Reigning Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer made his much-anticipated return to snow on Tuesday at the Moelltal glacier in Austria. The Austrian has not been on skis since his violent crash at last December’s Val Gardena downhill where he suffered fractures to his T6 and T7 vertebrae, requiring surgery to fuse his T5-T8 vertebrae and raising questions about the effectiveness of airbag technology as Mayer was wearing one at the time of the crash.
Mayer used the day to casually free ski on the hill and get his feet underneath him as he plans on returning to the World Cup this season, although a specific date is yet to be determined.
“It was exactly seven months ago, on 19 December, when I crashed,” Mayer told journalists. “I’m now only doing a few mobilization exercises for the thoracic spine, but I’m actually free of symptoms.”
Mayer said that he plans on free skiing until August 19, and then he will attempt to train giant slalom before ultimately heading to Chile with the Austrian team later in the summer.
When pressed about a specific date for his return to the World Cup, the Austrian ruled out any possibility of racing in the season opener in Soelden on Oct. 23, but was hopeful that he would be ready for the opening speed races in Lake Louise in late November. His ultimate goal is to compete in peak form at the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, come February.
Mayer also intends to continue to wear the airbag technology he was equipped with during his fall, putting to rest any speculation as to whether he still has faith in the device that some felt may have contributed to his injuries.