Why ‘life is dangerous’ for injury-prone Alpine skiers

Lindsey Vonn crashes out on a training run ahead of the World Cup women's downhill in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
The dangers of being an Alpine skier
03:03 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

A third of skiers suffer serious injury each season

Most are familiar with long process of rehab and recovery

Lindsey Vonn explains why "life is dangerous"

Sölden, Austria CNN  — 

Life as an alpine skier is risky business.

According to governing body FIS, a third of all skiers suffer a serious injury during the winter season – hardly a surprise when downhill racers reach speeds of up to 95mph.

All the medals, accolades, and training sessions in the world can’t make you resistant to career-threatening injuries.

Just ask Lindsey Vonn, America’s most decorated skier.

She has 77 World Cup wins and claimed Olympic gold in 2010, but Vonn jokingly calls herself “the pin-up injury girl” – and she’s got the medical history to prove it.

“I’ve had two ACL [tears], an MCL, I don’t know, five tibial plateau fractures – I can’t even count how many of those on both knees,” she tells CNN Alpine Edge.

“And I think multiple concussions. And I fractured my arm which is now a long, metal rod. Life is dangerous for me.”

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All eyes on Olympic medal as ski season starts
03:06 - Source: CNN

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‘It’s not the speed that kills you…’

Knee injuries are especially common for skiers.

Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal suffered a horrific crash in Kitzbühel, Austria, last year, and has since undergone intensive rehab to get his knee back to full strength for this season.

“The toughest part is the first part just walking around on crutches,” says the two-time World Cup winner.

“And then you go and ski, and you’re like, guess what? Skiing is the most horrible thing we can do to this knee.

“It’s not the speed that kills you, it’s the sudden loss of it that does.”

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A rare breed

When a skier gets knocked down, they resolutely pick themselves up again. The road to recovery is often long, but it’s the hours of rehab and physio sessions away from the slopes that make them a rare breed of athlete.

It takes guts to thrown yourself down slopes at break-neck speeds, but it takes just as much courage and commitment to get your body race-ready again.

“People like Lindsey – she is wired like no other athlete,” says Brett Gingold, a US ski team doctor.

“The amount of injuries, the severity of injuries, the timing of her injuries – she is so driven that I don’t think the average person understands what she puts herself through.”

While Vonn’s long-awaited return to competitive racing didn’t go entirely smoothly – she failed to qualify for the second run of the Alpine World Tour season opener in Sölden – the American admitted that just being healthy was enough to make her smile.

On top of targeting Ingemar Stenmark’s record 86 World Cup victories, there’s also the not so small matter of the Olympics in Pyeongchang next year for Vonn.

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Winning medals is one thing, but staying injury free is a victory in its own right.