US Ski Team Trip Val Gardena, Italy 2020 Cody Tipton, MD

This past December I had the opportunity to join the US Men’s Alpine Speed Team in Val Gardena, Italy to serve as the on-site physician.  Traveling abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic presented its own challenges, but the experience was well worth the life long memories and learning.

Two days prior to my departure I received a Covid-19 PCR required for travel into Switzerland.  I arrived in Zurich, picked up a rental car and spent a mandatory three day ‘quarantine’ prior to joining the team in Davos.  While I was unable to be much of a tourist in Switzerland, I was able to enjoy several days skiing the Swiss Alps.

With my quarantine completed I drove to Val Gardena Italy, joining the team the evening prior to the first training day.  They coordinated a COVID PCR test at a central testing center that returned negative.  I attending training room that night where I was able to meet the head PT for the speed team as well as each of the athletes.  This presented a nice social opportunity to hang out with the team as there were to ongoing injuries to attend to.

With a fresh 2” on the ground and a forecast of nothing but sunshine the weather in Val Gardena was perfect for exploring Val Gardena, ideal for training and racedays, and presented some Stellar views.

The first training day began with breakfast with the team, hoping in the car shortly thereafter for inspection of the course.  The team performed exceptionally and spirits were high.  Training day 2, however, one of the athletes sustained bilateral tibia closed fractures and was flown off the hill to the nearest level one trauma hospital just an hour from the mountain.  Able to watch the accident from the finish area, I jumped in my car, arriving at the hospital shortly after the athlete arrived.  There I met with 3 surgeons and helped coordinate the operative plan for the athlete.  Unable to be in the operative theatre, spent the next several hours as the liaison between our injured athlete and the head Physician in the states, coordinating his return trip, additional imaging to be required upon arrival, and keeping his family up to date with his status.  Fortunate to have isolated musculoskeletal injuries, our athlete did well through his successful surgeries.  He awoke post op and his secondary exam remained negative for additional injuries.  I was able to discuss with him the extent of his injuries, review with him his preop and post op imaging, and the recovery that would ensue.  The gratitude he expressed of having and English-speaking physician and friend by his side was by far the most rewarding part of the trip.  I was able to provide recommendations for post-operative medications including DVT prophylaxis, and examine him twice a day despite the no visitor COVID policy, his exams remained reassuring and we were able to get him home to recover on post op day 4

While my primary job had become the care of our injured athlete, I still returned back to the mountain for the races where I was able to witness RCS take his first ever podium in downhill!  The morning following the races, the majority of the athletes had already departed onto the next leg of the season, but I drove to the hospital for one final visit with out injured athlete.  His gratitude continues and we stay in touch as he continues to send me updates of his status.

From the hospital I drove back to Zurich for my return flight after receiving another COVID PCR coordinated by the team.  I had a one night layover in D.C. where I was able to sleep off the jet lag, returning to Taos the following day.

US Ski Team Trip Bormio, Italy 2020

This past December I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to join the US Men’s Alpine Speed Team in Bormio, Italy to be the on-site physician.  Traveling abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic made it a different kind of experience but the trip was no doubt highlighted by witnessing Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s first World Cup victory which was also the first World Cup Super G win by an American male in 14 years.

My trip began 2 days prior to my departure with a Covid-19 PCR test which foreshadowed a theme of my trip.  A few days later, I was taking off from Albuquerque on my way to Munich, Germany where I had been informed it would be the best place to arrive.   After landing in Munich, I found the Covid testing site at the airport with my ski bag in tow and had another test.  My travel wasn’t quite done though, as I picked up my rental car and began the nearly 6 hour drive from Munich to Bormio, Italy.  Fortunately, I made it to Bormio without any hiccups and was finally able to get some rest.

The following morning I woke up to an email that my Covid test in Munich was negative.  I quickly uploaded my result to the FIS Passport website to ensure I would be able to get credentialed for the races.  With a steady rain in town, I kept to myself and spent most of the day inside.  The rain had stopped the following day, so I put on my skins and went out for a hike adjacent to the race course.  Due to Covid restrictions, all Italian ski resorts were closed to the general public, but that wasn’t stopping a handful of people from hiking up the mountain to still get in a little skiing.  It was great to make a few turns in Italy after all the travel and I even had some nice snow in the higher elevations.  Later that afternoon, I met up with the team and started the official portion of my trip.

The next two days were beautiful sunny days for the downhill training runs.  Things went really well for the team as Cochran-Siegle won both training runs and Jared Goldberg was in the top 10 both days.  While a few minor injuries came up, there were no major crashes in the training runs to everyone’s relief after a horrible injury in training at the prior race in Val Gardena.   The surface on the downhill course was incredibly slick as the course had been injected with water prior to the rain falling and then consolidated with cold temperatures.  While I spent the first day in the finish area, I ventured up on the second day and took my chances inspecting the course.  I managed to stay upright as I slid down sideways on the iciest ski run of my life.  After the two training runs, it was time to race!

The forecast had been calling for a storm to hit Bormio the night before the downhill was originally scheduled, so the organizers switched the Downhill and Super G.  The weather didn’t quite cooperate though as the Monday morning we woke up to 3-4 inches of snow on the ground at our hotel and the snow kept falling heavily all morning.  By 10:30 am, the decision was made to postpone the race moving the Super G and Downhill back one day.  I took an extra powder run with a few of the coaches and then we went back to the hotel to rest.  The following day, the weather had cleared and the Super G was on.  The course crews did a great job getting the hill cleared of the snow and the racers had a nice hard surface for the race.  Many of the top racers came down early on, but it was bib 8 who stole the show.  After leading by 0.17 seconds at the first split, Cochran-Siegle skied the next section to perfection and put almost a second on the field, leading by 1.11 seconds at the next interval.  He maintained his lead through the next split then hit the finish line with a lead of 0.79 seconds.  With some of the top racers already in the finish line, it seemed likely his lead would hold up, and sure enough, no one came any closer for the largest margin of victory in a World Cup Super G in the past 4 years.  What a way to win your first World Cup race!  The entire team was ecstatic for him and thrilled to see an American on the top step of the podium again.  A small celebration ensued amongst the coaches and support team back at the hotel while the athletes spent time recovering and preparing for the Downhill still to come.  For me though, my time with the team came to an end after the celebration.  Unfortunately, the postponement of the races meant I wouldn’t get to stay for the Downhill and I started my drive back to Munich that afternoon, this time catching some amazing views of the Alps.  The team performed well the next day in the downhill, with Ryan Cochran Siegle taking 7th after a small mistake at the bottom of the course and Goldberg in 20th.  After another, last minute, Covid 19 PCR test in the Munich airport, I was on my way home from the incredible trip with a lot of great memories.

US Ski Team Coverage in Europe
Steve O’Neil, DO

Title: COVID in Europe with Ski team

I began my trip to Wengen, Switzerland to cover the famous Lauberhorn downhill Men’s race for 2021. From the airport in Zurich I took a 3 hour train ride through the Swiss Alps to the small town of Wengen, Switzerland. On arrival to the hotel, I was immediately notified that the event was cancelled and the ski team would not be joining me due to COVID. As expected, I was disappointed but thought- well I’m in the Swiss Alps, let’s make the best of it. So the next day I went skiing. About 2 hours into skiing, the hotel called me and informed me that the hotel and the entire town of Wengen would closing due to COVID. So I headed down the mountains and began to pack up and think about heading back to the states after Day One of the trip. About that time, one of the athletic trainers for the men’s downhill team based in Italy called me and informed me that one of the racers was on a practice hill and broke his left tibia and fibula and was being airlifted to a nearby hospital. The AT didn’t know exactly what to do so I spoke with the Italian surgeon and we decided that the best option for the surgery would be to transfer the skier to nearby University Hospital in Innsbruke, Austria. At that point, the ski team personal decided it would be in the best interest of the skier if I could go to Innsbuke and accompany the skier before and after surgery to ensure proper care, however I would need to be COVID tested before I could get into Austria. I then got back on the train to Zurich, Switzerland, got tested, rented a car and drove to Innsbruke, Austria. There, I met with the skier, explained his injury and the surgery to be performed. Surgery went well and his post operative care went without incident. After two days with the skier, the team then informed me that they would like me to cover the men’s slalom event in Flachau, Austria. However, once again I would need to be COVID tested. So I got tested at a mobile unit and then drove the 3 hours to Flauchau, Austria. From there, it was a 2 day event. Amazing to see these young men ski and compete. The US team did not qualify for the second round either day but they skied well. I then packed up and drove the 6 hours back to Zurich and plane back to the US.

Although this trip had many ups and downs with cancellations and COVID related postponements, I will remember the experience forever. From driving through the alps, helping the skier after injury, to watching the slalom events- it was truly an amazing experience and I appreciate every detail of the trip.