My buddies and I used to do something we’d call flying practice. I know the name doesn’t sound epic, but it’s all we had. As hard core snowboarders, we’d never put safety first. Instead we’d ride without helmets, and get crazy air. It was a way of life for us. At least until we started getting concussions.
Flying practice is exactly what it sounds like. We’d get a huge amount of speed, and launch ourselves off a jump. I was the least among my friends, and my buddy Pat would get massive air every time.
In the Spring, I decided to take a trip up to Lutsen and Giants Ridge. It’s an annual thing for me, and I do it to clear my head. If you’re not from Minnesota, they’re easily some of the best shredding in the state, if not in the midwest. Michigan probably has some comparable (or better) places.
I drove four hours north of Minneapolis to Lutsen, and my first day was beautiful. Nobody was there, it was in the 20’s and the snow felt fresh. I was getting air all over the runs, and I didn’t want the day to end. Finally they kicked me off the hill, but I dream about days like that, and I’ve only experienced a handful of them.
Once I got to my hotel, I did a mental recap of the day, and I hoped Giants ridge would be just as good. Pat was meeting me there, and he’d shredded there a few times before. So he knew the way around.
Giants Ridge; A Beautiful Place To Ride
After driving for what seemed like an eternity, I made it to Giants ridge. I was amazed at the landscape, and how it had changed. Around Lutsen there was pine trees, now all I saw were birch trees, in every direction. It was beautiful.
Pat and I were talking next to the trunk of my car as I geared up. I stood there holding my helmet, wondering if I should put it on. A friend of mine made a pact with me two nights before. She needed to start wearing her seatbelt, and I my snowboard helmet. I looked at Pat, then at the helmet. Finally, I put it on, I couldn’t break the promise on the first ride. Safety first right?
It felt ridiculously weird and I felt my head get 25 pounds heavier. Helmets are warm, but itchy, I thought, as we walked towards the hill. Luckily Pat was wearing a helmet too, he had a wife and kids. So he wanted to protect himself for them.
We hit up a few runs, and they were epic, the day was cloudy but it was still warm. I didn’t detect any ice, or worn areas on the hill. So we decided to head over to the terrain park, and I got excited.
I’d seen the terrain park when we walked in, they had some huge jumps with kickers on the top of them, and we could get some serious air in there. At the places I rode in Minneapolis, they never made anything so pretty. You could almost weep looking at them.
Safety First In The Terrain Park
On the first run, I dropped in and took it easy. It’s what you should do anytime you’re in the park. The first run is always to check obstacles and landing zones. It also helps if you can identify where the little kids like to sit on the bottoms of jumps. I had a few issues with them at Afton before, and personally I didn’t wanna hurt anybody.
Once we saw nobody else in the park, we pulled out all the stops. Bombing the hill started immediately, the higher the speed, the greater the height. We were flying, and I started to get cocky.
Pat was an amazing Snowboarder, and on one of the chairlift rides up, I asked him about doing a 360. He’d been doing them all day, and I’d never done one, but I was easily getting enough height for one.
I took his advice, and dropped into the run, and at the jump, I shifted my weight wrong. I was still able to get air, and Pat said it looked great. However when I landed my body was turned to the right along with my board. The rear edge hit first, and caught horribly. My momentum threw me to the side, off the jump.
Safety First; Concussions Suck
I remember everything slowing down, especially as I flew perpendicular to the trees. then a horrible crack as my helmet hit the ground. If you’ve ever heard a helmet hit the ground at high speed, while your head is in it, you’ll remember the sound. It’s haunting, and it reverberates through your skull. It’s not pleasing to the ears either.
Once my head smacked the ground, my legs flew over my body, making me do a backwards summersault. I must’ve looked like a rag doll. After a few rotations I found myself on my knees, looking uphill. The world was spinning clockwise, but I hadn’t passed out. “Could this be a concussion?” I said out loud. “No, I just need a break,” I told myself.
When I got up, I felt different and my balance was destroyed. Somehow, I made it to the chairlift and Pat was waiting for me. He asked if I was okay, I suggested we go into the chalet for a few minutes. Water was a necessity, and maybe I could grab something to settle my stomach.
I don’t remember the chalet, I kinda remember a chicken sandwich, but that’s it. I took some ibuprofen for a headache, and we went back out to finish the day. The rest of which was a blur to me.
That night I drove four hours home to Minneapolis, and I’m pretty sure I had a concussion.
That was stupid.
2 Days Later At Welch Village; Safety First
After the four hour drive, I slept a good 16 hours. I thought it was just exhaustion but in retrospect, I’m sure the concussion had a part in it. Two days later the temperature plummeted to below zero. I think it was only single digits when another friend wanted to go skiing with me.
So I hit up Welch Village for some shredding while he skied with me. Thinking safety first, I wore my trusty helmet, and we had an epic day. There were sheets of ice everywhere, but that was due to the temperature.
I Made The Concussion Worse
I remember everything like it was yesterday. At the time I had a mild concussion from the earlier hit to my head. I wouldn’t take it seriously, and I barely noticed the pain. There was a constant headache but ibuprofen took care of it. I’d pop a few pills, strap in, and shred it up.
I was on one of my favorite runs at Welch. One side has an epic ridge that flows down like a quarter pipe into the main run. It was an icy day, and I was riding extremely fast, faster than I should’ve been.
I did an Ollie right before the drop, I’m still not sure how I messed it up, but I caught the same edge, and I was rotating six feet in the air. I knew that my head was going to hit first, and somehow I had to stop it. “Counter rotate,” I yelled to myself, but I did it wrong, and I stopped the rotation. It was a rookie mistake, and it would cause me a lot of pain.
When I hit the ground, it was right under the chairlift, and I heard that sickening helmet noise again. I continued to slide down the hill, on my back, and I couldn’t stop myself. People were yelling at me, from the chairlift, but I couldn’t understand them.
I realized that I had no arm or leg control. They weren’t moving, at least not from me. “Dear God, I’m paralyzed.” I thought. Life is over, and I screwed it all up. My body started to slow down and I slid into the trees. Finally I came to a stop at the foot of a tree. It was peaceful there, but not inside my heart where I began too worry.
A Sign of Hope; Safety First
As I laid there, it seemed like an eternity, but it was probably a minute or two. I finally was able to move my right arm. It wasn’t pretty, it was more of a spasm, and it was flopping everywhere. I said to myself, “this is good. I can move it, I might not be paralyzed.”
After a few minutes, my body started to recover, I sat up and looked around. I was still in the trees but I knew where the lift was. It took a couple tries to get up, and I used the tree to help support me. Once I got out of the trees I slowly heeled it down the hill.
My body was screaming, my head was pounding, and snow had gotten into my jacket. At the bottom, my buddy asked what happened. He’d been ahead of me, and didn’t see anything. I told him I was done, and I’d hit my head.
He suggested I go into the chalet, and relax for a minute or two. I told him to keep going, and I’ll meet up with him in a bit. When I unstrapped myself from my snowboard, I fell over. I had lost my balance, and had to use my snowboard as a crutch into the chalet.
Inside, they had some Advil, and I popped a couple of those. I knew something was wrong with my head when I looked at the neon lights above the bar. The lights blended into a beautiful tunnel with the bartenders face in the middle. At first I wondered if I’d taken Advil or something else.
“I might need a doctor.” I said to nobody in particular.
The Verdict; Safety First
The doctor was surprised when I told her how I hurt my head. Then I told her it was the second hit I’d taken in 2 days and she got mad. At that point there was nothing they could do. I wasn’t dead, and I didn’t have internal bleeding. It was a waiting game, and I needed to give the concussing time to heal.
My timing was perfect, because the next day I started my new semester in college. Due to the concussion, I could only stay awake for 3 or 4 hours. After that, I had to sleep or at the very least shut down. The doctor had warned me about it, but I didn’t take it seriously. It was almost like the filters inside my head had been removed. My senses were constantly overwhelmed by the world around me.
Safety First; My Conclusion
I was in that space of mind for the next six months. I didn’t feel like myself, and I’m pretty sure I acted differently. Looking back, I’m grateful that I wore my helmet, I don’t like to think about the consequences of not wearing it. I wear one every time I ride now.
I take it easier when I ride, I’ll still do jumps, and ride fast, but only on a powder day. On Ice I easy style it. That horrible concussion feeling will stick with you, and I’d rather you never feel it.
- Hey Everyone, I Hope You Liked My Story. Remember Safety First; Wear A Helmet.
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- To Learn More About Concussions Click Here For A Web MD Definition Page.