It was air just like he’d taken hundreds of other times, but as is easy to do while on top of a line, 19-year-old free rider Myles Burgett misjudged his takeoff. Instead of pointing towards a soft, snowy landing, he lofted himself into a rock garden.
Burgett, in his fourth year with Team Burton, was on location near the Pemberton Ice Cap in British Columbia with an Adventurescope film crew and a small group of riders including Steve Klassen and Dan Hunt early last February. He sized up his line, dropped in, and then aired off a 30-foot drop in exposed terrain. Miraculously, he kept his composure and landed his board in a rocky section of the cliff band he had chosen to ride, but was hurled forward and and flipped twice. Before landing in the snow at the bottom of the cliff, he struck his head at least twice, sustaining head injuries and a broken arm.
“Myles is experienced and knows what he’s doing, but something went wrong, and he ended up in a dangerous position,”says Barry Dugan, team/promotions manager at Burton Snowboards.
Within the hour, Medivac had flown him to Vancouver General Hospital, where, five weeks later, Burgett remains unconscious and in intensive care. However, scans of his neck and upper torso have come out negative, and he is reportedly showing some progress. “He’s a young, strong guy, and hanging in there. Family and friends have been rallying around, but all that can be done is taking it day by day,” says Dugan.
In both riders and sponsors, the accident once again raises the question of backcountry dangers and corresponding safety measures. The other riders that day were wearing helmets, but Burgett, who normally does in risky situations, wasn’t. As snowboarding is pushed into more and more exposed terrain with chutes, trees, and rocks, riders need to take extreme caution, Dugan says. That means using helmets, because otherwise, if you fall hard, you’re talking a head injury.
Burgett grew up hiking and riding the backcountry in Valdez, Alaska, along the way earning a reputation for fast riding in the steeps and through exposed terrain on longer boards. His choice of challenging lines has been an eye-opener for many including Goodwill, Davenport, and Kelly, especially given his age. A regular competitor in the King of the Hill Extreme Snowboard Championships, Burgett took first in the April, 1996, Kings Extreme event in the Chugach Mountains, Alaska, by choosing the best line on a 5,000 vertical foot, 45-degree course with 30-foot cornices, cliff drops, and tight chutes.
Burgett’s family has flown down from Alaska and is staying in Vancouver. Well-wishers can write to Vancouver General Hospital, 855 West 12th Ave., Vancouver, British Columbia, V5Z1M9.