U.S. skier recovering after frightening crash
Vail, CO Colorado
SALT LAKE CITY – Scott Macartney knew he was having a great run.
He was moving fast over the ice and snow, through the ski-chattering turns and as he soared above the steep Austrian mountain. It wasn’t until almost the very end that Macartney’s downhill turned into a disaster.
His takeoff on the final jump at Kitzbuehel was uneven. His left ski started to drift and his body followed, helplessly twisting before he slammed his head in a horrific crash.
“You go right from ‘I might be all right’ to ‘Oh, I’m screwed.’ It’s really that fast,” said Macartney, still recovering from the concussion nearly two weeks after the accident.
Other than a few scrapes on his face that were still visible more than a week after the Jan. 19 crash, Macartney says he is physically fine. His head, however, is still a little cloudy and until the fog has completely lifted, Macartney is grounded.
This isn’t like a twisted knee, sore back or any other injury common to Alpine ski racers. Those can usually be fixed with surgery. The brain is more delicate, and much less understood.
“It’s very important that you get this one right,” said Macartney, who turned 30 the day of the crash. “You just wait for the body to recover. I feel OK, but I don’t feel great and I don’t feel as sharp as I should. It’s that sharpness that’s worrisome.”
Macartney returned to the U.S. last week was spent the weekend in Park City, home of the U.S. Ski Team. Doctors ran neurological tests and tried to gauge how bad his head was rattled.
The early results were good.
“He’s made significant gains since the injury,” said Richard Quincy, medical director for U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
Macartney is lucky, considering his head smacked onto a hard surface after he flew through the air going faster than it’s legal to go on U.S. highways. He was clocked at almost 90 mph just before the last jump and landed hard enough to break his helmet, which made the crash look even worse but actually helped.
The helmet is designed to absorb energy by breaking, which it did. The idea is to lessen the impact inside the helmet by allowing the broken shell to take some of the force like crumple zones in a car.
Still, seeing what was left of his helmet left Macartney slightly bewildered.
“This one, I mean it’s destroyed,” Macartney said.
Macartney says he has watched video several times, just to see how it happened. He remembers everything up until the end, when the impact knocked him unconscious and left his limp body sliding down the slope to the finish area.
He had carried great speed to the final jump, but felt his right ski drop and left one start to rise as soon as he was airborne. He tried to correct it, but his body continued to twist and his skis were pointed sideways when he hit.
“As soon as that happens, you land and it’s just an explosion,” he said. “I was thinking about trying to do everything I could to land on my feet and keep going.”
It’s scary to watch, especially when he is obviously knocked out and his body keeps going before finally coming to rest as paramedics rushed to get to him. He was flown to a hospital in Innsbruck and doctors induced a coma as the swelling subsided overnight.
When Macartney came to the day after the crash, he knew why he was in the hospital. By last Wednesday, he was well enough to fly home for more physical exams. He planned to return to his home outside Seattle after the U.S. Ski Team doctors finished with him.
Macartney hopes to be skiing again before the end of the season, which was one of his best on the World Cup. He finished third last month in Val Gardena, Italy, his first podium finish in the downhill.
Even if the haze doesn’t clear in time, Macartney knows that the other possible outcomes for a crash like his are much more grave than missing the last half of the season.
“It’s a different strategy than doing a knee or a back or something else I’ve been through,” Macartney said. “I need my mind to think clearly.”