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Never Say Die: The Incredible Recovery of Local Freeskier Cole Richardson

After a harrowing crash in Japan left him with severe injuries, the Canmore Skiier fought back with an unprecedented recovery, surprising the freeskiing community and medical professionals alike

Last winter in Japan, Canmore freeskier Cole Richardson crash-landed after a trick and slammed into a tree.

As you can imagine, slamming into the tree left Richardson severely injured.

Internal bleeding from a lacerated liver and pancreas had him fighting for his life for a month in a hospital bed.

Cole Richardson in Japan just moments before the crash | Cole Richardson | Instagram
Cole Richardson in Japan just moments before the crash | Cole Richardson | Instagram

He also shattered his elbow. Surgeons used eight screws and a metal plate to fix it in place.

Cole knew he was risking injury every time he strapped on his skis because professional skiing is dangerous, but freeskiing is even more so.

The sport is “a specific type of alpine skiing which involves tricks, jumps, and terrain park features, such as rails, boxes, jibs, or other obstacles.”

Hitting a tree wasn’t part of the plan. 

“We had to give consent to the surgeons to do emergency surgery, which we gave, and then we were getting on the first available flight, and to be honest, it was scary,” Richardson’s father Grant told Rocky Mountain Outlook in a recent interview. “We didn’t know if he was going to live or die.”

Cole also suffered nerve damage to his shoulders and couldn’t lift his arms. Doctors were mystified.

“It was like three months of not being able to move either my arms at all,” said Richardson.

“They were just like straight up, ‘yeah, it’s gonna take like probably minimum three years, but could take eight years.’”

Richardson thought his days as a professional skier were over.

But he didn’t let it get him down. He pursued other interests but stayed focused on rehabilitation.

Miraculous Recovery!

Then suddenly, Richardson made an incredible recovery.

Three months after that fateful day in Japan, the 22-year-old who grew up ski racing at Lake Louise was back on his skis in the Canadian Rockies.

Say what?

“I had the most insane recovery that I’ve ever heard about, and it was like one day woke up and one arm came back, and another day woke up, and another arm came back, and I started working out really hard in the gym and started getting a bunch of strength back,” said Richardson.

Cole Richardson flying high again | Cole Richardson | Instagram

Richardson comes from a competitive ski family. Both his parents were racers, and his younger sister, Britt, is currently on the Alpine World Cup tour.

Though he bashed a lot of gates at Lake Louise, he spent as much time in the terrain park on the hill working on his tricks.

Local freeride legends Chris Rubens and Eric Hjorleifson were his heroes.

Freeride skiing is a style of skiing performed on natural, un-groomed terrain without a set course, goals, or rules, but of course, it can involve tricks.

At 17, Richardson won the Quicksilver Young Guns competition, an event where skiers post videos of their tricks on Instagram. Check out Richardson in action at the event in the video at the end of this article.

Young Guns gave Richardson great exposure. 

Since then, the Arc’Teryx-sponspored athlete has been featured in the films The Stomping Grounds, Anywhere From Here, Follow The Forecast and Yours Truly.

He also made videos with his lifelong best friend and fellow skier, Reid Ferguson.

After his near-fatal accident last January in Japan, all of this rising fame in skiing could have come to a crashing halt.

“I’ve worked on one thing my whole life. I’ve been motivated my whole life to do just one thing. And then you have doctors telling you it might take eight years [to recover],” Cole told Powder Magazine in an interview last summer. “I 100% was going through my head like ‘okay, like what, what else am I going to do in life?’”

Thankfully, he never had to make that choice.

Richardson is back to living his professional skiing dream. And in record time!

We look forward to seeing where his ski journey takes him next!

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