The Truth: Eric Henderson
On 50-degree slopes, bone grafting, and Down syndrome.
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For close to a decade, Eric Henderson was Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s lead backcountry guide and a Valdez heli-ski guide. But on April 17, 2009, everything changed. While skiing the 50-degree northwest face of Meteorite in the Chugach, Henderson fell and shattered his neck. He required two Titanal plates, two screws, and a cadaver bone, which his body is still rejecting. Now he helps run Blue Flax organic farm in Victor, Idaho, works PR for Denny ink., and raises daughters Selah, 7, and Maite, 8 months.
When I moved to Jackson in 1996, it was really transitional, somewhere between skinny skis and the dawn of TGR. Back then you could make yourself a hero.
I went from idolizing Doug Coombs on a poster to having him as a mentor. At the top of a run he’d say “Take it all in. But when you start your run, make it small. Embody that one turn, that one moment.”
On the day of my accident I had a private ship, which means my clients and I could ski anywhere in the Chugach. We skied Meteorite and flew back to the top for a photo. I asked if they wanted to ski it again. They said, “No. We want to tip you with a run all to yourself.”
Yeah, sure. The professional side of me says that I shouldn’t have taken that extra run. If you’re a ski guide, you wake up in the morning and you go to work. You don’t go to have fun. I got caught off-guard. I got caught up in a moment of ego.
I heard my neck crunch but thought, “I’m OK. Whatever.” I got up and skied out of there. It wasn’t until I was in the helicopter that everything started to spin.
I don’t understand why my bone isn’t grafting. But I skied 55 days on Teton Pass this winter and 40 days at the Village.
I miss the hype. I miss the radio. I miss being with my guides at 7 a.m. But if I hadn’t broken my neck, I wouldn’t be on the farm.
We grow fava beans, sugar snap peas, and hard-neck garlic. I’m an ambassador for healthy living.
Did I get a kick out of Dick Cheney eating my peanut sauce? Sure. But I get more out of serving 60 people in a field where their food is in sight.
When people found out my daughter was born with Down syndrome, they said, “We’re sorry.” But my wife Meagan and I aren’t sorry. Down syndrome babies are blessed with the eternal stoke of life. Yes, there will be hardships. But she was the missing piece of the puzzle.