Austrian Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer underwent season-ending surgery on two broken vertebrae after his Saturday crash in a World Cup downhill in Val Gardena, Italy.
Mayer, 25, may have been spared further injury by a new airbag system that inflated inside his race suit to soften the crash landing on his backside.
It marked the first time an airbag inflated during a World Cup race, according to The Associated Press.
“It could have been much worse,” Mayer said in a press release.
Mayer had one podium finish in six World Cup speed races this season. Last season, he placed third in the World Cup super-G standings and fourth in the downhill.
Mayer’s absence means one fewer rival to Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal in the World Cup speed events.
Svindal, back from rupturing an Achilles in October 2014, has won five of the six World Cup downhills and super-Gs this season. He leads four-time reigning World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher, a slalom and giant slalom ace, in the early World Cup overall standings.