With winter beginning to move in more and more, excitement for what is to come fills the atmosphere. Snow is falling, people are embracing Ullr, and an enthusiastic vibe runs throughout Teton Village. But for me, I am happy and ecstatic just to be able to ski after I had one of my most life threatening crashes two years ago at the Kirkwood Freeskiing Championships.
Going to Kirkwood always puts a smile on my face. Seeing friends, hanging in the sun and having a good time is what Tahoe is all about in the spring but conditions are variable if no snow is in the forecast which it wasn’t. Inspection day for the qualifier run was interesting. The snow was bulletproof and picking a safe, fluid line was tough. There were so many different options running through my head that I knew I was going to be choosing my line right before my start.
The day of the qualifier I was flying by the seat of my pants. I was standing on top waiting for my run with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other arguing about where to ski. Finally I chose my line before the competitor in front of me went. I knew I could ski the line with confidence and would be enough to qualify for the big show but at the same time, in the back of my head, I was telling myself to ski my other option.
The next thing I hear is, “Bib number 7, Bryce Newcomb, Dropping!” My first drop was a mandatory air right from the start. I had found a soft landing in inspection but I went bigger than I thought. In the air all I could think was, “This is going to hurt!” I came back to earth to an unforgiving ice sheet. My ski hooked up and tossed me back towards the rock wall, spun me backwards and then impact.
I could hear the start man up above me asking if I was alright but I couldn’t breathe let alone talk. The air escaped from my lungs so quickly that I couldn’t get a breath of air for a couple minutes. The ski patrol showed up right away with one of my friends who works the tour. They were talking to me but I still couldn’t breathe. I could hear them telling me that I had been knocked out but I knew I wasn’t. The entire moment I was present for.
After gathering my breath, I began to talk to them. My shoulder was in excruciating pain and figured I would just shake it off. The patrol called in a toboggan but the only way I was going down in one with the conditions how they were was if I was unconscious. I stood up, gathered myself, and skied down to the clinic. There was already an ambulance waiting for me when I got down. When I was lying in the clinic, everyone was freaking out. For me, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but I was then convinced to travel to the hospital.
Once I arrived at the hospital, immediately doctors swarmed at me with fear. I was on cloud nine already after being pumped full of drugs and kept telling everyone to calm down, I’m still alive. After going through numerous scans and waiting for hours to hear what happened to me, I began to get nervous. My first doctor came in and told me that I had broken some vertebrae. Fear started to sink in. The next doctor told me I had broken some ribs. Fear grew more. The next doctor told me I had broken my scapula, i.e. shoulder blade. Finally I had I two more doctors tell me they were going to transfer me to surgery immediately for my broken vertebrae. That’s when fear sunk in throughout my body. Now I had to call my dad before any of the procedures went through. I sat there helpless for hours before the doctors finally decided I didn’t need surgery. They put me in a turtle shell to support my back and a sling for my shoulder. I then checked in to the most expensive hotel stay of my life for almost two weeks.
My dad arrived as soon as he could. He came in and found me comatose on drugs and very bent out of shape. I don’t think I have ever been that scared in my life especially after what had happened to my friend Ryan Hawks the year before in the same hospital. I never wanted to fall asleep because I didn’t know if I would wake up the next day. Even my dad told me he woke up in the middle of the night, looked at me and thought I was gone. He was scared. It was hard.
I finally told the doctors that I had outstayed my welcome there and they weren’t too happy about that. They gave me an oxygen tank for my ride home that I would be on for the next month and I was over enthused to leave. The next five months were the most painfully enduring times of my life. Patience was the hardest to overcome. I was millimeters away from being in a wheelchair or dead. My back protector saved my life.
The final verdict of my injuries were 3 fractured ribs, a fractured scapula, 3 compression fractures on T5, T6, and T7 vertebrae, and collapsed a lung.
It’s extremely hard to look back at the crash and remember the emotions and pain that I endured. But once I got back on my skis, I don’t think I have ever had a bigger smile on my face. It reminded me of why I love to ski and refueled my passion and respect for the sport. Nothing is better than having a big grin on your face and your friends’ at the end of the day. It never gets old.
Thanks to all my friends and family that were there for me. Now go ski but be safe!