Editor’s Note: Michael Archer has been a top-flight snowboarder and a popular coach up on Mount Hood for a long time. He’s hit and landed some huge jumps in his time, and he’s been through his share of injuries. He never expected that a little side-hit off an easy groomer at Mt. Hood Meadows could possibly injure him seriously enough to present him with the challenge of his life.
Archer, 47. suffered serious spinal injuries from that fluke crash on Saturday, January 30th and spent two weeks in the hospital and a rehabilitation center before he was finally able to return home to his family. This is his story of those two weeks, in his words, edited for brevity and clarity:
- A Fluke Crash
The day of my accident was only my second day up to the mountain this season. My wife Shelly has had a few more days than me, and she knows how to do it right. We get up at 5:30 and leave the house by 6:30, get up to the main lot at Meadows by about 7:30. We’ve got four kids now, so it takes us a little longer to get everybody situated. They’ve been riding for three years now. My oldest boy is 17, and the girls are 15, 13, and 10. We all go up together.
On this day, my wife went into the lodge with my son and my youngest daughter and I took my two middle daughters, their names are Georgia and Jaclyn. We went up the chair and there was about two inches of new snow. The girls are still learning but they’re getting better and better every time, and it was just perfect conditions for them. It wasn’t overly crowded. We got that first run in and everybody was having a good time. The stoke level was high.
So we headed up for run number two, and I called my boy Preston, to see where they were at. He was still waiting for mom and the youngest, so I told him, ‘All right, we’re at the top. We’ll come down and meet you.’”
We headed on down North Canyon, and the girls were pumped. Their ability is pretty good now, so I can go a little faster and take the little hits, get a bit ahead of them. I don’t have to be on their tails telling them to bend their knees any more.
There’s a little side hit on North Canyon across from the Shooting Star cat track. It’s right at the other side of Middle Fork. I hit that little roll and came down and landed, and there was a snow boulder with powder over it, so you couldn’t decipher whether it was a big pile of powder or a block of ice underneath. I really had no reaction time to jump or do anything to avoid it anyway. I was just thinking it’s probably ice, but I hope it’s powder. I tried to charge through it and it was just a big block of ice. It kicked me over my heel edge, just like catching a heel edge, and I slammed the back of my neck right into the snow.
I wasn’t going all that fast, and I’ve heel-edged quite a bit in my life, so I wasn’t that concerned about it. But this time, as soon as I hit, the needles and pins in my arms were just numb, sharp pains in both my arms. I tried to ride the fall out and I realized I couldn’t move. The initial impact had paralyzed me.
I landed on my back and my arms were stuck in the air, from the elbows down to the fingers. And since I was paralyzed, I couldn’t put them down to my side. I tried to wiggle my toes and push my boots into my board, and just no movement at all. I cannot move anything.
This was with my kids. They were the next ones to come down the hill. I realized I could turn my neck, so I turned to look and I saw Georgia, the oldest one. She’s 15. I could barely talk to her. It was like a whisper, I was like, ‘Georgia! I need help, I can’t move.” And she was like What do I do? I don’t know what to do.”
Luckily she had her cell phone in her pocket. I told her you need to call mom and tell her to get ski patrol. But due to the traumatic state I was in, she just went hysterical herself and she just started bawling. Every time I tell that story I cry, reenacting that situation for her.
By this time Jaclyn was there too, and I got them to relay the information to Shelly: We’re on North Canyon, right across from Shooting Star, and I can’t move.
It was a weekend so they had all the extra ski hosts on the mountain. Somebody said a ski host was on the way and had called patrol. The first patrol guy there, I think was Mick, started asking me questions: What day is it? What do you remember? Were you knocked out.
And still my arms were stuck up in the air. Pins and needles, pain, because I still had sensation. I just couldn’t move.
Shelly left the other two kids down at the bottom and jumped on the chair with another ski patrol. By the time she got there, ski patrol already had me back-boarded and in the sled, ready to go down. The only thing I had time to say to here before they hauled me down was “Hi, I can’t move,” and I was gone.
They got me to the bottom, hooked me up to the snowmobile and dragged me to the medic. My oldest son and my youngest daughter saw me come down in the sled and get hooked up to the snowmobile, but we didn’t know that at the time.
- A Five-Hour Surgery
They brought me into the clinic and did X-rays and called for an ambulance. By the time I got to the clinic I did feel like I could kind of chicken-wing my arms. I could just barely lift my elbows up, but still no feet movement, no toe wiggling. The ambulance was coming from Govy, so it was like 20, 30 minutes. They wouldn’t let my wife into the ambulance due to Covid, so it was just me. They asked me which hospital and I said I needed to ask my wife that question. She’s in charge of all that stuff. She’s an OR nurse. She works up at the VA. So I figured it would wind up being OHSU where they would take me, and it was.
At that time I started having spasms. My right leg would kind of lift up and twitch for a few seconds and stop, and then thirty seconds later it would twitch again. I had no control over it. On the ambulance ride down, they have to ask you the same questions over and over again. Seems like everyone wanted to know how much I weigh. That’s the main question I remember answering: 180 pounds.
They could touch me on my legs and I could feel the touch. But nothing could move. Just that little chicken wing, and that spasm.
The paramedic was preparing me to go to OHSU’s Trauma Center. He said a bunch of people are going to come running out, and they’re going to cut all your clothes off and wheel you in there fast. And that’s exactly what happened, they wheeled me in there and took me in for x-Rays. Nothing was broken, no fractures or anything.
My wife had to take the kids home, so she was a little behind. When she got there she could see that the x-rays were negative. So far so good. But then it was MRI time. I thought it was going to be like an x-ray, where you’re in and out in 15 minutes. It was an hour and a half. Still with the legs twitching. Claustrophobia, you have no depth perception so you get dizzy. For an hour and a half I just closed my eyes and breathed. They give you a little buzzer to hit if you need to get out of there but I couldn’t hit that buzzer. There was no way. I wanted to tap out so many times but I couldn’t, I was just stuck.
I finally got out of the MRI machine, and then the neurologist came in. That’s when my wife started to realize that this was serious. The neurologist said, “We’re taking him in for surgery. It looks like there’s a lot of buildup of arthritis in his neck, probably from previous injuries. We’re going to do laminoplasty/laminectomy surgery as soon as we can.”
My vertebrae C3, C4, C5, C6 needed laminoplasty, and C7 needed laminectomy. What was happening with my spinal cord was that the vertebrae had no room to move from that arthritis buildup, and the impact from my fall caused the vertebrae to get pinched. With Laminoplasty they go in there and they take the vertebrae and they spread it open and put pins in there to keep it open, to create that cavity that you need. And then with the laminectomy on C7, they go in there and hone the bone out to give it the space it needed.
I think the surgery lasted five or six hours, and they did a great job. The accident happened at about 9:30 in the morning and surgery was about 5:30, and I came out at like 1 or midnight. I wasn’t coming out of surgery at first, I wasn’t waking up. And they started asking my wife questions like what kind of other drugs is your husband on? They thought maybe I was a druggie. She kind of got offended by that. I’m not a druggie by the way.
I don’t know if I had those spasms during the surgery, but I did have them a lot during the whole two-week stay in the hospital. It’s like when a dog is sleeping and having a dream, and his legs are kicking and moving. It makes it hard to sleep. I’m still having them now, and they kind of suck.
After surgery I was in the Intensive Care Unit for three days. There was a button to use to call the nurse, but there was no way I could push that button. I had a little arm movement going but not much. Still pins and needles in th arms, but anywhere else felt fine. I only needed minor things at this point, but I couldn’t call the nurse. So I had to yell for her.
I was on a normal diet right from the beginning. But I couldn’t feed myself.
The first few days in ICU were rough. You can barely move, you can’t do nothing. You can’t go to the bathroom. So, straight catheters. And it wasn’t a catheter that they put in once and leave. They had to catheter me every four hours. Six times a day, I had to have a catheter in and out of my bladder. But no bowel movement. More on that later.
So three days in the ICU. My buddy Chip-dog — Chip Treadwell, he’s a Hood local too — he brought me up this GoPro thing that clipped to my tray. So that was a life-saver, just having my phone visible. I had this thing clipped up and I was talking to my friend BJ, who lives in Bend, and by the end of the call I started getting dizzy and nauseous. I was like BJ, I gotta go, and my wife hung up the phone, and I got all green and passed out. My heart rate dropped down to 17. The nurses came running and got me back up into that sling and over to my chair, and that’s when I came to. That wave of nausea passed and my heart rate was back up to normal.
After my ICU stay I had three more days in the trauma center. Still getting the catheters, still needing to be fed. I was starting to get a little range of motion back. I’m left-handed and my left hand was starting to recover. But my right hand was real slow to the party. I was concerned that I would never be able to move my right hand again. Everything else was slowly coming back but the right arm still had that strong numb sensation. I could move my arms at that point, but I couldn’t move my fingers.
It was the same with my feet. The right leg was a little behind the left leg. But I had better motion in my legs. By Day 5 in the hospital the physical therapist came in and got me up and out of bed to see if I could walk. So they got me up in one of those big walkers, and I was able to walk, Day 5, which was pretty miraculous because a lot of people don’t come back from that at all.
While I was at OHSU I met several nurses who had recovered from serious snowboarding accidents. One nurse had suffered a broken back and was in the hospital for 8 weeks. And the neuro specialist was in a wheelchair when she came in. she broke her back 12 years ago and was paralyzed from another snowboarding accident.
It’s the weirdest thing to have full range of motion and then lose it all, and have to start slowly gaining it back. Do you know how many 69-foot jumps I’ve overshot to flat? And been able to ride away from? And then this happens on the North Canyon groomed run. I caught a heel edge and lost everything, and now I have to fight to get it back.
By Day 5 they had me taking steps with that walker. They were confident now that they could get me out of the Trauma Center and over to RIO, the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon, over at Good Samaritan at 22nd and Lovejoy. That was Day 7. The accident was on Saturday and by Friday at 2 I was going into RIO. My OHSU stay was over. Nothing but good things to say about everyone over there.
At RIO you get a roommate, and I got hooked up with this guy Jim Arney, mid 70s, general contractor. He was a double amputee, and his attitude was like everything was great, like he was recovering from a broken ankle. I’d been crying about my pain being at like a 7 with that numb arm, and this guy was rating his pains at like a 3. I was like What? Are you kidding me? I must be a whimp.
My first few days there were on the weekend, Super Bowl weekend. Jim had his buddy Bob come in to watch the Super Bowl with him. They were for the Chiefs and I was for whoever, anyone but the Chiefs. But by the end of that game we had learned to laugh at each other’s misery. We bonded well.
They put you in a bed at RIO and you are pretty much stuck in that bed. They put bed alarms in there so you can’t get up even if you wanted to. It was a pretty easy schedule therapy that first weekend but that changed on Monday. Physical therapy is really hard because they are working on your weaknesses. My left hand was getting by but my right hand was weak. And they were working on my walking. The most I had walked was shuffling my feet with that little walker. And they were like, All right, get up out of your chair. Let’s see what you got. My therapist was Parker, and he was a great guy. We really hit it off.
My right leg was like jello that first day. That therapy is kind of like torture. But I was healing. And I had so much support from friends and family and everybody that I face-timed with. I was feeling really positive. I was so confident about how fast I was healing. I was bonding with all the therapists. I started taking stairs. I had so much healing vibes coming in from everyone, and the nurses and the support staff were all really positive too.
But still that internal thing was not happening. I hadn’t had a bowel movement in nine days. My wife and I started putting the flags up, like hey, something’s wrong here. They were doing suppositories and feeding me the drink you drink before you get a colonoscopy, and nothing was coming out. I drank three bottles of that crap, one bottle a day for three days. But the brain and the muscles weren’t cooperating yet.
By Day 11 my wife was pissed. She started totally advocating for me. They finally got me on a liquid diet and got the GI consult scheduled. I finally had a bowel movement on Day 12, and it was not a pretty picture.
By then I’m feeling ready to go home. I’ve worked hard. I can walk, I can walk upstairs, I can hold things in my hands. I can pick myself up off the floor if I fall down. So we were pushing pretty hard for a Friday release, and we got it. I was stoked. I thanked everyone and said goodbye to my roommate Jim. We cried and shared info and promised to stay in touch.
My goal is to be back riding within a year. There’s still a lot of healing to go, but I’m getting stronger every day. My spirits are high. I am so thankful for the overwhelming love from friends and family. It’s been amazing to hear from the friends you didn’t even know you had: co-workers, high school friends, snowboarders I’ve coached over the years, it’s been amazing.
Friends of Michael Archer have established a Go Fund Me page to help Archer’s wife, Shelly Syth, pay medical bills and support their four children. Archer hopes to return to work as facility manager at the Wy’East Mountain Academy on Mount Hood as soon as he is able.
Last modified: February 26, 2021