chondroplasty, and peroneal nerve neurolysis.
Laurenne Ross, 30 – While prepping for World Championships in Are, Ross crashed in a warm-up run prior to downhill training. At first, there were no signs of injuries severe enough for an operation. But a few weeks off snow prompted Ross to opt for an operation anyway due to continued discomfort. A scope revealed that both Ross’ LCL and meniscus had been torn and her tibia-fibula joint needed reconstruction, in addition to the concussion received upon her initial impact.
Breezy Johnson, 23 – In September while training downhill in El Colorado, Chile, Johnson tore her ACL as she was headed into a potential breakout season. She recently returned to snow and was able to fully participate in the women’s speed camp held at Mammoth in May.
Alice McKennis, 29 – In May of 2018, McKennis fractured her left tibia and fibula while coaching the American Downhiller speed camp at Mammoth Mountain. Scarring from her operation prevented her tendons from working properly, and required a second surgery. McKennis returned to snow in May alongside her teammates to train speed in Mammoth.
Jacqueline Wiles, 26 – In February of 2018, just days prior to the Olympics, Wiles crashed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After being airlifted off the course, she was diagnosed with an ACL tear, an LCL tear, a fracture of the left tibia and fibula, and a torn meniscus that required reconstruction. She returned to snow at the women’s speed camp held in Mammoth alongside McKennis.
Steven Nyman, 37 – Nyman was forced to skip out on Kitzbuehel and Garmisch in the 2018/19 season after a hard crash on the Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen left him with a concussion. Nyman did not sustain any other serious injuries, aside from biting through his own tongue after taking a knee to the face.
Resi Stiegler, 33 – An injury in St. Moritz in early December sidelined the World Cup veteran, who was hoping for a comeback season after crashing in slalom in PyeongChang, where she incurred a bucket handle tear in the right knee. Although Stiegler got back to skiing later on in the season, she did not fully return to the World Cup circuit and opted to race a few NorAm and FIS races.