Jan. 5, 2010 -- As the Olympic qualifiers for snowboarding are set to start today in California, one fresh-faced hopeful will be missing from lineup.
One of the country's best boarders, Kevin Pearce, is in critical condition in a Utah hospital after he was seriously injured last week during a training exercise, prompting some to consider whether the extreme sport has become too extreme.
Pearce, 22, suffered what doctors called a "severe traumatic brain injury" when he smashed his head on the ice after attempting a trick on the half-pipe called the double-cork; a twisted double back-flip.
"I think it was a matter of 'when,' not 'if,' someone was going to be hurt doing that trick," Snowboarder Magazine editor Pat Bridges told "Good Morning America."
The move was barely attempted a few years ago but is now nearly a must for a winning run and for any boarder looking for an edge.
"Part of that edge is going harder, going bigger, going fast and doing more difficult tricks," Bridges said.
The half-pipe structure used at the Mammoth Mountain, Calif., where the Olympic qualifying events are held, has 22-foot-high walls, guaranteeing the potential for big falls.
Boarders 'Pushing the Limits'
Snowboarding was added to the Olympic games in hopes of boosting television ratings, USA Today sports columnist and ABC News consultant Christine Brennan said, which encourages extreme and wild tricks.
"One of the judged qualities of snowboarding in the half pipe...is amplitude," Brennan said. "It is asking these young fearless athletes to do things that are probably not best for them."
While serious injuries also occur in other sports, Brennan said it is not the same degree as in snowboarding.
"It is not at the speed. You've got ice, you've got snow, you've got youth and you are putting that all together in hopes of winning Olympic gold medals," Brennan said.
Torah Bright, a top Australian Olympic snowboarder, said the risks are developing along with the sport.
"When one person is pushing the limits and learning new tricks than that creates a path for others to keep pushing," Bright said.
The International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic Committee "need to rein" in the extreme tricks in order to help prevent further injuries, Brennan said.
"What they should do is immediately commission a group of medical experts and others to look into this," Brennan said.
"They are the leaders of this sport and they should look into this after this sad and tragic injury," Brennan added.
A Facebook page dedicated to Pearce and his recovery has nearly 14,000 fans, with well-wishers commenting from around the world.
The latest update from Pearce's brother on the page said "Kev just had a great exam…Your thoughts and prayers are definitely working!"