(EDITOR’S NOTE: Chris Brown was injured in a backcountry accident on Feb. 19, 2011, in Whistler, BC. We asked him to share his experience and let us know how the rehab and recovery is progressing. You can see the footage of his drop-gone-bad at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIg7hVkJc_E)
We had received 10 feet of new snow in a week of February in Whistler and it was going blue. It was forecasted to be minus 10 degrees F and sunny for the next two days so Geoff Kyle and I made a plan to film with Mikael Berntsson from Two-Stroke and Michael Reeve from Slednecks. We had lined up some features earlier that we wanted to showcase in the films.
We were at the Brandywine parking lot around 8 a.m. ready to go shred some deep pow. We went right to a big drop that I had crashed on the previous year while filming Slednecks 13. The conditions weren't right the year before and it was a hard landing. Today, it was perfect. I prepped the in-run a bit and it was bombs away. I dropped about 125 feet into a pillow of fluff and didn't feel a thing. I was stoked to get that done so early in the day and was excited to see what Geoff had up his sleeve.
Just down from my first drop Geoff was prepping a big pillow drop where he planned to tap a pillow on the way down. It looked pretty technical but totally do-able. As I sat there watching Geoff, a ski line up to the right of him caught my attention (we've been doing large drops for many years and now we were taking it to the next level by riding ski lines with mandatory airs and trees). It was a double cliff line with a 40- to 50-foot drop up top after a steep slide in and then an immediate 90- to 100-foot air at the bottom. I studied it from the top and bottom for about 30 minutes and decided I would do it after Geoff dropped into his line.
I watched as the cameramen captured Geoff buttering his line. Geoff ran over and gave me a high five. I showed him my line and he said, “I'm worried about your bounce off the first drop ... it might send you too far and you might hit the knuckle of the bigger bottom cliff.”
He was right ... there wasn't any room for error. It would certainly go badly if I went too far off the first one. I said, “I've got this,” and headed to the top.
On my way up I was thinking about what he had said. Maybe I should go slower off the first one so that I wouldn't bounce off the second one out of control. With a line like this, you are committed to the fall line once you drop in. There's no turning or stopping after that.
As I came over the edge I braked hard and slid off the first one to prevent bouncing too far. I landed great, but where I touched down was off camber and it bounced me to the right.
Snow stuck to my goggles and I was blind while flying though the air on my bounce between the first and second drop. Just before I touched down again my goggles cleared and I could see that I was WAY right so I leaned super hard left. I wasn’t lined up with the trees yet but was close.
As soon as I landed the bounce, snow stuck to my goggles again and I was instantly airborne off the 100-footer. Now I'm flying off the big one ... can't see a thing and hoping there were no trees below me. I stayed on and was strong and neutral ready for the snow impact. I was shaking my helmet to try to get the snow off my goggles when BAM ... I could see … and there was a three-foot wide Douglas Fir right below me.
My instant reaction was to jump off the sled to the left to try to avoid the tree. I got off just in time as the sled hit right below me and I hit the tree feet first. The impact was unlike anything I had ever felt before. But it wasn't over yet. I still had 50 feet of big branches to break with my body as I continued to fall from the sky.
I don't remember falling through the tree limbs but I remember landing in the tree well on my back and head down. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn't see. I tried to move my back but it was broken. I tried to lift my pelvis but it was in eight pieces. I tried to push with my feet but it felt like my right one was backwards. I immediately started pushing snow away from my face and up toward my knees. Soon I could see and breathe.
Now I knew I wasn't going to die. I knew I was severely injured but I could hear my friends getting closer to me and that was comforting. It was so deep that it took them nearly eight minutes to reach me. I told them to call 911. They dug around me and took their jackets off and covered me to keep me warm.
I was slipping into shock. One of the Whistler Search and Rescue guys was riding his sled nearby and got the page. He was there in 15 minutes.
I told him I had broken my back, my pelvis, my feet and possibly my hips. I also told him I was bleeding internally as I could feel a warm sensation in my abdomen. I believe search and rescue were responding to another call right before my crash so it took about an hour and a half for the heli to get to us. I kept trying to go to sleep but everyone kept me awake and wouldn't let me close my eyes. While waiting for the heli my friends had built a trail that they could carry me down. I was under a massive tree so long-lining me out wasn't an option. The heli had another friend of mine on board who was with search and rescue and a spine board and neck brace.
Getting the spine board under me was a chore. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life. Once secured to it they carried me to the bird. I remember yelling up, right, down, left and so on in order to try to keep it level. Every time it tilted my body felt like it was breaking in half. They did a great job and soon I was in the heli, which transported me to Whistler Medical Center where they assessed me and called for the heli-jet from Vancouver. I was in rough shape and had lost a lot of blood through my bladder at this point. My friend, a radiologist, was on duty. He later told me he has never seen x-rays that bad.
In Vancouver, three surgical teams—ortho, spinal and urology—met to discuss how they were going to put me back together. I had broken my pelvis in seven or eight places, fractured my T12 and L5, my sacrum, coccyx, ruptured my bladder and broken my ankle, heel and tib fib into 46 pieces.
Right before my surgery I passed out from the heavy dose of morphine being injected into my IVs and woke up to a nurse yelling at me to breathe. Apparently I had stopped breathing and she had to give me an adrenaline shot to revive me. Shortly after that I was wheeled in to the OR for nearly 14 hours of trauma surgery.
I spent the next month at Vancouver General Hospital. I'll be honest, it was tough. I couldn't move at all and I was in severe pain all the time. I was questioning whether or not I would be able to walk again. The surgeons came in every day and were very happy with the results of the surgery. They told me I would walk again but that it would take years to recover. They said I would never run again. I was in a sad state but my girlfriend, family, friends and fans really pushed me to recover. After a month in the hospital I told the doctors I was leaving. They couldn't force me to stay so they showed me some necessary practices and I was on my way home.
I spent the next three to four months in bed and in a wheelchair. I had a lot of time to either be depressed from all of the pain and pain killers or be happy that I was alive and would walk again. I chose the latter.
I worked with my girlfriend on my new business, Coalition Apps. We are working on a tracking app for kids and pets so parents can quickly find them if lost or missing.
I have been hitting physio and working out super hard this summer. I can now walk without crutches and I can ride my mountain bike for four hours.
I will be strong and ready to ride sleds by December.
I will be filming again this year with several film crews such as Frontier Films, Slednecks, Thunderstruck and 509. My riding and segments will be all technical riding. Most of the year I ride tight steep technical trees anyway. I've just never really filmed it. Chris Burandt and I used to ride every day together in the tight trees back in the day. To many people's surprise, I actually spend very little time dropping big cliffs and hitting big jumps. Most of the time you will find me deep in the trees or deep in the pow searching for that untouched line.
I am also taking kids who are sick and may not have the opportunity out for snowmobile adventures and also people in wheelchairs. I spent a lot of time in a wheelchair and gained a whole new understanding of what that's like. I also know what it's like to be in serious pain and to be depressed. I want to inspire anyone who can't see the positives in life and help them see what life is all about. A lot of people helped me and now it's time to return the favor. If I can make them smile ... I'll be a happy man.
Recently, we updated my website and Facebook page for www.ridewithchrisbrown.com. This is my third year with it and this year my clients will get to stay and eat with us in our Whistler Lodge. The menu will include elk, deer, moose, salmon and halibut that I have harvested. I am really excited for the upcoming winter and helping people take their riding up a level or two. We are also really excited to meet everyone who is coming up to ride with me. It will be great to have them stay with us in our beautiful lodge. My clients will be able to try all the new TOBE outerwear, 509 eyewear and HMK boots. I have a surprise with sleds coming this year which involves a couple more turbo and non-turbo sleds added to the fleet.
Please check www.ridewithchrisbrown.com for more details.
I am telling my story at the Whistler Search and Rescue annual fundraiser. Without them I would have died in the backcountry.
I want to thank all those involved the day of my accident and to those who helped me along the way. You all had a part in my amazing recovery. I can't wait to see everyone out in the backcountry this year. Please be smart and be safe but have fun.