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I met Chandler about 6 years ago at our home mountain in Washington, Alpental. My mom and I had seen this young guy shredding around the resort skiing fast and fluid on one leg. We introduced our selves and learned he had recently lost his leg in a boating accident. I also got to ski with Chandler a few times at Alta, and I grabbed his number. To this day I have him saved in my contacts as “Chandler Kills it.” He is the most enthusiastic guy and seriously throws down on his ski! I was so impressed with how fast he was, and how confident he jumped off everything. He likes getting air more then I do! Most of all though I was impressed with his attitude. Not only is he positive, but he is a rad, down to earth guy. One day when we were skiing together, he had been following me off the cliffs I was hitting and showing me other fun drops. I asked him if he has tried skiing switch. By the end of the day he was craving switch turns on his ski… Here is Chandler’s story.
Brief summary of the boating accident. How long ago did it happen?
Back in 2006, I lived near Lake Sammamish, a lake close to Seattle. I love to swim, and one Summer evening my dad and I decided to swim out to a buoy and back. I had swam out to that buoy many, many times as a kid–it was just something I grew up doing. That evening, we hadn’t noticed that our boat wasn’t parked at the dock. My sister had taken it out to go see a friend. As we were swimming back from the buoy, the boat was returning back to the dock. I was using swim fins, and I was just kicking under the surface of the water, not swimming at the surface, so I couldn’t be seen at all.
The boat traveled right over me, and I got rocked by the propeller, which shattered my pelvis, cut my foot, hand, and totally destroyed my right leg from the foot to the hip. I was rescued by my dad, canoed to shore (the boat had broken down) and eventually made it to the hospital. I lost about 70% of my blood, and barely survived the night. After a couple months, I was out of the hospital and eventually made a full recovery, having lost a leg in the proc
Me: I hear your on your mission? Tell us a little about that!
Chandler : Right now I’m serving as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Toronto, Canada. Typically, a missionary will serve for 2 years straight, with no vacations (and no skiing). I’ve been doing this for over a year. I love it. My assignment here is to work with people who speak Mandarin Chinese, so I’ve learned to speak the language, which has been a really good challenge. Being a missionary has given me an opportunity to put everything on hold and focus completely on others. Basically, I spend every day just sharing with people what I know to be true and invite them to learn about it. It’s been so, so good.
What were your first thoughts when you found out you would have to live with one leg?
When I really understood that I had lost my leg, I just thought “what things can I still do?” I was 16 years old, and I loved skiing, tennis and lacrosse. It seemed like my favorite things would be unavailable to me. It was tough for those first few days.
How has losing a leg made you who you are today?
I think that the biggest thing I’ve learned from the whole experience is the empowering attitude of focusing on the positive aspects of a situation. I remember being visited by a guy who had lost both legs above the knee, and he says to me, “hey man, you’ve still got a knee left, imagine how hard is to go down stairs without a good knee. ” He made me realize that I was lucky. Not only did I have a good knee, but I had a whole good leg left! That made me so happy. It’s now a habit of mine to look for the good in a bad situation, and it’s definitely become a big part of who I am.
What opportunities has having one leg created in your life? What have you learned about your self since then?
I think the biggest thing that has come come from losing a leg is an enjoyment of every single day. Every day, I think about how grateful I am grateful to be alive. I enjoy the things I do. I have had great opportunities to meet a lot of really cool people that I probably wouldn’t have met had I not experienced the things I have.
Who has been your biggest support? Is there a particular role model in life?
My biggest support has been my family and my faith. I grew up in a very supportive family, and they helped me get through so much. Miracles have happened in my life, and I know that God has looked out for me a lot. As I began to recover after the accident, one of my early goals was to ski again. I remembered seeing a one-legged skier at Blackcomb, just ripping under the chairlift on the first run of the day. I was a little kid when I saw him, but I remembered that image, and I thought “I can be that guy.” Whoever that guy was, his example gave me a realistic foundation for my goal to ski again.
What was it like to get back on skis? What role has skiing played in your life?
Getting back to skiing was so good. My doctors were worried that if I fell skiing, I could re-break my pelvis, so they banned me from skiing until the spring. In February, I had an appointment with one of my surgeons, and asked him if I could ski. He gave in and said okay, and that day I skipped the last part of school and went skiing at Alpental, my home mountain. On the first ride up the chair, I was nervous that I would fall getting off the chair. To my surprise, it went okay, no falling, and I made my way slowly down the run with no big problems. On that first afternoon, I was back to skiing advanced terrain, but I was hungry for more. Later that season I made it back to skiing powder and even a little slackcountry.
After a few seasons of skiing on one leg, skiing to me is a way to experience freedom, physically. I have a prosthetic leg, but I’m unable to really run around. When I ski I don’t use it. I love not feeling like I’m hindered in any way. Skiing is a way that I can feel the rush of going fast. I love to ski in trees and figure out fun lines. It makes me happy to ski creatively. Skiing on one leg is pretty much the same as two. The mechanics are the same. I love that I can still ski hard. Skiing is one of those things which I will try to continue do until the day I die. I don’t know how long my leg will last. My body might give out a little earlier than other people, but until it does, I’ll be skiing.
Any last words or advice for us?
As I write this, I haven’t skied for more than a year, simply because I am taking this two year break. Do I miss skiing? Oh yeah. However, I am happy right now, and I think it’s remarkable when we leave the things we love most, it’s possible to still find happiness. I am so grateful that I can still ski. I think some people just kill themselves thinking about a bunch of “what if” questions. Don’t focus on the “what if” things of the past, and focus on the present, certainly with the future in mind. I am thoroughly convinced that if we choose to be happy, we can be happy.
Chandler, My self and friends, skiing at Alta
Posted December 6th, 2011. 1 comment
This year I am going to be interviewing someone who inspires me every month. I’m calling this the Caterpillar Monologues because of the following story. Once upon a time there was a boy who had a pet caterpillar and eventually the caterpillar made it’s cocoon. One day a hole appeared in the cocoon as the butterfly was starting to break out. He watched as the butterfly struggled to break free. The boy became concerned as the butterfly seemed desperate and not making any progress so he decided he would help it. With his help the butterfly crawled out with weak shriveled up wings. The butterfly spent its whole life with shriveled wings and was never able to fly. In order for a butterfly to grow strong wings it needs to struggle to build and strengthen its wings.
In life sometimes we go through some difficult things, but through them we grow beautiful, strong wings so we can rise above them. As Elizabeth Ross wrote…
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have
and have found their way out of the depths.
These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern…
Beautiful people do not just happen.
My first interview will be with my friend Chandler Balkman. Stay tuned to hear his story about surviving a boating accident that left him with one leg.
Posted December 4th, 2011. 1 comment
Big-mountain ripper and Surface Skis athlete, Vanessa Aadland, of Alta, UT, decided to hike up and descend Utah’s Superior earlier this month in nothing but what God gave her: her skin (and a beacon and pack, of course, for backcountry safety). This excursion was purely for fun and adventure, as well as a tribute to her freeskiing heroes.
Naturally, she posted the photo of her standing at the summit (as seen here) on Facebook and immediately received a torrent of comments about her body. It’s a difficult line to walk, she said; she wanted to encourage women to “go for it” and “keep up with the guys,” but she also sees the potential hypocrisy (i.e. women showing some skin to get ahead). Ultimately though, she accomplished a difficult (and chilly) goal at the top of Superior. Plus, she’s simply following in her hero’s footsteps: let us not forget that Shane McConkey was the original naked skier. And if anything, Vanessa closed the gap in the game of G.N.A.R. points with Dex Mills naked double back flip.
FS: Your most recent claim to ski industry fame was hiking up and skiing Superior (across valley from Snowbird Ski Resort) naked. Give us the dirt: How did that become a reality? Is this something you wanted to do for awhile? Who took the picture? What did it feel like to accomplish what some are saying is one of the most significant G.N.A.R. points feat of recent?
VA: Well first of all, I’m really happy I got the chance to ski Superior naked! I thought it was one of the most exhilarating, freeing things I’ve ever done. I’ve wanting to do it for a while and one random evening I convinced my twin brother Tony to go with me early the next day. When I was on the ridge and the wind was howling I didn’t really want to do it anymore but in honor of my friends and heros who have passed I bucked up and went for it. Two heroes in particular were Shane McConkey who lived and loved life to the max and Ryan Hawks who had a contagious passion for life. I’m so in love with the way they made life a good time, I only hope I can do as many fun and crazy things before I die! I definitely don’t think I’m nearly as “rad” or “gnar” as them and that’s why they are my heroes.
FS: The picture of you at the top of Superior—butt naked— received a lot of hits on Facebook, some comments supportive and some critical. Were you surprised by people’s reactions?
VA: I didn’t think too much about the consequences of putting the photo up on Facebook, I just did it and assumed people would get a laugh. I was shocked at how quickly the photo spread across the Internet (and the ski industry). Unofficial Networks, Teton Gravity Research, New Schoolers, She Jumps, The Ski Diva, Mountain Riders Alliance and Jackson Hole all posted about me, Red bull tweeted about it, and Scott Gaffney (co-creator of G.N.A.R. “Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness”) himself contacted me to give me props. That day Unofficial’s site got 7,000 views, a record for them by far and over 1,000 people shared the photo on their Facebook. I’ve seriously been doing non-stop interviews for the last few weeks.
But it’s true, once the photo hit the brutal forums of the ski industry, not everyone was as impressed. After reading forum after forum the direction of the comments had nothing to do with why I skied naked. When “just having some fun” turned into a debate about whether my figure was worthy of some Internet ski bro to “hit it” was frustrating to say the least. I don’t care much about that especially since there was waaaay more positive comments than negative. A ton of people wrote to me giving me props and saying “I don’t know you, but you’re my hero!” Another girl said “If that girl doesn’t have a nice ass, the whole social media/ski scene better hope to God that I never decide to ski something naked and post the pictures on the Internet!”
FS: You’re currently in New Zealand, what’s the scene like over there? What are your plans for their winter?
VA: I’ve been living in a small mountain town called Wanaka and it’s awesome! I had never been to NZ before and had heard only good things, so I decided to give it a go. So far, everyone is really cool and it’s been one big party while we wait for the snow. I’m living in town with four of the raddest girls from all over the world in a cute home we call “the doll house.” Lake Wanaka is so beautiful, when I’m running along the trails I feel like I’m in a movie. I just got a job at a kabob shop right in town on the lakefront. While here, I hope to ski in some big mountain comps, like the World Heli Challenge in August, one I’ve wanted to do for a few years now.
I would like to compete in the Subaru FWT stops in South America, but you can’t do it all. I’ve been going to SA the last few summers so I thought it would be cool to switch it up a bit.
FS: A little known fact about you: you’ve dropped (the infamous) Fat Bastard cliff at Jackson Hole. What was that experience like?
VA: Yea, I hit fat bastard three years ago. Fat-ypus, my first sponsor, payed for a team trip to Jackson. It was the last day of the trip and we hadn’t got anything done. I was pretty hungover, my binding was broken—so my boot was knocking around—and the snow wasn’t blower by any means. All the sudden the light kinda popped, and it was on. I had never heard of this famous cliff but, yeah, when I saw it I was pretty nervous. I hiked above it to check it out and next thing I knew I was counting down for take off. It’s still the biggest cliff I’ve ever hit. I would like to hit it again and go for the stomp.
FS: What do you say to ladies in the ski industry? What does it take? Any advice, or tips?
I’m glad you asked me this! Ladies, don’t let the critics in the industry get you down. People are going to hate, judge, and critique you no matter what, so stay true to your self and just have fun! While others spend their time hating on silly forums, go out and give it all you got. Don’t be afraid to fall, and don’t get embarrassed when you do. If you surround your self with people who support and love you, the importance of impressing everyone else dissipates.
Also, stay positive and determined. So many people have told me I’m so lucky, but I’ve seriously worked my ass off with sometimes up to three jobs, had injury after injury, done terrible in competitions but never gave up. I’ve slept on an endless amount of couches, sold everything and lost jobs, friends and heroes, but I NEVER stopped loving skiing. It’s not all cupcakes and smiles, but if you want it bad enough you’ll make it happen… and when you finally do, it feels so good. If I am lucky, then I’m lucky that the people in my life have taught me (and encouraged me) to do what I love, so in that sense I’m the most blessed girl ever!
And one last thing, DREAM BIG! Sounds cheesy, but before I had any recognition, I would constantly day dream about how awesome it would be to have sponsors from head to toe and have a poster of me skiing, then it happened.
This week’s Team Update comes from down, but not out- Vanessa Aadland holding down the couch while recovering from an injury earlier this year. With original Seattle roots, Vanessa has made the move down the Utah to pursue her ski career. We had the chance to catch up with her recently and ask her some hard hitting questions.
Hey Vanessa, we hear you are currently laid up…how’s the recovery coming?
Recovery is going good! I’ve been staying on top of it with icing, heat and light massages with Arnica and Essential Oils. The first week was easy but I will admit, I did A LOT of sleeping. My roommates have been so helpful and understanding. I’ll definitely take this time to thank everyone who has sent me some love. I’ve been blown away with all the support my friends and family have given me. People I don’t even know have written me on Facebook to wish me the best and people I idolize have sent me tons of positivity and compassion! The mental challenges have definitely set in, but I have to say, I don’t regret anything! People like to tell me I’m crazy and maybe a bit reckless but I don’t look at it like that. I feel like most of my life I was shy and held back in so many ways. Ever since I moved from my home in Seattle, I think a switch in me flipped and now I’m really doing what I want. Yes, I have put my self through some tough ones ( I’ve broke my back already in 4 places just few years ago) BUT, I have learned and achieved SO much, therefor, I wouldn’t take anything back! I’ve had taken quite a bit of a roller coaster ride for sure, but I prefer that to a boring… ferris wheel or whatever, haha! I guess I’m digressing, but that’s what this down time will do to ya!
Where are you based out of during the winter?
UTAH!! I’ll always love the PNW but I feel more at home here then any where.
How was your trip down to South America this summer?
My trip to the South was short but super sweet! That was my third time skiing in SA but my first to Chile so it was fun to compare Argentina to Chile. Unfortunatly, it didn’t snow one flake while I was there but in all honesty, I had the time of my life! I met so many hilarious people, drank way too much pisco sour, and got 6th in the first stop of the FWT. Not bad for a two week trip!
What are your plans for this winter? Any big trips or contests coming up?
Well, one big goal besides shooting, is to film. I think it’s important to have edits and I have nothing… um, except for a POV of me wreaking my self! I’m also planning on competing in the FWT, especially Revelstoke and Kirkwood since I’ve never been!
If you could travel anywhere in the world to ski where would you head?
Haha I don’t think you realize what your asking me! Traveling is a huge passion of mine so there are tons of places I want to ski!!! I guess the top ones are Norway, Austria, Alaska, Japan, New Zealand, Nepal.
What else are you into right now?
I’ve really been into Hot yoga, blogging, hanging out with Baker my dog, and learning about the healthiest ways to live including nutrition, stretching, and reducing stress.
Want to thank some sponsors?
I am so thankful for all my sponsors, friends, family and roommates! It’s awesome to know they respect me as not just a skier but a person! Special shout out to FAT-YPUS SKIS for the exposure, RIME KNITS for always involving me, ALTA for introducing me to amazing people, and evo for staying updated and stoked on my adventures! Also to Joystick,Causwell, Smith, Skullcandy, Outdoor Technologies, and Isotonix! See ya’ll on the hill soon, much love!
Posted December 6th, 2010. Add a comment
Vanessa Aadland joins Causwell!
I recently joined the team of an awesome local outerwear company, Causwell. Here is my interview with Josh Bishop…
Along with an impressive resume of multiple ads and appearances in magazines, billboards, and local publications, Vanessa placed 6th at the first stop of the Freeskiing World Tour this summer in Chile. Aside from her media exposure, Vanessa absolutely rips and treats Alta/Snowbird as her personal terrain park.
photo by Jeremy Koons
1. I grew up skiing in Washington: Stevens Pass, Crystal, Mt. baker, and Alpental
2. How many apples have you consumed in your lifetime? psshhh! two a day, at least
3. Favorite Place to ski? Switzerland… Splügen and Lenzerheide
4. Favorite Terrain? steep pow
5. I hear you have a tattoo. Were is it and what does it say? 1 month after breaking my back skiing, my brothers and I got ski bum tattooed on our bums
6. Were you on time for work today? Only 3 hours late, not sure if I still work there
7. Favorite musical accompaniment: I’m really loving this pretty lights stuff.
8. Did you play high school sports: Track, XC, Basketball, and Cheerleading, for real.
9. Favorite food group: fruit!!!!
10. Name 5 things for which you have no time: TV, boys! shopping (except for ross dress for less) shaving…jk. I always want more time with my dog.
Posted September 15th, 2010. Add a comment