Time for mountain bikers to take a page from snowsports

By Andru McCracken


Last week we learned that a woman broke her spine during Valemount’s Annual Bikefest. She survived, but she and her family are still waiting to see the extent of the injuries at a hospital in Edmonton. The Rocky Mountain Goat wishes her a full and speedy recovery.

It was a traumatic, life changing event and naturally the woman and her family didn’t want to become headlines. This makes a ton of sense to me. The woman’s identity should be protected.

I am a proponent, however, of talking openly about the events that lead crashes, even if it’s anonymously.

It’s time to create a place where riders can publish an anonymized serious injury report.

Accidents happen. There’s no need to downplay them. If you think that accidents aren’t a part of mountain biking, you’re either from some gravity-free planet or you are in denial. Dr. Annie Gareau, one of the co-authors of a 2012 study on the Epidemiology of Mountain Bike Park Injuries at the Whistler Bike Park, and an emergency room specialist at the Whistler Health Centre was quoted as saying a general rule of thumb is that one in 1,000 skiers are injured, one in 100 snowboarders, and one in 10 downhill cyclists.

That said, those of us who ride accept the risks. Hit by a tree in a windstorm? Thrown off the bike after crashing into the same tree? This isn’t a ball pit at a theme park. It’s a mountain. If you lost your nerve on a steep section and hit the front brakes and ended up in a patch of stinging nettle with a broken clavicle, it’s on you. The responsibility at Valemount Bike Park lies with the rider.

This isn’t about laying blame. This is about building a culture of smart safe riding. It’s about getting better and sharing what went wrong, so the next person doesn’t find themselves in the exact same circumstance with the exact same consequences.

The potential value in this is echoed by the work of the local health clinic. They have shared injury patterns with trail maintainers to great effect, causing changes in trail layout and designations.

When there are really serious injuries a different kind of report needs to be made: A report from the injured.What trail was it on? What was the feature? Your skill level? The number of times you’ve ridden the park and that trail in particular? What led up to the crash? What would have helped?

Valemount is good at this already. Snowmobiling and backcountry skiing are high risk sports, and the risk of avalanches is notoriously easy to underestimate and hard to predict but proponents of the sport have been making mad progress.  The latest move is for recreationalists to submit mountain condition reports to the Avalanche Canada website. People share how much new snow there is, signs of instability or avalanche activity. It doesn’t prevent avalanche injuries or fatalities altogether, but it ups everybody’s game and raises awareness.

Valemount Bike Park could be a safer place, but the onus here isn’t on the trail maintainers, or the doctors at the clinic. The people with power to help are an unlikely and unlucky crew: the injured.

It’s a pretty inglorious task: How I flubbed it and why. But in the future, I hope one of the first things we think of when we’re flying through the air all akimbo is, “What I am I going to include in my report?”

With any luck it will save some lucky soul no small amount of grief.

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