This year has seen a dramatic improvement in ski conditions in the Alps, but Germans and Austrians have had a dark cloud appear over their slopes after a tragic accident in Kitzbuehel, Austria.
A fatal skiing accident occurred on New Year’s Day when Dieter Althaus, a powerful German politician, collided into Beata Christendl on a ski slope at the Austrian resort of Riesneralm. Christendl, a Slovakian mother of four who lived in the United States, was not wearing a helmet and died from head injuries caused by the collision. Althaus, governor of the eastern German state of Thuringia, remains hospitalized, was placed in an induced coma but is now conscious. According to surgeons, he suffered injuries to the skull and brain. Neurologists said it was likely that the helmet that he was wearing saved his life.
The fatal accident has ignited a lively debate in the European press over the wearing of ski helmets. The Austrian tabloid newspaper Kronen Zeitung ran the headline: “Should wearing a helmet be made compulsory?”
Politicians and leading figures in sport have called for the wearing of helmets to be made compulsory for skiers and snowboarders in Germany and Austria. In Italy, it is compulsory for all children under the age of 14 to wear a helmet on the ski slopes. The debate is one that has received wide spread attention in the United States as well, see Ski Helmet Use.
But the helmet debate is not the only issue under consideration. Austrian prosecutors have launched an inquiry and Mr Althaus is being investigated for manslaughter. The prosecutor’s office said it would be at least four weeks before a decision as to whether to press charges would be made. Police have already questioned one eyewitness who came forward two days after the accident took place. In Colorado, manslaughter charges were first filed in the Nathan Hall case.
The accident happened at a junction of two pistes in the Riesneralm ski resort in Austria. According to reports in the German media Mr Althaus was skiing on a red, intermediate, slope which crosses an easier slope, on which Beata Christandl was travelling. One investigator said both skiers were travelling at around 50km/h (30 mph).