One Week to Determine the Course of an Entire Season

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I had some big goals for this season. I planned to compete at Freeride World Qualifier events in Squaw Valley, Big Sky, and Telluride. I am working on a startup ski film/environmental activism production company by the name of SFC Productions. We are just starting up and planned to put together a few web edits this season to get our feet off the ground. I was supposed to manage and get in front of the camera for SFC this season. I planned to explore much more of Utah’s backcountry, including skiing the Uintahs, faces on Olympus and Timpanogos, and parts of Southern Utah. Unfortunately, I’ve had to halt these goals after experiencing the roughest week of my skiing career.

Thursday, December 19th was a great day to score some of the first face shots of the season. My good friend/photographer Jon took some deep morning laps under the Gad 2 chair at Snowbird. After snapping a few photos of some powder turns, we headed in for a break at the Snowbird Center.

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After a quick defrost and peek at the photos from that morning, we headed back out to see if we could score some time in the white room along the tram line. We decided to traverse into Mach Schnell in the Shot 12 area for those familiar. We crossed past the cables of the tram into what was shaping up to be some deep afternoon goodness. Jon was behind me and out of sight. I came to a clearing from the trees and I felt it hit me. I was up to my waste in moving snow. I turned my head uphill just in time to see the forty-foot wide river of white flowing directly at me.

Somehow, without being swept from my feet, I was able to point my boards directly downhill into the trees. I skied with the avalanche for a bit before cutting hard skier’s left out of the path of the snow. Jon came around the corner in confusion, to see me washed 200 yards down the uncovered slope. I was lucky. Had the slide taken place outside of the resort boundaries, it would have been manageable. But I was ill prepared for the three-foot deep fracture avalanche to take place in the comfort of a ski resort. I was not wearing my beacon, not carrying my shovel and probe, and not concerned with the safety of the snow I was sliding on. The ropes of the resort had provided me with the false sense of safety that could have cost me my life.

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The next day, we were back to the grind. This time, Jon and I strapped our beacons on underneath our jackets and cruised up the lifts. An hour or two in, Jon decided he wanted to take off the camera bag and try to hand drag over a snow-covered knoll under the Gad 2 lift. He dropped in with speed, and leaned back on the lip of the jump. His body contorted to the left and gravity pulled him to the earth. The friendly staff of the Snowbird medical clinic worked for over three hours to jam Jon’s arm back into his shoulder socket. Numbed by opiates, he had to be transported to the hospital and finally had his arm fixed up by 10pm that night.

I took it easy the next few days. I skied in the mornings and didn’t push myself too hard in fear of the negative karma that I’d been plagued with Thursday and Friday. I spent Christmas night at my favorite East Coast transplant city/skier girl, Sophie’s condo, just above the bypass road overlooking the Mt. Superior and the Salt Lake Valley. We charged the next day, taking hot laps across the entirety of the mountain. It was still not prime conditions to leave the resort boundaries, but with the opening of new terrain and heavy uphill winds, the snow was soft and fast, and the sun was shining!

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After lunch at Sophie’s place, we headed back out to get in a few more laps before the lifts came to a stop. By 3:45, shade had swept over the slopes. I traversed skier’s right from the Peruvian chair to the top of a few menial chutes. I dropped into one and caught a little air into the opening. Upon impact, the inside edge of my left ski caught the settled snow and ripped from my boot. I was plunging straight into a steep field of 4’-6’ pine trees on my right ski. Unable to regain control at such high speed, I fell to my side. I felt the blunt impact of a tree trunk directly above the cuff of my left ski boot. My body disengaged from the tree and I rolled several more feet with my left leg dangling from its tendons.

Sophie sprinted up the hill towards me as I keeled over in pain. She shouted at the observing tourists to call ski patrol while I struggled to maintain consciousness. She held my hands and supported my body on the steep face while we waited in agony for patrollers to get there. I somehow managed to stay conscious through the entire ordeal. Patrol arrived on the scene and straightened my limp leg into a splint while I screamed in the worst pain I’d ever felt in my entire life. They loaded me into a toboggan and put me on oxygen to rush me to the ambulance waiting two miles away.

photo (1)After two nights in the hospital, I was released back home. I now have a titanium rod running through my tibia and secured with a few screws. My fibula was reset and my entire leg put into a cast to be removed in a few weeks. I’m going to be on crutches for a while and my ski season is most likely over (keeping my fingers crossed for some turns in June and July). My goals for this season have been replaced with a list of books to read and shows on Netflix to watch. My expectations of deep turns and huge cliff hucks are now to be soothed by fantasizing over ski films and web edits. For the first time ever, I can’t wait for the warm weather of summer to return.

At this point, I’m doing what I can to stay positive. Injuries like this are bound to happen, but always have to do so at such inopportune times. I’m going to continue to do what I can to get SFC Productions off the ground with some other athletes this season, but I’ll be behind the viewfinder and the laptop instead. I’m excited to get back on my feet and regain my strength in the next few months, and I’m stoked to be able to make a full recovery and get back after it soon enough. For those reading this, get some turns for me, I’ll be lying around at home eating ice cream and watching Netflix for now!

xray pics

 

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4 thoughts on “One Week to Determine the Course of an Entire Season

  1. Casey Sowul says:

    Nooo!!! Damn, that’s one hell of a shitty week! Keep your chin up, you’ll be recovered in no time, just in time to crush some single track this summer.

  2. Kevin Smith says:

    Holy crap dude. Such a crazy series of events.

    That’s a pretty big crown on that slide! Way to keep your wits about you and ski out of it. I had a similar avy experience at the Bird about 5 years ago, in almost the same zone. I was the first one in the Last Frontier shot, just past the Tower 3 Chutes, and on my second turn it ripped out about 50′ wide and 12″ deep at the crown. I was carried the full length of the run, and ended up buried to my waist. Luckily there was a good base at that point, so all of the little pines in the runout were covered.

    Stay stoked and spend this time making some sick edits!

    1. Daniel Eike says:

      Yeah! This one was about 2′-2 1/2′ deep. You can clearly see where it fractured through the new snow and the older snow straight down to the unstable base. It definitely shook me up a little bit afterward, but luckily didn’t bury me at all. I’m scared to think of how it would have gone had an inexperienced skier been the one caught up in it and not been able to ski with it.
      I’m going to be spending a lot more time behind the computer now, so I’ll be sure to fine tune my editing skills by the end of this season! Can’t wait to get after it on the rock, dirt, pavement, and water this summer though, that’s for sure!

  3. Mark Weber says:

    Hi Daniel, This story sounds familiar, I was at Snowbird shooting video the day of your accident. I ran into two young skiers that were waiting for ski patrol. I shot a ski patrol guy coming down to assist two people and I shot about two minutes of him helping the injured skier. This was before a toboggan arrived. If I can find the clip would you want to see if it was you?

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