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Crashes call X Games' safety into question

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 8:01 p.m.

ASPEN, Colo. — The image was chilling: Snowmobile rider Caleb Moore, launched over his handlebars on a backflip gone wrong, rolled down the landing hill with his 450-pound machine somersaulting behind him.

Run over by his sled, Moore lay on the snow for several minutes before being helped off the course. As of Wednesday, he was hospitalized in critical condition because of bleeding around his heart and a complication involving his brain.

Moore's was the worst accident at the Winter X Games, which wrapped up Sunday night, but it wasn't the only harrowing moment. The wipeouts included a runaway snowmobile that sent spectators scrambling. All that has some wondering whether dialing up the difficulty each year improves action sports or has simply made them too dangerous.

“Should we be asking these questions? We absolutely should be,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, which examines the role of sports to promote healthy development and social responsibility.

The people performing these superhuman feats “really are just human,” he said. “How do we maintain safety in that progression when that progression sometimes pushes every envelope to some amazingly extreme point?”

Moore's injuries underscore the dangers at Winter X, which was filled with numerous cover-your-eyes crashes.

Whether action sports are too dangerous is an issue that's been raised before.

When freestyle skier Sarah Burke died in a training accident a little more than a year ago in Park City, Utah, there were questions about the halfpipe. Two years earlier, the sport was examined when snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a severe brain injury in a fall in the same pipe as Burke. Pearce has recovered and served as an analyst at Winter X.

But in general, the athletes accept the risks and defend their disciplines.

“To lose Sarah was such a blow to this entire industry,” said snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, who didn't compete this year as she recovered from a serious eye injury she suffered in training. “This sport brings so much joy, happiness and balance to my life and that far outweighs what could happen. You can't ever live your life with what could happen.”

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