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Colorado skier sticks 1st double backflip in a sit-ski

Trevor Kennison was a plumber with a passion for snowboarding, until he broke his back riding Vail Pass. He returned to an extreme sport, this time sitting down.

BOULDER, Colo. — In 2014, Trevor Kennison was a plumber with a passion for snowboarding – until he suffered a spinal cord injury while snowboarding on Vail Pass.

"My buddy was like, 'Come on man, get up man,' I couldn't get up," Kennison said. "He was like, 'Get up,' and I looked at him and I was like 'I can't move.'"

The accident forced Kennison to step away from snowboarding. He took up other sports, and played some wheelchair basketball – but his passion was riding down a mountain of snow. 

So he was lured back to the outdoor sport, but with a twist. On a whim, he tried sit-skiing, an adaptive device enabling wheelchair users to ski. He fell back in love with the snow sport from a different perspective. 

Kennison approached his friend Josh Berman, a filmmaker and founder of Level 1 Productions, with an idea – return to the scene of his accident with purpose. 

He wanted to conquer and make peace with that place by attempting a backflip in his sit-ski.

"Returning to a place that has taken so much away," Berman said. "Trevor's charisma, his smile, his personality and his zest for life immediately captivated me."

"For me to go back to that spot and do it, it was just for accepting my injury and having closure with that spot," Kennison said.

Credit: KUSA
Trevor Kennison returned to the sport he loved before he broke his back in a 2014 skiing accident. Now, he skis with a different perspective.

His return to Vail Pass put him back on the slopes, in a slightly different way, with different gear.

"This one was definitely the most extreme, just took everything I was doing up to that point and that day everything lined up perfectly," he said. "I was scared, but it was something I really, really wanted to do, from deep down in the bottom of my heart."

Kennison quickly gained newfound notoriety, competing in sit-skiing events in Jackson Hole and at XGames. 

Kennison's connection to paraplegic athlete Barry Corbet

Unbeknownst to the rest of the skiing world, a mentor, Barry Corbet, had been shaping Kennison's path as a paraplegic athlete since the day he suffered a debilitating injury.  

Corbet was an extreme and adventure skier, filmmaker, cinematographer and editor who was filming a ski movie outside of Aspen in 1968 when the helicopter crashed and he broke his back when he was ejected.  

Corbet was 31 years old when he was injured, and he decided to reclaim his athleticism and love for the outdoors with little knowledge of the boundaries in front of people with disabilities. 

He chose Denver’s Craig Hospital for rehab – the same rehab facility Kennison went to for help after his snowboarding accident. The hospital was a leader in therapies designed to re-integrate disabled people into active, productive lives. Corbet went on to become an accomplished athlete. 

Credit: KUSA
Trevor Kennison and Barry Corbet went to Craig Hospital for rehabilitation after their injuries.

So in 2019, when Kennison traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Corbet's hometown – 50 years after Corbet's accident, he conquered Corbet's namesake ski run, "Corbet Couloir." That's when he landed in the public consciousness that would kickstart his professional sit-skiing career. 

Both athletes shared a resiliency and refusal to let their zeal for life be limited by their injuries. 

Recovery and new beginnings

After his injury, Kennison had to learn to do many things on his own, including transferring to his wheelchair, driving his car and getting on a plane. The hospital gave him the tools to learn to live life on his own.

To move forward in his recovery, he said he always keeps a list of goals. 

Sometimes he shares them with others, but mostly he keeps them to himself. He knows his goals are audacious and not everyone would believe they are possible.

Berman, the filmmaker, recalled when Kennison came to him with the idea of visiting the site of his snowboarding accident to attempt a backflip on his sit-ski. The thought of Kennison returning to somewhere that had taken something away from him captivated him.  

Credit: KUSA
Trevor Kennison wants people to find hope from the film, "Full Circle," where he sit-skis in Vail where he was paralyzed.

"We all have really bad things that happen to us on a regular basis. Turning tragedy into opportunity is just such a compelling thing and Trevor illustrates that in all the best ways," Berman said.  

Kennison said he's not "mad" at that spot where he was injured – instead, he said he's thankful. 

"I'm so grateful to be on this journey and to have a purpose in life to give hope back to people," Kennison said.

"Everyone has shown me physical, mental challenges, able-body or not, so when they leave that theater I want them to just be able to smile and have some hope from my story and they can shed some light on just if they're going through tough time, and turn a negative into a positive, that's what I hope happens."

The film, Full Circle, is making the rounds at various film festivals. Up next is the Sonoma International Film Festival later this month.




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