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Trevor Kennison was backcountry snowboarding with friends on Vail Pass in 2014 when he caught an edge before hitting a big jump. “I tucked my neck and compressed like a taco. I landed with my head up the mountain, looking at my feet,” Kennison says. “My friend was like, ‘Come on, get up, man.’ I said, ‘I can’t move. Dude, I can’t fucking move.’ ”
It would be three hours before a rescue team arrived. While lying on his back, staring at the darkening sky, he felt like the snowflakes were falling in slow motion. Kennison’s friends wiped snow off of his face, and his gaze shifted back to his feet, which were also accumulating small mounds of snow. He couldn’t kick it off or even command a small wag of a toe. The then 22-year-old snowboarder soon discovered that he had shattered his T-11 and T-12 vertebra, dislocated his back, and punctured his spinal cord. He was almost entirely paralyzed below the waist.
About seven years after that accident, Kennison has done more than just find a way to get back on the mountain. This weekend, he will use a sit-ski to become the first adaptive athlete in history to hit the X Games Big Air jump in Aspen. “It’s been a dream of mine to do this,” Kennison says. “I’m so stoked. I’m like a little kid right now.”
Before his accident, Kennison, who says he basically grew up on a snowboard, had been living in Eagle and working as a plumber. In the aftermath, he spent five weeks at a nearby hospital, lived in a hotel for a few days, then moved into a place in Wolcott for a few months. He eventually decided to move back to where he grew up—Keene, New Hampshire—to live with friends.
In New Hampshire, his friends helped him with basic functions, including getting to the nearest bathroom, which was located up a few stairs. When they went to work, Kennison spent most of the day on the couch. Two-and-a-half months in, he realized the setup was not helping him move forward. “Looking back on the real lows, like living on a couch and pissing in a bottle, that was tough,” he says. “Looking back at everything, it’s pretty wild how far I’ve come. I wouldn’t be the person I am without all of these people helping me.”
He helped himself, too. He made a game of figuring out how to transfer into his wheelchair as fast as possible, and started to become more independent, going to the bathroom by himself and even finding a way to get back to driving.
The winter after the accident, he tried skiing for the first time in Colorado. “I got on the sit-ski. I was like, ‘Yeah, I know how to do it.’ But I got off the lift and went into a snowbank. I was like, ‘Can I get some pointers, actually?’ ” Kennison recalls, laughing. “The learning curve for me was way different than most. I picked it up pretty fast.”
Three days later, he was ripping down black diamond runs. The next season, he spent 90 days ski racing. In 2019, he became the first sit-skier to jump off the notorious Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort during the Kings and Queens competition. That same winter, he returned to the fateful spot on Vail Pass where his life changed forever. He took aim at another huge backcountry jump and charged toward it in his sit-ski. He threw a backflip and crashed. After spitting snow out of his mouth, he got right back up and then proceeded to try again, nailing the backflip and then a perfect landing.
“A lot of people [would be] like, ‘Fuck you’ to that spot. ‘I hate you.’ I never said that. I always said, ‘I’m thankful for that spot,’ ” Kennison says. “I’m thankful for everything that happened since that day. I’m thankful I’m alive. Without that spot, I wouldn’t have done all of this.”
While Kennison, who now is based in Winter Park, loves jumps, he prefers dropping cliffs and shredding powder. He travels to mountains all over North America making a living through paid sponsorships with brands like Eddie Bauer, GoPro, and Volkl. “It’s been all about setting those short-term goals and long-term goals,” he says. “After my injury, I told myself, You’re not going to have someone push you to the car or hold your hand the whole time. I had to take the mentality of getting after it and getting shit done.”
Kennison’s appearance this Sunday at the X Games in Aspen offers another opportunity to push himself. The spectacle is for exhibition only and will not be part of the competition. The action will be broadcast at Xgames.com.
When asked about what kind of mark he wants to leave on the world, however, it has nothing to do with big air. “I just hope my positivity and smile is infectious to everyone, at least brightening someone’s day,” he says. “Being injured, it sucks. What I want to pass on is making the most of whatever situation, making the most of what you have.”