Meet the Gatineau team keeping Crashed Ice competitors safe

If you're one of the brave athletes taking part in this weekend's Crashed Ice competition, rest assured — the people tasked with handling any onsite injuries say the zigzagging, high-speed race track looks pretty safe.

Thirty members of the Canadian Ski Patrol were at the site this week, testing out their life-saving skills in some simulations. 

"The broadcast will be live on Saturday night, so our time to react will be very tight," said Richard Domingue, who handles communications for the Gatineau contingent of the ski patrol. 

The 375-metre track, wedged beside the Chateau Laurier and perched above the Rideau Canal locks, is a far cry from the patrol's usual stomping grounds. 

"We're not used to be doing that kind of patrolling on ice," explained Domingue, who added this is a "once in a lifetime event" for the group.

Too fast to feel the pain

Usually, the Canadian Ski Patrol has time to assess the injuries they come across on ski hills. With competitors speeding down the icy twists and turns at top speeds, Domingue said they'll need to make faster decisions.   

"Worst case scenario for us would be someone who cannot skate anymore, who cannot walk anymore and that means we would have to jump or go on the track." 

If that happens, Domingue said he's most concerned about the skate blades, which he's told are "very sharp."

But Domingue emphasized that this is a very unlikely scenario, with the speed of the track more often working to their advantage.  

"One thing to remember is that it only takes 35 seconds to go down the whole track, so one would assume that if I have a dislocated shoulder, for example, the adrenalin level would be such that I would likely go down the track and go to the finish line even though I'm in pain." 

Bumps and bruises, but little else

In the history of the event, organizers say there have been few incidents — and argue the extreme sport is far less dangerous than it appears.

If people are injured, it's most likely to result in a few bumps and bruises. 

John Rathier, the special event paramedic with the Ottawa Paramedic Service, isn't taking anything for granted.

"We're prepared for anything." 

Along with members of the ski patrol, five pairs of paramedics will be onsite at all times during the event.

After the ski patrol does a quick assessment and, if necessary, extraction from the track, paramedics will help the athletes get to the hospital. 

'Not stressed at all'

Rathier said he has every confidence the partners will keep competitors and bystanders safe. 

"The Canadian Ski Patrol are great," he said. "They are the experts on hills and slopes." 

Among the group of young skiers, there's much more excitement than trepidation. 

Standing next to the steep track as her colleagues practice securing a patient onto a board, Michelle Matte-Stotyn said she's "not at all" stressed for the competition to begin. 

"This is what we live for. This is home. This feels good for us."

That calm demeanor may be tested today at 6 p.m., when the first contestants take to the track. The gates open to the public at 4 p.m..