VIDEO: The Edge of Impossible with Tony Schmiesing
A quadriplegic skier’s return to the glory of powder in Alaska
This spring, Tony Schmiesing migrated, as skiers have for decades, to Alaska with dreams of flying in helicopters to deep snow. A quadriplegic skier, Schmiesing’s journey was documented and funded by the Tahoe-based High Fives Foundation. Following his return, we spoke with Schmiesing about deep snow and taking his own path to Alaska.
First off, how do you pronounce your last name?
Tony Schmiesing: It’s Schmiesing like “sneezing.” Through school a lot of teachers would be like, “Tony…ugh…errr…ummm.” It’s one of those names.
I enjoyed watching your story. That looked like a hell of a trip to Alaska. When did the light bulb go off that this trip was possible?
You know, it’s funny. Once I started skiing again, Alaska was always this carrot hanging out in front of me. I was told the bike ski, the equipment wasn’t very good. It’s good for what it does, but it isn’t for powder. It’s meant for groomers. I didn’t want to settle with that.
For me, being a quad, I’m used to having a lot of attendants that work with me so I can live independently. Brian [Sheckler] and I did a little storm skiing these last three years in California. It was enough snow to see that powder is possible the way I ski. After a deep day last season, we said, “Okay. This is on.”
Alaska is logical because it’s a dream place. As a kid, a thing I always wanted to do was ski powder. In terms of equipment, paras [paraplegics] get all the good stuff. As a quad, I had to modify my gear.
Powder skiing is about feeling. It’s emotional. How does that work when you, yourself, do not have sensation from the chest down?
Because I’m so strapped into the ski, that floaty sensation is so immediate. It brought back so many memories. I am the ski. I’m so strapped in. I have no trunk or back muscles, so I’m so harnessed in that…[sighs] It’s so hard to describe. It brought back a rush of feelings…I mean…this is it. Powder skiing is what I’d been missing for so many years.
It’s so different. It’s just…wow. It was like coming home to a true home.
When did you sustain your injury?
I was injured in 1980. I broke my neck in a diving accident at the beach. I was 16.
How old are you today?
Nice, man. You got up there before you turned 50. That’s sort of everyone’s Alaska goal.
There were a couple 70-year-olds out there charging. Age and disability is a funny thing. There are these paradigms out there about what it is, but despite my situation, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I think age and disability tends to set bizarre false limits. They’re out there as roadmaps, but they are nebulous at best.