X Games skiing star Stevenson finds the simple victories in life after car crash

Brendan Farrell
The Park Record
Colby Stevenson flies off a jump during the slopestyle final of the 2021 FIS Snowboard & Freeski World Championships in Aspen. Stevenson won a silver medal at the event and won this year’s World Cup.
Courtesy of U.S. Ski & Snowboard

PARK CITY, Utah — Colby Stevenson never sits in one spot for too long. As a freestyle skier, he constantly chases adrenaline highs. He’s always doing something. Skiing, snowboarding, surfing, dirt biking, mountain biking, golf — he’ll do anything that involves being outside.

But for now, Stevenson sits down wearing an Oakley shirt and a new hat that says “Be here now,” a fitting hat for him, while a Yeti cup with the Monster logo printed on it and inscribed with his name — a gift from an X Games appearance — sits next to him.

From a distance, the only sign of his nearly career-ending car accident is a thin scar that runs from his right eyebrow slightly diagonally downward toward the top left corner of his left eye. His thick, dirty blond hair that peeks out from underneath his hat covers up the rest.

The Park City native is coming off another incredible season, topping the overall World Cup standings and finishing second in this year’s world championships. His offseason looks exactly like one would expect from a 23-year-old skier: traveling across the world, skiing, surfing and relaxing. He’s just returned from a three-week surfing trip in Nicaragua and was preparing for an upcoming trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he and fellow Park City skier Joss Christensen represented Team USA for an event at Copenhill, an artificial ski hill.

But his recent travels have also taken him back to Mount Hood, where everything in Stevenson’s life came to a halt.

Five years ago, Stevenson was driving his friend John Michael Fabrizi home after a session at Mount Hood. Stevenson was on top of the world, coming off what he called “the best two weeks of skiing in my life.” Fabrizi broke his leg and couldn’t drive, so Stevenson planned on doing the entire 11-hour drive in one night by himself.

He missed a turn to stay on I-84 past Boise and was stuck heading toward Pocatello, Idaho. That’s when he started to nod off. Next thing he knew, he was in the hospital after veering off the road and rolling the car over. Stevenson suffered, among other injuries, a crushed skull. He’s lucky to not have suffered any brain damage.

Five years later, after a remarkable comeback, Mount Hood still carries a special place in Stevenson’s heart. Last year, he made the same trip back home and nearly missed the same exit, bringing his crash full circle.

“Total eye-opening moment,” he said. “There’s no stopping what happened five years ago. It’s just like, you know, it’s one of those crazy things that was meant to happen that was going to change the course of my life in a good way.”

Colby Stevenson, right, is congratulated after the men's ski slopestyle final at X Games Aspen in 2020. Stevenson won slopestyle gold after taking gold earlier in the week in ski knuckle huck.
File photo

The crash also altered his outlook on life and what was truly important. The ego-driven Stevenson of the past was hyper-focused on becoming a top professional skier — so much so that he failed eighth grade before attending the Winter Sports School.

“It sucks that it took something so drastic like a car crash to change my mentality that actually helped me thrive in the sport,” Stevenson said. “Like it really just brought me back to loving the simple things in life. Everytime I talk about the car crash, that’s what it brought me to love.

“A hot shower was the highlight of my day, so I started realizing ‘Wow, I’m so lucky to have a hot shower.’ And then it became playing cards with my grandmother, that was awesome. You know, that was awesome. It was fun because I could be competitive, I couldn’t do anything else.”

It would be easy to wonder what Stevenson’s life would have been like without the accident, without the months where it was a feat to even ride a bike again, without the days where he couldn’t compete in the sport that he loved. But he insists that if it wasn’t for the accident, something else would have shaken him to his core.

“Something would have happened, I would have had a revelation at some point, I’d have to,” he said. “I was never a bad kid, it was just like the thoughts I had in my head of, like, wanting to be better than other people and just this whole ego-driven mentality just wasn’t helping me do well… the car crash took a toll on my body, but it improved my mind 10 times.”

Stevenson’s success at just 23 years old is alluring. He achieved a childhood dream by winning not one but two gold medals at his first X Games appearance in 2020, took home his first World Cup overall title and is vying for an Olympic appearance next year. It would be easy to be complacent with that kind of success.

At the same time, Stevenson competes in a sport that is all about trying to outdo everyone else, trying to find something bigger and better, attempting to discover the next big adrenaline rush. How do you keep that mindset when you’ve accomplished everything you’ve wanted at such a young age?

For one, Stevenson is chasing a spot at next year’s Games, and his recent performances at the World Cup put him in the driver’s seat. Stevenson is hoping to learn from the lessons he gained from a different crash during the last Olympic cycle in 2018.

During the first Olympic qualifier, Stevenson gained too much air from a previous jump and didn’t have enough speed going into the next one. In the couple of seconds he had to process everything, he decided to go for it. In the midst of spinning and flipping, the overcast sky and the white snow blended together, and Stevenson couldn’t see where he was landing. He threw his arms out in a ‘Y’ shape out of desperation, tearing his rotator cuff and preventing him from competing at both the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and his first appearance at the X Games.

“Thinking back on that, that was so sad,” Stevenson said. “But then that helped me cultivate this mindset, come back to just it’s not all about winning. It’s about surviving and having fun and enjoying it, so it was another reminder for me to sit back. Just another humbling moment.”

Stevenson was so focused on making it to the Olympics last time around that he was prepared to try to make it at all costs. This time, he’s embraced his new, happy-go-lucky approach to life and is willing to accept whatever life throws at him.

“I’m so lucky to have this mentality of life after my car accident of just, like, ‘Screw it, man, I’m living my bonus years, I’m traveling the world, I’m still skiing, whatever happens, happens’ sort of thing,” he said. “I’d love to go to the Olympics, I think it would be really cool to represent my country, represent Park City. But it’s not the most important thing in the world to me.

“The most important thing in the world is my loved ones, you know, the fact that I am healthy and just being a part of this world.”

Olympics aside, it’s not the wins that keep Stevenson going. The reason why he became a slopestyle skier and loves it so much is the freedom it offers, testing out how far he can push himself and what innovations he can come up with. Every feature, every jump offers a seemingly endless number of possibilities.

“You plan the run that you want to do because it’s freeskiing,” Stevenson said. “That’s the coolest part, there’s no rules, you do what you want. After that, you train your best and just try to lay it down when it matters.”

Every time Stevenson looks in the mirror or touches his head, there’s always a reminder of the accident. But while the crash left him with physical scars, it also left him with lessons and victories. Stevenson says that skiers like him will always remember losses more than the wins, but not in this case.

“I don’t have any negative thoughts, just more kind of positive thoughts that I’m so OK,” Stevenson said. “One third of my skull is just caved in, and my brain’s working fine, I can still enjoy life. It’s pretty, pretty magical.”