It was March 15, 2015. I was skiing at Panorama Resort, my home mountain. It was a great group of friends that, as usual, seemed to meet out of the blue on any given powder day. The snow was falling at the top of the mountain, and was warm enough that the bottom half was getting rain. This was not unusual for this time of year, the conditions change drastically at a certain elevation going from fresh powder to iso-thermic and icy.
We had skied from first chair at 9am until around noon. Short laps of the Summit chair so we wouldn't get too low on the mountain. It was great! I needed to get down the hill to town for my oldest sons birthday party that afternoon so we decided to head down to the base. The group started skiing lower down the mountain, conditions changed rapidly. We were picking our way off of the tree runs towards the groomed slopes to get to the base. Spirits were high.
We all gathered one last time to make sure we had everyone, and once we had everybody I carried on towards the groomed cat road out of the trees. I took about 5 or 6 turns and had to pump through a couple undulations to keep momentum. As I pumped through the last of the whoops, the snow collapsed under my feet and my skis stopped dead. I remember the sound of my ski bindings letting go. I double ejected out of my bindings and landed head first. I also remember the popping sound as my neck dislocated. I ended up laying on my back, I also knew right away that things were not good. My legs wouldn't move, my hands seemed numb and my breathing was shallow.
I am very lucky to have been skiing that day with some of my closest friends. First because I wasn't alone at all, the thought of laying there waiting for someone to find me is now a terrifying concept. Second is that they had the knowledge in first aid to keep me still until the ski patrol showed up. The extremely good patrol crew at Panorama did an excellent job of getting me out of the spot that I had crashed to a flat location so the helicopter could land and pick me up. There is not enough appreciation or gratitude in the world for the care I received on the mountain that day.
The flight to the local hospital was a blur. I was assessed at the hospital, and the decision was made to put me in an ambulance and drive to the Foothills hospital in Calgary. Four hours in a snow storm to get there in critical condition. The ambulance driver was a trooper, I can imagine the drive would have been very stressful. We also needed a doctor in the ambulance to administer the pain medication, and drugs for my crashing blood pressure.
Once we made it to Foothills Hospital there was a huge team of people there awaiting my arrival. I was beginning to sense the severity of the situation. X-rays and CAT scans were next. After that the decision was made to use traction to try and straighten my neck out. 5 hours and 45 lbs of weight made the vertebra above my injury start to separate. My muscles around the injury would not release. The doctors stabilized me and I headed off to the ICU for a few hours before my first surgery. They went through the front of my neck to clean out the bone fragments and put in a plate and four screws to replace the disc in between the c-6 and c-7 vertebra that had been destroyed. This was an 8 hour operation and I ended up with a Halo bolted to my head to keep me completely still.
This was the day that changed my life, and it was just the beginning of a long road of recovery.