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Canadian skier Nick Zoricic dies in crash, raising questions about ski racing’s safety

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Nik Zoricic, 1983-2012

Everyone wants alpine events such as skicross to be as fast and thrilling as possible, but safety has to be paramount. The death today of Canadian skicross racer Nick Zoricic, who was coming into his own in the event, is bound to get lumped in with the loss of Sarah Burke since they were each alpine athletes.

[Photos of Nick Zoricic]

But the two are very different. Burke's death was somewhat of a freak occurrence. Zoricic's fatal crash seems bound to spark inquiries about the safety of the course, specially the bright idea to have advertising pillars placed right below the final jump of the course in Grindel on a course that is already narrow enough for three skiers to traverse simultaneously. Coming over the last jump, the 29-year-old Toronto native passed that pillar on the right and crashed into the snow fence. He died of head injuries. People are already wondering if the course was unsafe.

Today is probably not the time to finger-wag about the course design, but it bears pointing out since that could be where the story goes in the days to come. It is similar to the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in that regard.

For high-level skiers, be it skicross, freestyle or downhillers, this is part of their daily reality.

"I can't believe this tragic news. Nick Zoricic has died? I'm sick to my stomach," former Canadian Alpine racer Brian Stemmle wrote on Twitter.

U.S. racer Ted Ligety also posted a message of condolence for Zoricic on Twitter soon after winning a World Cup giant slalom race in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

"Skiing is a great sport that gives but it also takes, sad day to lose Nick Zoricic, you'll be missed bud," Ligety wrote. (The Canadian Press)

The fact this has happened again to a Canadian competitor is bound to get much of the attention (eerily, both Zoricic and Burke were the same age, 29). However, that trivializes Nick Zoricic a bit. The son of a well-known alpine coach in Ontario, Bebe Zoricic, he was only in his third season of skicross. Nick had been struggling early on this year on the World Cup circuit while adjusting to some new equipment, but had been posting better results as the season came to close, surely buoying his hopes for Sochi 2014. That would have been a great story itself for the first-generation Canadian family (Nick Zoricic was born in Sarajevo, but his family immigrated to Canada in the 1980s). In a split second, that all changed and once a period of respectful mourning has passed, people will have to ask how that happened.

(Cross-posted at Eh Game.)

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).

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