February 17, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

Eyes on 2010 

"I can’t think of a more amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity than competing in the Olympics for my country, and on the very same mountain I broke my neck on." Pete Crutchfield looks ahead to the 2010 Paralympics in Whistler.


It was a glorious April day in 1996. The sun was out, the skies were clear and Pete Crutchfield was enjoying skiing through the thick, heavy, spring snow that was laden in abundance on Whistler Mountain.

He had just finished skiing the Excitation Chute above the Saddle and was motoring down towards the bottom of the Peak chair when he caught the edge of his right ski. The rapid grabbing on his leg severely tore his inner thigh muscle.

Had he wiped out at this point, this would have probably been the extent of his injuries; however, because he was such a strong skier he managed to remain upright. From this point on Pete’s memory of the accident is pretty vague, but he believes that in an attempt to avoid a boulder that he was hurtling towards he tried to turn. His left leg immediately twisted in the thick snow and he blew out three of four ligaments in his knee.

Wearing no helmet, and with only his arm to protect his head, Pete spiraled into a boulder head first at full speed. On impact he shattered his sixth vertebrae (which had to be rebuilt from portions of his pelvic bone) and also cracked his seventh vertebrae. If this wasn’t serious enough, Pete was also left unconscious, his airways completely covered by snow.

"If it hadn’t been for a girl I’d met two runs earlier named Tania, who was first on the scene, then I definitely wouldn’t be here today. She had the presence of mind not to move me. Instead she dug an air tunnel through the snow so I could breath and then went and called for help," said Crutchfield.

Pete was airlifted from the mountain to the Whistler Clinic where he was stabilized and then airlifted down to Vancouver General Hospital in stable but serious condition. While in the hospital he experienced complications whereby his lungs filled up with fluid and he was close to death on a number of occasions.

After spending three weeks in the hospital he was moved to the G.F Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver where he spent the next five and a half months enduring intense rehab exercises. Upon release Pete was still required to undergo further rehabilitation as an outpatient for an additional year.

As a talented 25-year-old young man who was incredibly active it would have been understandable if Pete had found the accident demoralizing. Instead he was remarkably optimistic from the beginning of his rehabilitation program.

"I have never felt bitter about what happened. To be honest I have nothing to be bitter about. With spinal injuries it’s a matter of millimeters. I could have quite easily died or could be using a sip and puff chair right now. I feel lucky."

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