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British Speed Skier Dies at Les Arcs

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Caitlin Tovar, the GB women's champion speed skier has died, falling next to the 'Flying K' run in Les Arcs, in an incident disturbingly similar to that which killed Italian speed skier Marco Salvaggio two years ago. Earlier in the week, Cait had officially recorded a speed of 196 kph to become GB women's champion, and later (but unofficially) 202 kph, which would have set a new GB women's record, had that day's racing been ratifed...


In fondest memory of Caitlin Tovar, who died this weekend on the KL at Les Arcs.

Cait worked at 1950 as the owners/operators interface, and was one of the special people who are not only able to enjoy life to the full, but to make everyone around them share that joie-de-vivre. And she was also damn good at her job.

While acting as a forerunner for the weekend World Championships, Cait lost her footing on the side of the run, and fell almost the length of the course to her death.


I shall remember her as I last saw her on Friday, the life and soul of her birthday celebrations in the village of 1950.

A special person, who will be sorely missed by friends, colleagues and owners alike.

Jim
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Very sad to hear it particularly as you knew her. I was watching speedskiing at Mont Fort a the weekend and was very impressed with the courage and that was just the amateurs going form half way up the course.
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Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad
Oh dear.
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Sad Sad
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Sorry to hear that Jim, that's awful news. I think a KL competitor died under similar circumstances a couple of years ago.

Sad
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rob@rar, it always seems like it is an accident involving the mogul field at the side of the slope.
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Terrible news. The slope at the side is way more dangerous in a low friction suit than the run itself I think. Hats off to a brave skier who died doing what she loved.
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Crying or Very sad sorry to hear this sad news.
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Very sad news Crying or Very sad I did the KL a few years ago from the lower start point and all I can say is hats off to the skill and bravery of the skiers that go from the top.
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JimW, Sorry to hear about your friend Jim.

I'm not familiar with the venue so am I right in assuming that Cait was not actually skiing when she fell? If so how steep is it?
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spyderjon, The very top is 54 degrees, then 45 degrees shallowing out to about 35 degrees for most of the kilometre. Mogul field to the left and off piste to the right of the KL piste. You do not want to veer off course.
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Spyderman, I've struggled to get down those moguls, I wouldn't like to think of slipping from the top. The traverse across to the FL could do with a rope.
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spyderjon,

You are right, Cait was apparently stepping down about 10m or so to a new start position, after being advised by an official that the course conditions were too fast for her to run from the top. Ironic doesn't even get close.

Spyderman, having seen the acceleration achieved in 'real time' rather than just imagining it while looking at the course from afar, then in my book to go from anywhere is a major act of courage. You have my respect.

rob@rar, The Italian skier who died (there is a thread on snowheads somewhere about this) lost control while carrying his speed skis in getting from the lift system to the start of the run. While in the Varet gondola this year, we commented that a new track appeared to have been cut making access considerably easier. It would appear, as in all things, you cannot account for all eventualities.

Scarpa, Thank you, you have caught Cait's personality on the button.


I have been told that a memorial service was held today (17th) and her ashes will be scattered on the KL tomorrow, 18th

JW
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Jim, I was thinking of posting something earlier today and dithered and am glad I did as your choice of words is far better than mine would have been.

The family and I met Cait for the first time through her new role at 1950 in January and got the chance to chat more during our week in the resort this month. Her obvious enthusiasm for her sport and life in general shone through in our all too brief chats.

We last spoke the other Friday when she was about to go up to 2000 to register and she told us of her great result in Italy the previous week. I will remember her in a similar way to you - on the terrace of Luigis watching and enjoying the big air competition in the company of people that had enormous respect and obvious fondness for her and her love of life.
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Dear Snowheads,
As a friend and team-mate of Caitlin and someone who witnessed this tragedy, I just want to convey exactly what happened to avoid the perpetuation of half-truths and speculation. The Pro World Championships began on Wednesday. Ironically, the first day of this race was designated as the Marco Salvaggio memorial race in memory Marco, the Italian racer who died two years ago. The race continued on Thursday but was then weathered-off (due to cloudy skies and high winds) on Friday and Saturday. So many things have to converge for the World record to be an even remote possibility...but when we all woke on Sunday to see clear skis, no wind and fast transformed snow, we all expected this to be an incredible day.

The first start of the day was set slightly (maybe 20m) above the last start on Thursday. The track preparation looked fantastic. As is usual, the four fastest racers not to make the "cut" for the semi-final were the forerunners. Three forerunners descended without incident then one fell just after the timing. Although he had passed through the timing at 227kph (~141mph) and fallen, he was relatively unscathed. The mistake had been his own, the track was perfect and after a short delay, the race resumed. After the forerunners, the top 10 men took their runs; Simone Origone (current World record holder) was fastest at 239kph - only 12kph off the World record with almost 100m of the hill left for the final. An excited murmur spread through the line up..."this would be a record day".

Again, as is usual, after the top 10 men have run, the ladies run. A decision had been taken by the race organisers that Caitlin and Tomoko (a Japanese racer) should start from a lower start and effectively act as forerunners for the ladies. Earlier in the race, the snow on the upper part of the slope beside the track had been dry and loose but the warm winds of the previous two days had allowed the snow to transform and refreeze overnight. Most speed skiers dull their ski edges for greater safety during the high speed descent; catching an edge at >200kph can be an unforgiving experience. However, the texture of the snow on Sunday morning made handling speed skis very tricky. Since the death of Marco 2 years ago, it has been mandatory to wear clothing over your speed ski suit to ski from the lift access to the race track; this regulation is vigorously enforced. Caitlin and Tomoko both skied to line up with the rest of the pack, removed their over clothing, donned their speed skis and watched the forerunners and top ten men before making their way, very carefully, to the lower start (approximately the start used for the last run on Thursday) inside the netted area of the track.

As Caitlin approached the level of the start and attempted to traverse into position on the track, she lost he balance, her skis slid from under her and she began to slide. In light of the fact that, within this very race, we had all been reminded of the cost which Marco had paid under similar circumstances, there was instant alarm. Caitlin, slid away from the smooth prepared speed ski track, through the net and onto the mogul field that runs adjacent to the speed ski course. Unfortunately, all of the speed skiers present had removed their over-clothing and were wearing their speed skis (238-240cm); there was no prospect of any of us being able to help. The father of one of the female racers did chase down the slope and almost succeeded in arresting her fall be she slipped from his grasp. The Sherpas who carry the racers clothing and "small skis" down to the bottom had fully descended and there was no-one on the slope with the ability to alter the outcome. Cait came to rest at the bottom of the slope, a fall of some 900m.

Two years ago, when Marco died, we all thought it was a freak accident. Measures were implemented to reduce the risk of it ever happening again but tragically, despite our efforts, history has repeated itself. If any number of factors had been different, there is a chance this may have been just a few anxious moment before the situation was rescued. Unfortunately, all of these tiny circumstances contrived to abandon Caitlin.

I have tried to relate the circumstances as accurately and dispassionately as possible so that nothing can be misconstrued. However, no-one outside the incredibly close community of speed skiers can comprehend the horror, desperation and impotence that we felt during her fall. It was truly a living nightmare in which we were powerless to alter the outcome. It was a cruel, cruel day.

The brightest stars burn for the shortest time.

Goodbye, Cait.
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Thats terrible news. I was a member of the GB Speed Ski team in the early 90's and was in Les Arcs on Sunday around mid day. Everything looked set for a race but then it a appeared to get cancelled, when did the accident occur?
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So, so sorry to read the awful news.

My heartfelt sympathies go to Caitlin's family, friends and colleagues.

RIP
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weeSKI wrote:
Thats terrible news. I was a member of the GB Speed Ski team in the early 90's and was in Les Arcs on Sunday around mid day. Everything looked set for a race but then it a appeared to get cancelled, when did the accident occur?


First run started 10.30am, 14 men ran with a delay for one fall then Caitlin fell.

I remember you...you were big into cycling too.
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DrBullet, thanks for that report, and my sincere condolences for the loss of your friend.
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Gosh, that is so sad.

My thoughts are with all her family and friends.
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DrBullet and JimW, thanks for your reports of the awful accident. My condolences to you and her family and friends.
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It is impossible to not feel moved after reading this thread.

Thanks for sharing it. My deepest sympathy goes to all that knew and loved her.
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DrBullet, Many many thanks for your enlightening and IMHO beautifully written account. I was filling up towards the end, I am sure you were the same writing it. From the tributes paid by others above it is obvious that the loss of Cait will leave a large hole in many peoples lives.

I hope that her death does not result in the closing of the Flying KM, but it is obvious that some further changes still need making.

Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad
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DrBullet wrote:
weeSKI wrote:
Thats terrible news. I was a member of the GB Speed Ski team in the early 90's and was in Les Arcs on Sunday around mid day. Everything looked set for a race but then it a appeared to get cancelled, when did the accident occur?


First run started 10.30am, 14 men ran with a delay for one fall then Caitlin fell.

I remember you...you were big into cycling too.


Hi Bullet

Yup thats me. While there I rang John Wilson to see if Norman was over there to maybe go and see in any of the 'old' guys were racing and have a natter. Alas he was out but there wouldn't have been much to natter about. Keep me posted if anything is set up in Caits memory etc.

Henry
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Thanks to JimW and DrBullet for letting us know so sensitively about this sad news. My deepest sympathies to Cait's family and friends.

Should netting near the start points be made stronger or even extended down the length of the course?
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Awful news, my deepest sympathies go out to her friends and family.
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That is a terrible tradgedy -I have looked in awe many times as I have been on my way up to the top as I'm sure many have...and thought how brave you must have to be just to attempt the flying K
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I have been reading the posts since this morning and it must be some of the most distressing information I have ever come across. The sport of speed skiing holds a deal of fascination for most skiers I'm sure, mostly awe, but this is terrible.

DrBullet, thank you for the facts, it must have been awful for you to have watched this and been unable to stop it.
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I missed most of the later updates here till now..... thanks for the info

first thoughts from what I read(first post+not knowing how things work) based on what it said was "oh, right, probably mistake by her"

but after DR.B's post (sorry jimW, no offense to yours) I learned a few things.

overall very sad.


so, I was thinking after reading "Measures were implemented to reduce the risk of it ever happening again" what happened?

my immediate thought is they will probably introduce further measures of which I have a suggestion if anyone reads this and can forward it on.

If everybody has a sherpa for clothes why not have them sherpa the skier as well and follow on? If you can stop a fallen skiier right away then they have no speed and is usually easy. Once the skier starts then the sherpa with clothes can ski down after(although slower) and catch up, skier might be a bit cold but alive. Or could they operate a system where they have spare clothes waiting? till sherpa arrives.
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Very sad to hear about this, and doubly tragic that it seems to be down to something that is perhap avoidable, rather than an inherent risk in the sport itself.
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redrunmarcus, on our only trip to Les Arcs,a few years ago, we met several of the speed skiers, as they were using the bar next to our chalet. Very brave. The sound of the skiers on the Flying K was like a fighter jet , the speed phenomena, and the moguls at the side of the slope deliberately large to stop anyone stupid from attempting it. We watched a couple of contestants fall and be helicoptered away, but there were no serious injuries, although the American guy there did show us his scars from the burns he got from his aerodynamic clothing when he fell. My sympathies to Cait's family and friends,she was a brave lady.
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daehwons, no offense taken: I am not a speed skier, just someone trying to make sense of what I'd been told about a terrible tragedy.

As I have PM'd DrBullet, there is always a problem with reporting things second hand, and I am extremely grateful for his clarification. Cait's mother and other family members have been made aware of this thread (and others on different sites) and I am sure they will find some degree of solace in reading about how admired, respected and loved Cait was.

Anyone in the Les Arcs area: the scattering of Cait's ashes on the KL will take place at 5pm tomorrow, Saturday.
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Jimw - cool, I didn't mean your post was wrong, but just wanted to share my feelings.

Kramer "it seems to be down to something that is perhap avoidable, rather than an inherent risk",
Well said, bubble wrap and cotton wool does not = safe. + they say being hit by lightning is more likely then winning lottery bla bla bla but lightning hurts more than money so just enjoy what is what.
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We were totally devastated to hear this sad news - we only found out about it in todays Sunday Times.

We too first met Cait in her 'work' mode in Arc1950 in February. She was a delight to deal with, friendly, efficient, enthusiastic and helpful - a real asset.

When we went out again at Easter Cait was so pleased following her racing in Italy, and made her excitement at the prospect of racing at the mecca of her sport - the KL in Arc 2000 - very obvious to see.

We met her later in our stay as she was leaving Tour du Vins, jubilant with her performance which had it been ratified would have made her the fastest British Woman ever, excited and bubbly and totally exhilarated.
We left on the Saturday following her birthday celebrations, with Cait really looking forward to the opportunity to be a forerunner with an official timekeeper in place so she could make the record official ..........................................

A truly sad loss. Our sympathies to Cait's family and friends.
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Thank you, especially DrBullet, for clarifying the events leading up to Caitlin's fall as we never fully understood what happened on that day. My husband and I have just returned from skiing in Les Arcs for the week. We were watching the speed skiing at the time of Caitlin's fall and were the first to reach her at the bottom of the hill. We did our very best to help her with our basic first aid knowledge until the medical team arrived. As the medical team spoke little English, my husband stayed by Caitlin and spoke to her the entire time, letting her know what was going on, until she was taken into the helicopter. We did not know Caitlin but by all accounts she was an amazing person. What an incredibly tradgic loss. We were not aware of any of the memorial services taking place in Les Arcs at the time so we would like to take this opportunity to convey our deepest sympathy to her family and friends. Heather and Tim
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And thank you, HevB, for your account. Welcome to snowHeads. I am only sorry that it is in such sad circumstances.
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I was Cait's friend and team mate and at the end of last season lent Cait her first set of kit so she could try the KL for real, she listened to my and many other speed ski friends' advice and as a strong skier progressed quickly as a speed skier. This year she trained with Kevin Alderton and myself in Les Arcs as often as she could and travelled to several of the FIS races gaining the experience she needed to go fast, sadly this ended as you all now know tragically for her and all her family and friends.

I flew back to Les Arcs from Scotland on Saturday, for her memorial at the side of the track, and having laid a bottle of whisky amongst the flowers and after some words from her mother, we were invited to help spread her ashes on the hillside.

With this done I tried in vain to quote some words for her and was grateful to her Uncle who read the text for me, here are those words.

May the hills rise behind you,
and may the mountain be always over the crest;
and may the God that you believe in
hold you in the palm of his hand.

May the Lord keep you in his hand,
and never close his fist too tight on you.

As these words were being read there was thunder in the ski rumbling in agreement. Or was it Cait laughing?..

Next he read:

Here's to men of all classes
Who through lasses and glasses
Will make themselves asses!
I drink to the health of another
and the other I drink to is she-
In the hope that she drinks to another
and the other she drinks to is me.

As these words were read I opened the bottle of whisky and poured some out for Cait on the snow with the toast to Cait we all shared from the bottle till it was drunk.

Caits cousin then read the words I wrote for Cait, thanks go to him for this, here they are:

Caitlin Tovar. Cait, Last year when we first met, you helped out with Kevin's 'Blind Speed Ski Record'. You were friendly and became friends with many new faces to Les Arcs, by last season's end you had decided to join the circus that is speedskiing and you brought your own inimitable style with you. Your first speed attempt saw you break your wrist, and might I add my ski's and my spare helmet. This year you broke your personal best and went on to break the Magical 200 kph, and with that you broke the long standing Ladies British record. We knew you were special and then last weekend you broke our hearts, you beat us all to the finish line, to the last blue line of your career. When I next run down the track, I will take you with me, your name will be on my speed helmet, and I will ask you to hop on board as I set off. I know you think we're all "SILLY bugs" But "DARLING" , thank you for being part of the British Team, part of our lives.

Mark Poncin then translated it with some help from Cait's sister, for the many French friends that were there with us.

Cait's mum Hella, wanted me to share these words with you all where ever you are,

Goodbye Cait, see you on the slopes, Normski.
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Thank you for your very moving post Stormin and for sharing her memorial with us.
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I Heard the news just today, and felt that I wanted to say something to someone who also cares.
As an Owner in Arc1950, Cait was THE person that you could go to if anything needed doing. She never ever got impatient or postponed things we wanted doing. In the first week of April I brought 16 of my family to Arc and forgot to organise the lift passes to make things easier for all. I had overstepped the day by one and Cait said they were pretty strict about it, but after work that night she trawled over to see the person responsible. She called me a day later and siad it was all done. Good ol' Cait, except that I had miscaculated and had messed up the numbers and ages and direct family etc etc. No problem she said and off she went again. 2 days later all done, cant wait to see you then she said. When we arrived a big shout hey darlin' great to see you......every one who came into contact with her has said the same thing, always time, always happy, always pleased to see you.
Cait you lit up the room, we will all miss you,
Love Rob and Jan
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On behalf of Cait’s parents, Hella and John, her brother David, the rest of our family and myself, I would like to thank everyone very much for all their extremely kind words, cards and messages over the last nine days.

My mother has asked me to thank all the KL family, in particular, for all the wonderful support and love they’ve given Cait, both whilst she was speed skiing and since her death. It has heartened us all.

Huge thanks also to all Cait’s friends from Les Arcs, the surrounding area and from further afield – it was wonderful to see so many people there on Saturday to give her the send off that she deserved.

We are all devastated by Cait’s death, but it is made easier because we know that she was doing a sport she loved amongst people that she loved. She will be with us always.

Thank you all very much again,
Claire
(Cait’s sister)

P.S.

We will be celebrating Cait’s life on 13th October, in England, and will give more information nearer the time for those that wish to come.

Also, many people have kindly asked if there is a charity to which they can donate in Cait’s name. We will give details of this too in due course.
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