Thirty-five feet to the frozen ground. That’s how far I saw pro-rider Travis Nohe fall from the Peru Chairlift at Keystone. The day started out like any other: a meeting at 8:30 am at Love Bagels; Ryan Queen, Paul Gatling, Joey Shaeffer, Travis Nohe, and I watching the snow come down outside. We drove over Swan Mt. Road and headed up the hill towards Keystone.
Passes were scanned, a push through the lift line, and onto the Peru chair. I brushed off the new snow and sat down. On the chair ahead of me sat Paul, then Travis, and Ryan. Joey and I talked the usual stuff and anticipated the first good snowfall of the season, when I saw Travis tumble out of the chair and fall to the dirt below. It all happened so fast. A sandbag hitting the ground is best way I can describe it. Travis lay there motionless for what seemed forever. The lift stopped for another reason, so for about two minutes we sat helpless as Travis screamed out in pain.
Once at the top Ryan, Paul, and I ran down the 400 yards to where Travis lay. He was conscious and cognitive with his hands placed in between his lower back and the ground. His goggles and hat were on the ground above his head. I removed my jacket and carefully placed it under his head and put his hat on to keep him from getting cold and going into shock. I asked him what was wrong and he screamed, “My back, my back.” I knew not to move him at all and told him to take deep breaths as we waited for patrol.
Patrol arrived and they went through the proper procedures. We helped neck brace, backboard, and place Travis on the sled. We were in an area below the lift where there was no snow and no trails with snow close by. Patrol and the three of us had to carry the sled about 200 yards up an embankment to a level cat track. There we placed him on a roller type sled that had a centered three wheeler wheel underneath. We proceeded to push and guide the roller sled down the mountain. Every bump, rock, trough, and obstacle Travis would scream in pain. I was thinking horrible thoughts. If I fall and loose control of this sled Travis could be paralyzed for life. I figure it was about half of the way down the hill when we finally reached the only trail that had snow on it. This is where patrol could sled him down to first aid. The three of us sat in the snow, exhausted, breathless, and in plain disbelief.
X-rays were done and a broken back was diagnosed. He would have been flown to Denver on a helicopter, yet the blizzard made that impossible. An ambulance arrived and Travis was on the snowy road journey of a day that seemed like it would never end. From the time of the accident to the time he arrived in the first aid room it was around an hour and a half. To me it felt like ten minutes.
Travis’ mom was in town visiting and staying in Frisco. She came right away and listened to the doctor explain things to a her that no parent wants to here. She stayed strong though and was determined that her son would be fine. We filled out an endless trail of paperwork and waited in the lobby. Apparently the state has to be notified within 24 hours of anyone falling from a chairlift.
In retrospect I tell myself that Travis had his friends there for him. During the whole removal from the mountain he could see that we were by his side. Ryan fights thoughts in his head that he may have been able to grab Travis as he was falling. Ryan knows now that it was impossible. Travis fell too fast. I see an imprint of that fall every minute.
Maybe you’re asking yourself how could a pro snowboarder fall from a chairlift? The bar was up, yet we have ridden a thousand chairlifts and sometimes the bar is up and sometimes it’s down. Never had it crossed any of our minds that you could fall. I guess if you do something enough you get comfortable with your surroundings. So it was not unusual to have the bar up. Travis leaned forward to adjust his front binding and this in combination withh the snow-covered chair caused him to fall 35 feet.
All this will make me think next time when I get on the lift. Bar down, bar down, bar down. It could of happened to anyone that day. I guess Travis was the unfortunate one that morning.
Travis had surgery at St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver. St. Anthony’s is know for its skilled orthopedic surgeons. Travis broke one and a half vertebrae. They will graft bone from his hip and put in titanium rods, bolts, and plates in to fuse the vertebrae together. He should be out in a week, but will be off the snow and his skateboard for up to 18 months. Travis loved nothing more than to be with his friends snowboarding.
On top of it all Travis has no health insurance. Friends have pulled together and there will be various fund raisers for Travis. Donations are being accepted at the fund raisers and by mail. Donations will be directed to covering the high cost of his medical bills. Travis’ mom asked me what if she hadn’t been in town. I replied that Summit County is like one big family. We would be here for him.
Donations and gifts can be mailed to: Travis Nohe Medical Fund PO Box 6591 Breckenridge, CO 80424
Thank you Keystone Patrol for doing such a professional job. Thank you for reading this and Travis you get better soon.