Catherine McLean Freelance Writer

Swiss officials wrap up probe into Canadian skier's death

February 5, 2014
The Globe and Mail

Swiss authorities have closed a lengthy investigation into the death of Canadian athlete Nik Zoricic in a crash during the ski cross World Cup finals nearly two years ago in the Bernese Alps, Christof Scheurer, spokesman for the attorney-general’s office of the canton of Bern, confirmed this week.

The investigation ruled there was no third-party involvement, and that there was no breach of duty of care in the fatal skiing accident.

Racing down the World Cup course in Grindelwald, Switzerland, on March 10, 2012, Mr. Zoricic soared over the last jump and veered towards the right, crashing at full force into safety netting beside the finish line. He died that day from head injuries sustained in the accident. The police in the canton of Bern immediately opened an investigation at the request of the attorney-general’s office, the standard procedure in unusual accidents that result in death.

“We wanted to investigate the accident properly,” said another official from the Bern canton attorne- general’s office this week. “We wanted to examine everything from A to Z. We have done that and found it was an accident and nobody is to blame.”

Tim Danson, the Toronto-based lawyer for the Zoricic family, didn’t return calls and emails seeking comment on the closure of the probe.

The family, who last year criticized the Swiss probe after receiving the police report, called at that time on the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS), or International Ski Federation, and Alpine Canada to open their own independent investigation into the crash, saying that would make the sport safer for ski-cross athletes. FIS and Alpine Canada said they were awaiting the final decision from the attorney general’s office. FIS and Alpine Canada said at the time they would not comment until the final decision from the attorney general’s office.

The death of Mr. Zoricic, 29, shook the world of ski cross, raising questions about the safety of the course in Grindelwald as well as the young sport itself. Ski cross is often described as BMX or NASCAR on skis, with four skiers at a time flying down a winding course full of jumps. The sport is set to make its second appearance in the Winter Olympics this year, in the Sochi Games beginning this weekend.

Critics, including athletes and Mr. Zoricic’s family, have alleged that the design of the Grindelwald course was responsible for Mr. Zoricic’s death, saying that the final jump was too close to the finish line, and that it pulled the racers to the right where there was hard snow.

Eric Archer, the head coach of the Canadian team, told his team that the line of the race course at the final jump was off to the side rather than in the centre and that it could get tight on the right side, according to a copy of the Swiss police report published on Mr. Danson’s website. Mr. Archer said, however, that the choice of the racing line was not necessarily unusual.

The Swiss authorities found in their investigation that the course met the standards set for ski-cross competitions.