Zoricic death demands an investigation says family
The death of Canadian ski-cross competitor Nik Zoricic in a World Cup event at Grindelwald, Switzerland March 10 was no “freak accident,” according to the Zoricic family and they are asking for a comprehensive, independent investigation of the event.
In a Toronto press conference today (April 25) hosted by lawyer Tim Danson, the family outlined their concerns for the sport of ski-cross, voiced amazement at a lack of communication from the organization of the sport (FIS) and said indications are the crash that killed their son and brother is being “whitewashed.”
“This was no freak accident,” said Danson in introducing the family to the media. “The finish line of this World Cup event was a death trap. It is unacceptable that an elite athlete like Nik Zoricic can make a perfect landing, barely miss the finish line by one meter and be killed for it. All right thinking people would certainly agree that if you miss the finish line by a few feet the result should be disqualification, not death.”
Danson then showed a frame by frame video of the final seconds of Zoricic's life, illustrating the family's belief that the final jump of the Grindelwald course and the finish area immediately below it were improperly designed and/or created.
Danson maintained all three of the skiers shown taking the final jumps in the video from the event were in perfect position, that the first skier landed on the blue dye marking the (skier's) right edge of the course, that the second skier landed well outside the boundary but on groomed snow and that Nik Zoricic landed a full meter outside the line in snow he described as “crud.”
“You have to ask yourself this question. For those who have the audacity to suggest that Nik somehow was off course, why are all three elite World Cup athletes far to the right? And the answer is because that's where the final jump directs them.”
Danson said, “Nik is in perfect position. He touches ground in complete control. ... but he is not landing on a groomed hill. He is landing on what is known in skiing as crud. There is probably no alpine event at any time anywhere in the world where the hill is not perfectly groomed right up to the fence.
“He lands in complete control. His skis get submerged into the snow. ... If this had been groomed like any other course anywhere, he would be alive today.”
He said the fencing Nik subsequently struck was inadequate. “This fencing is called B fencing and in our respective view was absolutely the wrong fencing for this situation. After he hits it he is tossed into the air, into a snowbank, at the finish line. This is like a brick wall. This isn't soft snow."
"Nik Zoricic,” Danson said, “was killed instantly.”
At this point the family is not launching a law suit. They are asking, instead, for a comprehensive independent investigation of the event.
Litigation, he said, “puts all parties on the defensive. We want to take all legal option off the table. We need people to come forward and speak frankly, honestly, without fear of reprisal.” Four sources, he said, have told the family officials had been told the course was unsafe before the event took place, but won't come forward publically in fear of losing their careers. “The level of negligence is so extreme it cannot be swept under the carpet.”
On Monday the family sent letters to the FIS, the Canadian federation and Swiss authorities requesting an independent investigation.
“We hope that the public, not just in Canada but all across the ski world will demand this be properly investigated, that we get answers to these questions with the sole objective that serious changes get made and this type of tragedy never happens again.”
The conference was an obvious burden on the family. Sylvia, Nik's mother said, “Every cell in my body hurts, but knowing this could have been avoided makes it into an agony.” Still, she said, if this action could make the sport safer for future athletes, she was willing to go through that “for Nik.”
Bebe, the father and a 30 year ski coach, pointed out finish area regulations are largely derived from alpine rules where one skier crosses the finish at a time. Even in ski-cross training sessions skiers would have hit the final jump one at a time with a better choice of the prime line.
“No one could predict three guys would meet at the jump at the same time. At 80kph the guy in front takes the line. If the fourth guy had been there, where would he have gone?”
He said he had originally accepted the reports of the accident. “Then I went and saw Nik.”
The family says they have reached out to authorities and have hit a wall of silence. Danson said, “We are told there are investigations, but they have not shared that with us. We have told them, and this is disturbing, that Nik has still not been buried because we are waiting for a cause of death report, officially. When you reach out and get nothing red flags go up.
“We don't trust anything at this point,” said Danson. “We reach for answers and all we get is silence... it suggests gross negligence. At this stage,” he said, “there is no reason to have confidence in any investigation. We want them to understand the entire world is watching this.”
“It is a wonderful sport, but it has to be changed,” said the senior Zoricic. “It cannot be continued if this is a freak accident. ... If this is a freak accident no single kid will go into ski-cross.
“I hope this is a turning point.”