Snowboarder Seth Wescott didn’t see trouble ahead while zooming down a steep slope with a spectacular blue glacier serving as a backdrop for a movie scene he was filming.
Nobody had warned him of a wide crevasse.
The 37-year-old snowboarder caught a glimpse of it before crashing into a wall of ice, a violent accident that broke his tibial plateau and tore the ACL in his left knee.
Surgery and rehabilitation following the April injury in Alaska effectively ended Wescott’s hope of an Olympic three-peat in the snowboardcross, the event in which he has won two straight gold medals.
But he has no regrets about his backcountry adventures.
“Those spring trips are what re-energize me and keep me passionate about the sport,” he said.
Wescott will compete in the last major event of his season this weekend at the Legendary Mount Baker Banked Slalom, an annual snowboarding contest in Washington. Then he’ll focus on getting healthy for next season’s World Cup circuit.
In Sochi, the U.S. hopes for a medal in the men’s snowboardcross — the wild head-to-head snowboard racing event — will rest with Nate Holland, Alex Deibold, Trevor Jacob and Nick Baumgartner.
Wescott, a Maine resident, won a gold medal at the first Olympic snowboardcross event in Turin, Italy, and then repeated in Vancouver, Canada.
His crash last spring happened during the filming of a Warren Miller production, “Ticket to Ride.”
He was riding with his friend Rob Kingwill when one of the cinematographers took note of the way the late-afternoon sunlight was hitting a massive glacier. They decided to hop in the helicopter for one more run. Wescott said he normally checks out the terrain personally, but this time he relied on a spotter.
Before the run, Wescott saw a big crack the glacier and was told that was the only one. It turns out there was a second one hidden by the steep terrain.
“It was pretty much a walk in the park in terms of the shot we were trying to get,” Kingwill said.
But that’s not the way it turned out.
Wescott remembers avoiding the first crevasse. He was in the air when he saw the second one — a jagged gash 40 feet wide and a 100 feet or more deep. He came within a couple of feet of clearing it, but hit the other side at 35 to 45 mph. Then he slid 6 feet into the crevasse before a clump of snow preventing him from falling deep into it.
Adrenaline prevented him from realizing the extent of his injury. “I rode down on the broken leg and blown knee, not knowing that it was that hurt yet,” Wescott said.
The final cut of the film made no mention of the injury.
“They wanted to put a spin on it that worked for the theatrical purpose. I think, you know the reality of what we go through as action sports athletes — sometimes they want to shield that from the public,” he said.
Kingwill said: “We didn’t want the movie to be a bummer.”
Wescott already has his eye on the next winter Olympics. He would be 41, but thinks he’ll be a contender if he can stay healthy. He has no plans to retire, as long as he’s still having fun.
This spring, he will be back in Alaska.
“To me, the snowboarding in Alaska is more of a pinnacle experience than winning any World Cup,” Wescott said. “It kind of recharges your batteries at the end of the season, and lets you put the snowboard away at the end of the year in a state of love with the sport. That’s important to carry through training in the summer, and provides motivation to come back in the fall.”