Aspen monoskier Ferguson aiming for the podium
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Local accountant Sam Ferguson relaxed in a hot tub Friday afternoon at the Aspen Square Condo Hotel, just one day before competing in the elimination round of the mono skiercross event at the Winter X Games in Aspen.
Enjoying time in the tub with his friends – who are also his competitors – Ferguson was taking a moment away from his active outdoor life. The bubbles and casual conversation were a long way away from his usual activities, where he reaches high speeds and high altitude.
In 1995, a freak accident forced him to become more creative about how to stay active; he was involved in a mountain-biking crash that resulted in his paraplegia.
Ferguson, 41, was born in Hanford, Calif., and spent time surfing in Hawaii Kai, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. He’d never even broken a bone until his bike accident.
Ferguson was visiting family that summer in Aspen. He planned on hosting a barbecue, which was Ferguson’s way of expressing appreciation to his relatives for allowing him to stay with them all summer.
“While the (food) was thawing out, my cousin offered to take me up the mountain for some free vert – just ride down,” Ferguson said.
On a trail on Basalt Mountain, he came to a gate that he opened himself. He traveled up the mountain another five minutes and said he took for granted that the gate was still going to be open when he came back down.
“I came around a sharp corner and tried to slide under it, and instead of going under it, I got high-sided right into it,” he said.
His recovery took place at Craig Hospital in Denver, where he said they taught him about his new life in a wheelchair and being independent. He didn’t truly recover until he got involved with the Snowmass-based nonprofit organization Challenge Aspen – a program that provides recreational opportunities for people with physical or cognitive disabilities – and one of its founders, Amanda Boxtel.
“(Boxtel) encouraged me to ski knowing that it would boost my self-esteem and confidence,” he said. “I was a little fearful, a little hesitant, saying, ‘Let me come around in my own time.'”
Ferguson made a deal with Boxtel in which they agreed that if he participated in an interview and introductory skiing lesson, she would leave him alone.
“She didn’t tell me the interview was national media. I thought it was just local media,” he said. “And I get there, and it’s ‘Good Morning America.’
“It was my first lesson. I fell in love with the sport. That was the passion that allowed me to re-engage in life and get my confidence and self-esteem back.”
Ferguson wanted to participate and ski in the X Games when they first came to Aspen in 2002 and told them he would do whatever he had to do.
“X Games came here, and I said, ‘Let me do something for you guys. I can jump. I can ride the halfpipe. What do you want me to do? Let me highlight and show what the adaptive sports can do.’ And they allowed me to do the halfpipe.”
By the third year of Winter X in Aspen, they had their first event, mono skiercross, in which Ferguson took bronze. He won a silver medal in the same event at X Games 13.
His training coincides with his day job. He works as an accountant and is attending Regis University and taking online classes to get his master’s degree to become a certified public accountant. He also now volunteers for Challenge Aspen as well as other groups and is a member of the Elks Lodge.
His X Games experience means that he has been around for a few years, fighting an uphill battle in an action-sports showcase that is youth-oriented. But he said his age can give him an advantage, though some parts of the course get more difficult each year.
“I think I’m a little wiser, you know? I got some experience,” Ferguson said. “The gap jump is a little tough on us older guys – that’s the one downfall. But you know, we’re tough. We can grit our teeth and pull through.”
Ferguson has high hopes for this year’s mono skiercross. The qualifying round is Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Buttermilk. If he moves on to the final, he will compete Sunday at 2:45 p.m.
“I’m looking for the podium,” he said. “Why not? It’s too much fun, too much on the table and a little extra spending money.”
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