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Michael Schumacher: Every skier knows the risks and rationalises accordingly

By Simon Usborne

Michael Schumacher's injury follows a recent string of deaths in avalanches, including five in separate slides in the Alps last Friday alone.

Earlier this month Cameron Bespolka, a British teenager, was buried alive in front of his triplet brother. Many now wonder if the joy and thrill of a sport like skiing are worth the risk.

It was a debate my own family might have started in 2001 when my father died in an avalanche, and, months later, I broke my spine in a fall.

All skiers and snowboarders will know someone who has had a serious accident. We all winced at the news of Schumacher's crash and the death in 2009 of Liam Neeson's wife, the actress Natasha Richardson. Yet, among the many emotions my family had in a Canadian funeral home, there was no question we would stop skiing.

My parents met in the mountains and passed on an unshakable passion. Moreover, I, like my father, am unfailingly rational. And it is important to note at times like this, however scant the comfort it might offer the Schumachers and Bespolkas, that skiing is safer than it appears. On an average day, two out of every 1,000 skiers and snowboarders can expect to suffer an injury that requires treatment. The majority will be minor. Death statistics are scarcer, but in the US they occur one every 1.4 million ski days, which is extremely low.

If we do not then abandon the mountains for more sedentary lives, the challenge becomes managing what risk remains. It appears there was nothing more Schumacher could have done in this regard; he wore a helmet, which his doctors have said at least gave him the chance of surviving the blow to his head.

My father did not wear a helmet – it has only become fashionable to do so in recent years – but no piece of equipment could have saved him.

As in all sports, risk must be viewed rationally. Then it must be reduced and managed. Finally, you decide if you could live happily without it.

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