Skiing Almost Killed Me, But I Can't Get Enough! // Ski Stories
Part 1: Cultivating My Passion
At an early age I remember loving winter, fascinated by the way the snow covered everything in a blanket of silence. It makes sense then that my love for skiing started early in life, before I even knew much about it. Before I even stood on a pair of skis, I saw images of skiing in my Uncle’s old Ski Magazines. I used to take these magazines and cut out ski photos to decorate my wall with. Strange for a kid who’d never even gone skiing, right? I even have a picture of myself at 4 or 5 years old playing “dress up” in my uncle’s ski gear. In fact, I never even actually skied until I was 11 or 12 and finally took a trip to the neighborhood rope tow at the Sawkill Family Fun Park in the Catskills of New York. While this was the spark, my love for skiing really picked up when I made it to Middle School and the Saturday bus trips to Hunter Mountain began (or as the city folk would say, “HUNTAH!”). This ski club is where I started making a lot of new “ski-friends,” one of which was an incredible bump skier who I credit with getting me into skiing bumps.
My senior year of high school I decided to attend College somewhere I could ski a lot! I chose to attend Saint Michael’s in Colchester, VT, which is about 45 minutes from Stowe Mountain Resort, VT. While skiing Stowe, I met some locals to ski with and show me around the mountain. I skied Stowe more than I studied, especially on the good snow years. I have to say Vermont is where my love of skiing and the mountains really got a hold of my soul. Beyond being just an interest or a hobby, Stowe transformed skiing into an undying passion. This is when skiing really became one of those things I just couldn’t live without. In 1998, I graduated with an Economics BA and headed for the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California with my local Stowe ski buds, one of my best friends from childhood, and my dog Nalu.
Part 2: Chasing the Dream
We headed west for Squaw Valley USA where Kevin & I landed jobs at the Inn Shop of Squaw Valley. The job wasn't glorious; it was your standard ski industry job for a free season pass. We mostly spent our time turning screws and renting equipment. Never the less, we were stoked to be out there, skiing tons of powder at the same mountain as Scott Schmidt (who I met in person) and all of my other ski-heroes. We were having the time of our lives until Kevin suffered a minor TBI (traumatic brain injury) and caught his first ride in a heli. He was alright, but we both decided that we’d had enough for our first trip out West, and ended up heading back to NY.
Over the next half dozen years, I found myself bouncing back and forth between Squaw and New York. Fortunately, I was always working in the ski industry one way or another. At times I was back at the Inn Shop in Squaw. Other times I found myself working higher-level jobs, like managing GM’s digital photo promotions at their sponsored events (such as X-Games, SnoJam, and Winter Fest). My biggest break came in 2003 when I was working as the retail Store manager for Potter Brothers Ski Shops at Jiminy Peak Resort. While at a tradeshow, I met the CEO of Predatorwear and we hit it off instantly. Shortly thereafter, he offered me a job that I couldn’t refuse.
Back in Tahoe, I was living the dream. I was working in the Ski Industry, and getting paid top dollar as Predatorwear’s Warehouse Manager. I was working with a good buddy of mine, and we were skiing just about every day. Not once did we have to miss a powder day and report to work instead. Life was truly amazing. I’d done my time and climbed the ski industry ladder. As they say, “Live the life you love, love the life you live….”
And then I went home for Christmas in 2004, and it all fell apart for me.
Part 3: The Injury
The one thing I loved more than anything for about 15 years of my life, almost took my life. On the day after Christmas, I was skiing with my father and some friends at Hunter Mountain. We’d skied a full day, but I decided to take one more run through the terrain park, despite having left my helmet back in Tahoe. Needless to say, this last run turned out to be a terrible idea. As I approached the jump, I started preparing for a 360, like I’d done so many times before. For whatever reason though, this 360 just wasn’t meant to be. I crashed hard, landing directly on my head. I really wish I could tell you what went wrong, but I have no recollection of the crash itself.
In that blink of an eye, life changed dramatically. I spent 3 days in a coma, and 2 weeks at Albany Medical Center's ICU (Intensive Care Unit). After being released from the hospital, I spent another 3 months at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady, NY. It was strange to be in a rehabilitation center. I had to relearn just about everything. The recovery from the head injury I suffered was intense, and it was a constant struggle to maintain a positive outlook for the future. I couldn't stay awake for more than a few hours at a time, and I couldn't remember anything. It was awful! Fortunately, I had incredible doctors who were constantly reminding me of the power of your brain and its ability to "rewire" itself. The true struggle became trusting that time and brain exercises were going to return me to where I was before the injury occurred. The depression and questions in my mind remained intense throughout my recovery.
Finally, I was released from the Rehab Hospital, and ready to try to be myself again. As soon as I was out, the first thing I wanted to do was return to my job at Predatorwear in Tahoe. I was ignorant to the lingering effects of my injury, and nobody could talk me out of returning. So I hopped on a plane to Reno, NV and returned to Truckee, where I very soon realized I was a “Mental Mess” and could not stay. In order to fully recover, I’d need to return to the love and support of my family.
Once again, I packed my bags and made the trip back to NY. Luckily, I was able to help out at Potter Brothers Ski Shops where I'd been the store manager a couple of years ago. With their support I was slowly able to continue regaining the mental strength I once had.
Eventually, the Fall rolled around again, and the pre-season stoke was back in the air. As the new ski arrivals started showing up at the shop, the stoke to ski again became alive in my soul. It felt good, but I was a bit scared at the same time. As the nights continued to grow colder, more and more questions popped into my mind. Will I be able to ski? Am I ready? What if it’s not the same as it was for me? What if my pre-season training and work on my balance wasn’t enough? There were a lot of “what if’s” to consider, and I spent a lot of nights tossing and turning in anticipation.
Part 4: Getting Back to My Skis
Finally, it was time. On November 25, 2005, I went skiing for the first time since my injury. I was back at Hunter Mountain with my Dad. I was nervous and excited at the same time. Walking past the Ski Patrol Office and ambulance-loading zone was especially nerve-wracking, as I learned from my Dad that is where they were trying to stabilize my breathing for the ambulance ride to Green Memorial Hospital. This wasn’t the worst of it though, as I have to admit that when our chairlift passed by the area I crashed, I got a bit nauseous. These feelings were triumphed by the excitement that I had to finally be back on skis.
Getting off the lift at the top of Hunter Mountain was amazing. “I’m back… I am skiing!” I thought to myself. It was just like riding a bike, and it all came rushing back to me. I was a bit more timid than before, but my confidence was quick to return. By the first big dump up in Vermont, I already had several days back on snow. So when my friend asked if I was ready to send it up to Jay Peak, VT for some powder, it was a no brainer! (Pardon the pun). I eagerly hopped into the shotgun seat, and I was back. Finally reunited with my one true love: Skiing.
After taking another job back in NY with Guardian Self Storage for a year, I was finally able to get a job back in the ski industry when I took a position at Ski Essentials as a customer service representative. Since moving back up to Stowe, VT, I’ve only continued to fall in love with skiing even more. Living and working in one of the best ski towns on the East coast has truly been a dream come true. It’s funny, the mountain that initially made me fall in love with the sport has come back into my life and made me embrace skiing more than I ever have in the past. Things in Stowe are great, and being able to ski these mountains is incredible. I feel like I’ve come full circle, and am able to appreciate skiing even more now.
To the outsider, skiers who get back on their skis after facing a serious injury might seem crazy. To anyone who has fallen in love with the sport though, it's not only understandable, but it's almost expected. If you've fallen for the sport the way I have, then I'm sure you can relate to the absolute need to ski. It's not optional. Skiing is such a part of my soul that I literally don't know what I would do without it. After suffering from a TBI like I did, the mountain does look a little different. I have a new respect for it, and a new appreciation for what we're able to do with it come wintertime. No longer do I take any of my runs for granted. Rather, I enjoy each and every turn I make, realizing that at any second, things could go drastically wrong. But in the end, it's worth it and I truly couldn't imagine living a life without skiing.
Now get ready to get some this winter!