It was around midnight when Colby Stevenson rolled the truck he was driving off a remote highway in Idaho. He’d fallen asleep at the wheel for a split second. The accident cracked his skull in 30 places, compressed his neck, and shattered bones in his face and ribs. It was Mother’s Day, 2016.
Stevenson, then an 18-year-old rising pro skier, had been in Mount Hood, Oregon, for an event called the West Coast Sessions. His peers had voted him the winner in the best trick category and MVP of the week. “I was skiing the best I ever had,” Stevenson says.
Fellow skier John Michael Fabrizi had broken his leg at the event, and Stevenson offered to drive him back home to Utah. Fabrizi wasn’t injured in the truck crash, but Stevenson was airlifted to a trauma center in Salt Lake City and spent three days in a coma, waking up with no memory of the accident. Doctors told Stevenson he might never fully recover from the traumatic brain injury. Skiing again at the same level was uncertain at best, they said.
“Your toughest times can become building blocks. That’s when you find your true character.”
Stevenson has been a skier his entire life. Growing up in Park City, Utah, he was on skis at the age of two and competing in slopestyle contests by the time he was eight. He spent his summers as a kid learning new tricks off the water ramps at the Olympic training center in Park City, practicing flips and spins that eventually became second nature to him. “Skiing gave me endless opportunities,” he says.
While paralyzed in the hospital, his mind was still on skis. “I would do the tricks in my head,” he says. “Closing my eyes and visualizing was a big part of my recovery.” He spent months rehabilitating, doing physical and occupational therapy and regaining strength. Some troubles have lingered: chronic neck pain, difficulty making simple daily decisions, and balance problems stemming from his inner ear. But in time, he went from barely being able to walk around the block to—three months after the accident—riding his mountain bike. “Your toughest times can become building blocks,” he says. “That’s when you find your true character.”
By late summer of 2016, Stevenson flew to New Zealand with the U.S. Freeskiing Team and got back on snow for the first time since Mount Hood. His doctors had cleared him to ski again, with one warning: going upside down could worsen his dizziness and vertigo. But on his first day out, he tried his favorite trick, a double cork 1080 blunt, and landed it. “When I landed that trick, I knew I could come back,” he says. “I’ve never felt so much freedom.”
And come back he did. In January 2017—a miraculous eight months after the wreck—Stevenson stood atop a World Cup slopestyle course in Seiser Alm, Italy, and closed his eyes. “I wasn’t thinking about winning,” he says. “I was just grateful to be there, to be alive.” He won his first World Cup contest that day, landing a flawless run that proved he wasn’t just back, he was at the top of his game.
A shoulder injury kept Stevenson out of the running for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but two years later in Aspen, Colorado, Stevenson became the first rookie to win two gold medals at the X Games when he snagged victories in slopestyle and a new event called knuckle huck, with his family watching from the stands below.
This winter, Stevenson’s looking forward to getting a second shot at making the U.S. team for men’s ski slopestyle and going to the 2022 Games in Beijing. Second chances, after all, are kind of his thing.
“The accident ripped everything away from me. To get everything back was almost like I was reborn at the age of 18,” he says. “These are my bonus years. I am experiencing everything from a new perspective. The accident is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me because I can see the world as even more beautiful than I did before.”
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