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I Am Lucky To Be Alive – A Snowbird Cautionary Tale

30 October 2008 By: Kevin One Comment | The Fall Line

My ribs have been hurting me lately, so I thought I would share the worst day of skiing I’ve ever had in my life. What you are about to read took place on April 9th, 2008 at Snowbird, a little over 6 months ago.

Wednesday the 9th was just another epic April powder day at The Bird…until I crushed a tree at over 30mph. I was stoked that morning because the last two days had been amazing, with cold weather and deep snow. That morning Snowbird was reporting about 9″ of fresh, and it was still coming down hard. I was with my frieds Tom and Steve, who rip harder than most anyone I know, and were in town for a few weeks. We had just skied some lines that I’ve been thinking about all season, and things couldn’t be better.


On the last run of my season, I was just making some big turns through some chopped pow below the Gad Chutes. There was a group of smaller trees to my left with some untouched powder that needed to be slashed, and I decided to make a big turn at high speed through those trees. Halfway through a big, sweeping right turn, I caught something under the snow and went into the air. My legs were out to my left, and my body was pretty much horizontal at this point. Much to my dismay, there was a lone tree in my flight path, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I took the trunk of the tree squarely to the chest, and since I was horizontal, the impact was distributed across my entire chest. I instantly lost both gloves, poles, goggles, and one ski. My helmet did stay on however. The impact was huge and I instantly felt the worst pain of my life. It felt like there was a dump truck full of lead pipes parked on my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath and I was making some horrible noises. I was conscious for about 10 seconds and all I remember was thinking how I sounded like the grape lady that fell off the stage in the infamous youtube video. Then it all went black.

I had a very long, strange dream, and all I can recall was feeling very warm and thinking I was in my bed at home. Then I woke up. I was face down in the snow, bleeding, ears ringing, and my arms were jammed into the snow, sans gloves. Needless to say, I was freezing and in tons of pain. I put my phone back together somehow (it was in my chest pocket), and miraculously it worked. I called my buddy Tom that I was skiing with, and he dialed patrol. I couldn’t really breathe at this point, and talking was even more of a chore. I just remember trying to get my bearings so I could tell him where I was. Tom and Steve had been skiing just to my right when I hit the tree, but they didn’t see any of it. They had already been on the tram deck for a few minutes waiting for me when I called. That means I was probably unconscious anywhere from 4-7 minutes; we’re not really sure.

Snowbird ski patrol called my phone a few seconds later and kept me on the line so I could guide the patrollers to my location. They found me in less than 2 minutes, and I was in the trees in a huge area with no real points of reference. Big props to Snowbird patrol on that one. I was in pretty bad shape, so they strapped me to a board, put a neck brace on me, and got the oxygen flowing. Everything was moving pretty fast at this point, and I was fighting to not puke or black out. Needless to say, the sled ride down the mountain from the top of Gadzoom was not the most pleasant. Patrol did their best to make the ride smooth though.

Once I was in the clinic below the Tram deck, the medical staff took over and did a great job. I had an irregular heart beat, so they did an ECG and took some x-rays immediately. The verdict was 2 broken ribs on my left side, just below the armpit. They were concerned about internal bleeding and damage to my heart because the impact was so hard, so they called an ambulance to take me to the ER in Salt Lake. The morphine started to flow and things got much better at this point. Also, it turns out I just had a small cut on my chin that decided to bleed quite a lot, no big deal.

Once I was down the canyon and in the ER at the U, I had another ECG, a couple ultra-sound tests to check my heart and organs, and tons of x-rays. Everyone kept saying how lucky I was, and the final verdict was two broken ribs, lots of bruised ribs and cartilage damage. They were concerned because I had blacked for out so long, but I think that was a combination of extreme pain and a lack of breathing. I am pretty sure I didn’t hit my head at all. They also said that I have an extremely stong heart, and if was about 10 years older I probably would have died instantly. I guess most people’s hearts would just fail from hitting their chest wall that hard. Scary stuff.

It’s been about 6 months since the crash and I’ve had some time to reflect on all of this. I know one thing for sure, I am damn lucky to be alive. This whole thing had me pretty shook-up. I was completely airborne and doing somewhere around 30mph when I hit that tree. If I had hit the tree with my neck, face, or even abdomen, I might night be typing this right now. The impact was enormous, and I am really glad my ribs were up to the task of saving the rest of my body. I have skied fast for years, and never really thought twice about dipping into the trees at ludicrous speeds. I have had some close calls in the past, but this was my first real injury that endangered my life. I know this will have an impact on my skiing, and I will definitely hesitate the next time I am getting ready to do a straightline or jump off some cliff.

For those of you that know what I’m talking about, how do you get past this? Am I doomed to a life of skiing trees at slow speeds?

I also want to say thanks to the Snowbird Patrol and everyone in the Snowbird clinic. You guys were amazing, so professional, and you made a bad experience much better. Thanks.

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One Comment »

  • PNWdully said:

    I broke my sternum in the terrain park 3 years ago, and have been hesitant to try things in the park that used to be second nature. Weirdly for me Tree pow has always been my thing. After my accident, I kept right on skiing and boarding after about a month of rest (I was an instructor at the time and had to get back to work because food and stuff; am I right) I was definately more consertive until I caught an edge and took a pretty good tumble and was totally fine, sometime in the next season. I would say that I ride trees slower than I used to but more agressively. I don’t have fear when I ride but there is the thought on the chair ride up, I should have done two more turns in there that was a little fast. All in all, trees can be super fun at different speeds so your style may change but if you love of snow is as strong as mine it’ll never be lame to me.

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