France's David Poisson competes during the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup Men's Downhill in Bormio in 2013
Paris (AFP) - French skier David Poisson, a downhill bronze medallist at the 2013 world championships, died after he lost a ski and hit a tree when falling heavily in training, the French ski federation said Tuesday.
“According to information currently available to the French ski federation, David Poisson fell heavily after losing a ski during a shared training session with other countries, which took place yesterday (Monday) in Nakiska, Canada,” the federation said.
“David Poisson reportedly hit a tree after passing through the safety nets.”
The Nakiska resort in Canada is used by many teams for preparation ahead of the World Cup events at Lake Louise on November 25-26.
“The French ski federation has since last night been in contact with David’s family to support and accompany it in this terrible moment,” the federation added.
The local coroner, aided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), are investigating the exact cause of death.
RCMP spokesman Curtis Peters told AFP officers went to the site and took measurements and snapped photographs, but added it will be up to the coroner to “determine what took place and if there is any corrective actions required”.
Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, which owns the Nakiska resort, declined to provide details about the site’s safety. Spokesman Matt Mosteller said the slope meets the “highest safety standards”.
National teams “would not let their skiers go down the slopes if it was not safe,” he added.
Poisson, who lost his own father to cancer two weeks ago, was a hugely popular figure on the World Cup circuit, known by his nickname of “Caillou” – the French for pebble – given his short muscular build.
He made his World Cup debut in 2004 at the age of 20, earning his sole podium when he finished third in the downhill in Santa Caterina last season.
Poisson, the father of a young son, took part at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics at Vancouver and Sochi, finishing seventh and 16th respectively in the downhill races.
The Frenchman’s death is the 12th on the professional circuit, the last coming when compatriot Regine Cavagnoud died after hitting a German coach at the Austrian resort of Pitzal in 2001.
Ski racing remains a danger-laden sport, with injuries and crashes commonplace.
Racers require nerves of steel, courage and raw physical aggression, but also the mental ability to safely manage risk down perilous slopes.
There is no better example than Kitzbuehel’s “Streif” piste, a 3.3km-long rollercoaster of a run with an average gradient of 28 degrees, peaking at a mind-boggling 85 degrees high up the course and where skiers have to negotiate a 80-metre jump.
Racers reach motorway-coasting speeds of 130km/h, at times combatting centrifugal forces that hit an astonishing 3.5G.
Poisson claimed a top-10 finish in Kitzbuehel on three occasions, each time left revelling at having mastered the ultimate test for a professional ski racer.