As the one-year anniversary of Nik Zoricic’s death nears, the shaggy-haired Canadian ski cross racer is being honoured on several fronts.
This weekend, friends in his hometown of Collingwood, Ont., will ski from dawn to dusk wearing jeans – Zoricic’s goofy trademark.
His former teammates competing at the ski cross world championships in Norway will fight to memorialize him on Sunday with a win.
And his parents are preparing to ensure Zoricic’s legacy is one of safety reform.
On Wednesday, Zoricic’s family said they would sue the International Ski Federation (FIS) and Alpine Canada if they refuse to launch an independent investigation into his death by mid-June.
“No other tragedy can happen. Change has to be made. And that change has to be material and meaningful,” Zoricic’s mother, Silvia Brudar, said at a press conference held at the family’s lawyer’s office in Toronto.
Zoricic flew off a jump and died of head injuries after slamming into the finish area of a FIS World Cup race in Switzerland last March 10. Since then, his family has pushed for an independent investigation into what went wrong.
Preliminary findings from an inquiry by Swiss police characterized Zoricic’s death as a tragic “accident.” But the lawyer representing his family dismissed the investigation as seriously flawed and called the finding an “insult.” Citing video footage of the race and reports from other ski cross racers, lawyer Timothy Danson said the course was poorly designed, steering racers to the right of the course as they came off the final jump, and pushing them into a narrow finish area that was surrounded by improper safety fences. It had also not been correctly groomed.
Danson said FIS and Alpine Canada have until June 15 to undertake an investigation or face legal action the next day. The family wants to see the creation of more rigorous course standards and safety protocols to prevent future incidents.
FIS has no immediate plans to launch an investigation.
“The police report is the basis for the state prosecutor to decide whether any persons shall be charged and brought to court because of negligent homicide,” FIS said in a statement.
“The report says that the accident was not caused by a fault of any person. However the state prosecutor has not issued his decision yet and until this time we have no further comment to the investigation carried out by the state here in Switzerland.”
Alpine Canada said it is too soon to discuss whether they will launch an investigation.
“Alpine Canada is disappointed that a final report, which it would like to have the opportunity to thoroughly review, has still not been published,” Alpine Canada president Max Gartner said in a statement.
“With respect to calls for a separate, independent investigation, we continue to await the publication of the final Swiss police report and look forward to reviewing the investigation’s findings.”
Danson said he has delivered a letter to the Swiss prosecutor urging him to drop the criminal investigation altogether, so ski officials can begin looking at the root problems without threat of legal liability.
Ski Cross is a relatively new ski discipline that made its Olympic debut in 2010.
Dave Duncan, a member of the Canadian ski cross team, said that since his friend’s death, athletes on the World Cup circuit have become bolder about speaking up when they identify problems with race courses, which are usually designed from scratch for each race, and are unique to each site.
FIS race officials have been quick to make the changes, but the goal is to eliminate these problems before they happen by introducing checklists for organizing committees, said Duncan, who became athlete representative on FIS’s ski cross working group this season.
“It still seems like there is a little disconnect there, where the organizing committees aren’t entirely in tune with what is required of them. And I think it’s FIS’s job to ensure that they know, and that [the protocols] are enforced,” Duncan said, speaking from Norway, where he will compete in the world championships on Sunday.