Grant Korgan - The Back Story
The Day of Grant's Injury - How it Happened
Team rider, Alpine Assassins co-founder, snowmobile professional, outdoorsman, top-notch extreme athlete, Grant Korgan sustained a major back injury march 5th. Alpine Assassins Ken Evans, Duncan Lee, Ryan Oddo, and Korgan were riding Sonora pass on that interesting Friday. There was about two foot of fresh, some big kickers that we had built, and it was game on. The day started at 8AM leaving the trail head. The first jump was a big one with Ken Evans sending a bomb hole about 130 ft. Grant took the second turn and Oddo on third, myself (D. Lee) got fourths, but it was still good and unreal how much hang time was had.
Once everyone got the first jump out of the way, the vibe was amazing! We were all so pumped up on life and the living in the now. We moved on to the second jump, which was a smaller 60 – 80ft roller without any rocks to clear. A fun jump that was easy and good. We all worked that thing until it was bombed out. Grant was fired up since he had spent the past few months in a lab down in Stanford University, and he hadn’t been on his sled in a few weeks. He is a natural and you couldn’t even tell that he missed a few days of riding. Grant’s approach to life is what everybody talks about “live life to the fullest” “if your going to go, go prepared and go big” “no regrets, why worry about what you should have done”. There is an essence that we call this and it is called “Korg”. He attacks everything in front of him with 110%. Not only is he an amazing athlete, but his overall attitude is one that radiates to those around him. You just feel better and awesome when you’re around Korg. He can make any day better just by being there, it’s almost unexplainable how he carries this amazing energy of life. Hanging with Korg is addictive, especially when sending big jumps, dropping big cliffs, carving phat powder lines down mountains, or anything with a snowmobile. The energy that Friday was through the roof.
After our session was done on the second jump it was time to rally a few ridges over to this gap that I found a few days earlier. The light was getting worse, with high clouds filtering the sun, making it grey out. We were all so fired up, ripping the snow as we rode across the mountains. We came into a zone where Standard Films builds a snowboard jump every year, a massive looking cheese wedge that points over a small tree and then a steep pocket landing, about 70ft away. We have looked at this jump many times, usually with the run out pointing at a tree wall after the landing about 50 yards. This year they had built it with a better angle so the run out is down the fall line and the trees would not be an issue. It looked like the snowboarders had hit it the day before, or earlier that day. Our energy was booming, the jump was clean, and no snowboarders were there. Ken Evans and myself weren’t feeling the jump, mainly due to poor filming conditions (flat light). Grant was standing on the lip and said, “when do we get the chance to hit this one, it is never this good…. We have been looking at it for years”
With that I did what any good friend would do, “Word Korg, let me set up the camera. If your gonna hit it I’m gonna get it”. At the time I didn’t think about it too much, but he did say something about overshooting the landing, which I replied, “No way just don’t go too fast” I set up the HD video camera, Ken set up the still shot, and Oddo set up the second angle. Korg turned around and took a quick look at the run in. Then he went for it, carrying a good amount of speed he launched himself and sled into the air, it looked good. He was above the roller coming into the pocket landing. His speed was a little too fast and he was going big to the bottom of the landing passing all the snowboard tracks. When he hit it sounded weird, a loud crunch, the kind when ever you land flat. We heard him grumble when he hit, at first I thought he was just pissed-off that he went a little too big, then I heard him in pain and knew right away something was wrong. I couldn’t see him from my location but knew he needed help. I quickly rode to him, Oddo had him and we quickly with the least movement possible laid him in the snow to immobilize him off his snowmobile, which he rode to a stop. He knew right away that he had broken his back and needed care flight. At this point my brain clicked into survival mode and we went to work. I radioed Ken the info. Since there is no cell phone reception way out there nobody had a phone that worked. The Marine base is about 10 miles from the location, we decided Ken should ride there to call care flight. He would ride the fastest and be able to handle the road there at those speeds, with out thinking twice off he went. Oddo and myself were in charge of keeping Korg stable and out of shock. We assessed Grant and confirmed that he was only dealing with the one injury to his back, not knowing how bad it was we had to keep him still as possible. He was in massive amounts of pain and kept a good dialog with what he was feeling. He couldn’t feel his legs or move his feet, we kept him focused on breathing and staying calm. Which he was a champ about. Most people would be freaking out in this situation, but Korg was calm collective and hurting bad. Oddo and myself were taking turns talking with Grant while the other was setting up for the care flight chopper. Oddo cut some tree limbs to make a big X in the meadow below us where the bird would land, then I stomped out the LZ to make sure they could land on the snow without sinking into it. I also made a good track to Grant so we could double up the paramedics. By this point it had been about 45 min from the hit and Ken showed back up, he made the ride to the base in about 15min or less, which means his average speed was over 50 mph. He told us he asked other snowmobilers for a sat phone at the trailhead, which no one had. So he rode onto the Marine base and they got him to the firehouse where they called in the care flight, told them what colors we were wearing and the approximate location. The Marines also drove one of their snow cats out, but they only go so fast and with the fresh snow they wouldn’t be able to make it to us. So Ken was back and the help was on the way, we were ready to get Korg out of there and to the hospital ASAP. A few hours after the hit, I heard rotor blades, Ken was on the upper ridge above our location and I was in the meadow below riding around waving arms at the Heli, once they spotted us they did two circles assessing the landing zone, I guided them into our LZ which worked out perfect, they landed and unloaded their gear. We wasted no time and got the two paramedics to Korg, we all loaded him on the backboard and stabilized him with a collar. The Light was getting worse and the Care Flight was worried about visibility and fuel, time was our enemy. Ken, Oddo, one paramedic and myself carried Korg down to the bird on the backboard, attached that board to a bigger gernie type board and loaded him into the care flight. They were out of there.
21 minutes, I was later told by the flight nurse, was the time from touch down to take off with Korg aboard. A great turn around time for a major injury like that. Later that evening the flight nurse called us and thanked us for setting everything up, making sure they had a stable LZ, easy access to the patient (Korg) and helping them load and stabilize Grant. She said “if only every call was that on top of it, we would have a higher success rate”. I thanked her and her crew for doing such a top-notch professional job. They were really on top of their game and didn’t waist any time, it was an unfortunate way to experience such a great example of perfect backcountry rescue. Thank you South Shore Lake Tahoe CalStar.
The funny thing about all this is that the CalStar Heli had a ride along, I’m not sure why they had an extra person but he got the boot when we loaded Korg. This actually made an easy ride out for us. We had a guy that had never ridden a snowmobile before, but we also had to get Grants sled and gear out. So it kind of worked out for us that he was there. Oddo doubled him to the road and then we have him Grant’s sled and pack, it was getting dark, cold and late. He was wearing dockers, running shoes, and a light jacket. Lucky for him the ride out was groomed. We told him how to operate the sled, and off we went. He had a blast and I think he is a lucky guy to get to ride Korg’s sled. We loaded up and drove to the closest phone to call Grant’s wife Shawna, she was already at the hospital and Grant was getting an MRI. Oddo drove the guy to Gardnerville where Cal Star sent a car to pick him up. We then all met at Ken’s house in Reno, and awaited news of how Korg was doing.
Grant exploded his L1 vertebrate, and it sent shrapnel into his spinal Cord. He went into an 9-hour surgery that was actually two different surgeries in one sitting. They gave him two new titanium rods, four bolts and a new vertebra (cage) in his spine. The initial prognosis is that Grant will not move his legs against gravity again, but the good news is that his therapist, Becca has told him she believes he will walk again (and has a long challenging road ahead of him). Grant is such a fighter and is so committed to what he does that I see him setting new records to recovery and joining us again in the pow. Until then we will be in full support of Grant and his family.
Mad love to Korg!