ANDREW BURNS INTERVIEW | AGAINST ALL ODDS
By Rob Lemay | Photos [o] Ben Girardi Andrew Burns. That name goes hand in hand within Canadian snowboarding. It’s one that...
…As Told to King Snow Magazine
We were in Utah, in the High Uintas mountains. It was January 11, 2017. It was a high avy day, super deep and nuking snow, we knew the conditions. There were 10 of us at a little private cat operation. Where you’re sort of responsible for yourself, but you know and rely on your crew at the same time. So that was the kind of situation we were in heading out.
The plan was to stay in low elevation, stay in trees and keep it safe. It took most of the day to break trail to where we were going. The 10 of us took some runs, it was good, and we had the cat road in, it was about 3 p.m. At this point we wanted to get out of there at about 4 p.m., so we knew we could get up in time for one more run.
One Footer, Salt Lake City, Utah [o] E-Stone
Alex Andrews drops this rock that we called off the first time, lands, cuts across the entire bowl, about 150 feet across, and heads to a tree, our safety tree. You always have your safe zones in a line you’re scoping out. So my plan was to do the same thing. I dropped the cliff, I land, I do a little tumble right back to my feet and then I’m cutting across just under his line. Right over to the tree that he’s standing at. Then, like thunder, I hear the loudest pop—suddenly I see the ripples. I still have my line towards that tree, and I tried to hold it. I was maybe a board and a half from the edge of the slide where I could see it ripping. I went to dive over the lip and away from the slide. Just then a little wave came behind me and just grabbed my high-backs and the back of my legs, and pulled me back into it.
I’m just swimming on top of it, sitting in hot tub position. The slide takes me down over a little roller then right into a grove of aspens. I got wrapped around one of the trees right between my legs. I don’t know if it was the impact or the pressure wrapping my legs around the tree. Somewhere in that, both tib/fibs just exploded just above my ankles.
I’m dissecting this whole situation. Pretty foggy head really, but also pretty clear. I could tell something was up. I had pulled the right foot out of the binding after I impacted, it was just like a gummy worm, so I knew that was gone. At that moment, I was pissed. You’re pissed your season’s over, all of that stoke you had is just gone. I knew it was a good year already, I’m missing the rest of it, so that’s running through my head. All the snowboard-related things were more anger at that point. There was a lot of time between the accident and getting on pain meds. In that time, it was just a mental game. The body works so well. When you realize you’re not dead and there’s a chance that you could all get out of there, it was like the pain wasn’t the issue. The issue was that I couldn’t move. That became the mental game, keep myself from going into hypothermia. It was a nightmare getting out. The cat broke and then we ended up needing to get a heli. Then a storm came in, and then the heli couldn’t get me to the hospital it wanted to, so we went to this different one.
They do the X-rays. First thing the guy does, he pulls it up in front of me, “Well, this is your left leg.”
And I said, “No, that’s my right leg.”
He’s like, “No, it’s your left.”
“No, it’s my right,” I said. I can see the “R” on the X-ray, and that’s what my right leg feels like,” because it was the one that was way more blown up.
And then he’s like, “Oh yeah, okay.”
So he argued me on that. Then the next thing he says is, “Oh, wow. Yeah, you’re right. Well, that’s your career. You won’t snowboard anymore.”
These are the first things I’m hearing as I’m kind of coming out of this fog of the accident and all the meds. I just laughed, and I was like, “All right. Well, I’ll show you a video.” But you say that to somebody? In the state they’re in? Medded up and in pain, and just emotional. I don’t know, that just seems crazy. That could just ruin people, right?
Having the support of the snowboard community was crazy. That could be its own story. I didn’t know that was happening. All of a sudden, I woke up one day and my phone was just going nuts, I had no clue what was going on. Finding out this GoFundMe was set up, donations and comments were pouring in. My wife is sitting on my bed in our family room, reading these things to me, and we’re just in tears because… dude, I was clueless to the parts that I played in people’s lives because of snowboarding—it just hit me. I felt like I had died reading these things I was reading. No one ever sees this stuff. Only dead people get these things said about them, this is insane. It’s the most intense emotional thing I’ve ever felt in my life. It was overwhelming. That support alone made me realize, okay, there’s only one option, the only thing I can do is get up, start moving, do the rehab and snowboard again. So that everyone who believed in me sees the result. That motivation, for me, is way bigger than myself. Of course I want to get there, but it’s just so much bigger than that. It feels pretty cool. That’s different than any other injury I’ve ever gone through. I’ve never felt that.
Rehab, this round has been different. I’ve gone about it by myself, I have my own program and I don’t have access to much, so I’m doing it in the garage. I want to know that I earned snowboarding back. That’s a cool feeling, I was loving snowboarding before this happened. And I want to know that I earned snowboarding back and show it its respect, I guess.
The process is definitely wavy, peaky, and dark at times. But if you just maintain, you get through it. You do heal, the body heals, it wants to, it doesn’t like being broken either. So you just kind of allow it to do it. I’m 40, dude. It’s slow. It takes its time.
New year’s 2018 is kind of my hard date of a day I want to be taking runs. So the goal now is maybe just to ride and get to the end of the year and know that I can ride hard. That’s my main goal.
I’ve evaluated this thing 3,000 times in my head. I’ve gone over it so many times and found every single mistake that I could possibly put on myself that put me here, I’ve done it. Also trying to shake those thoughts off. But telling the story helps shake it off. Talking to the other guys shakes it off. Everyone came away with something from it, stoked to be alive and stoked they saw friends perform at such a high stress level, and perform heroically. That just was the ultimate takeaway from that whole thing.
Why does this accident have to be something that says, “time to hang it up,” whatever that is anyway. I’m not going to hang up snowboarding. It’s not happening, you know? We’ll get there.
[o] Bob Plum