November 25, 2020

Sun shines on the mountain and Pearce rides again 

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Snowboarder Kevin Pearce hits the slopes for the first time, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011, in Breckenridge, Colo. Nearly two years after an accident on the halfpipe that nearly took his life, Pearce is doing what nobody could have predicted by riding again. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (AP) — Basking in the sun and snow, surrounded by his fans and friends, Kevin Pearce carved sweet turns down a gentle run called “Springmeier” — kicking up just enough powder behind him to remind people that, yes, this kid can still ride.

The three trips he took down that hill, some might say, were a storybook ending to a life-altering journey that began when Pearce nearly died during a training accident while preparing for the Olympics.

Or was it a new beginning?

“That’s kind of my goal,” Pearce said, “is to continue to have special days like this.”

Yes, Tuesday was a special day — the 24-year-old champion snowboarder’s first trip down the mountain since Dec. 31, 2009, which is when he banged his head on the halfpipe in Utah while trying a difficult trick that, had he pulled it off a few months after that, might have won him a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

The accident left him in a coma and his life hung in the balance for several days. When he finally awoke, severe head trauma turned the most basic of activities — walking, talking, seeing straight — into pressing challenges for the young athlete.

In the back of his mind, though, as he labored through his grueling rehabilitation, Pearce never gave up hope that he might ride again — if not across a rail or through a halfpipe, then at least down a mountain.

On a sunsplashed afternoon in the Colorado high country, 712 days after the accident, he did.

The day began with a trip to Vail, where Pearce hooked up with snowboarding mogul Jake Burton and the close-knit group of pro snowboarders who call themselves the “Frends” — because there is no ‘I’ in friendship.

After a few mellow trips on that mountain, Pearce came to Breckenridge to ride with other friends, along with the public, a few hundred of whom cheered when he walked out of the lunchroom and toward the lift, ready to ride again.

“I didn’t know if anyone was going to show up today,” Pearce said. “When I walked out there and there were all these people there to support me and have my back the way they have for the last two years, it brings this feeling. It’s a hard feeling to explain.”

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