crash porn ski
Humans just can’t get enough imagery of people hurting themselves

There’s a line from the movie Nightcrawler where Rene Russo’s night news producer character describes to rookie freelance cameraman Jake Gyllenhaal what kind of footage she wants for her breakfast news program.

“Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,” she explains.

Mainstream media’s obsession with covering violent, tragic and otherwise graphic stories of people getting hurt has long been a tried and tested method to increase viewership. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the mantra of any hard news reporter. Now that mentality is beginning to seep into ski and snowboard culture with the advent of crash porn; clips of athletes falling that were usually reserved for film outtakes,  but now taking more of a front seat.

The recent viral sharing of Ian McIntosh’s “Skier Miraculously Survives 1,600 Foot Fall” video (currently sitting at just under 1.9 million views) is the proof in the pudding. The title was obviously chosen for its click bait factor, the kind of title that mainstream news outlets love to republish along with their own ill-informed commentary.

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McIntosh in his element on the Y Couloir in La Grave, France.

Teton Gravity Research (TGR), which owns the footage, released it as a sort of teaser to promote their latest ski film Paradise Waits, in which McIntosh stars.

Yes, it was quite a dramatic crash and McIntosh was very lucky to have walked away from the ordeal. But having seen hundreds of crash reels over the years, this one seemed a bit over-hyped with every news wire in the western world clamoring for the “survival tale” interview. McIntosh tumbled down 1,500 feet of soft powder snow (including over a bergschrund); he didn’t fall over any cliffs and didn’t hit any rocks. If you take a look at McIntosh’s last big crash from 2012 — again titled by TGR for mainstream pickup as “Skier Breaks Femur in Alaska” — you’ll see what a scary crash really looks like.

McIntosh straight lined down a spine, hit a patch of ice and was ejected from his skis with enough force to split his femur in two. That video also shows the confidence he had from skiing equally scary lines earlier in the day, as well the painful screams after he came to rest and realized his leg was broken. That video only has 7,000 views.

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ABC’s Good Morning America, laying on the dramatic headlines during an exclusive interview with McIntosh

It’s the story of what happened before and after the crash that is the most important to tell. To TGR’s credit, the following week they did publish the longer, behind-the-scenes video of what went wrong that day, how weather and light had created a sense of urgency and how McIntosh didn’t take the time to study his line the way he normally does. But those details were missed by the bulk of news sites that simply shared the video and quoted his words “I’m okay, I’m okay” after he finally came to rest. McIntosh himself has expressed his surprise that after skiing this type of terrain professionally for over 10 years, it was a well-filmed crash that shot him into mainstream stardom.

Releasing “crash porn” with no context of risk management harms our sport more than it helps it. TGR will no doubt sell a few more copies of Paradise Waits, but the kids who simply watch the 85-second crash reel won’t learn anything about how to avoid getting themselves seriously hurt in the mountains.

Here’s the behind the scenes video to put that crash into context.