Mike Shaw | Stories


Hey Mike, thanks for taking the time! Today is an important one for you -- care to explain why?

It’s a big day… I get to celebrate my neck-break-aversary today. I say ‘celebrate’ because, even though it’s a tough day, I’m stoked on how much I’ve overcome in the last three years.

December 16th 2013, was the day I crashed (face punched the ground) at Keystone A-51, broke my neck and paralyzed my whole body. That nose butter seven was the last real trick I’d ever do. Today, three years later, life is a lot different. After a ton of physical recovery, I’m skiing again, not the way I used to but I’m getting out there! And for that, I am super grateful.

What were you doing before the injury? How did you first get into skiing?

Before I got hurt I was coaching the Winsport Half Pipe Team. It was the Canadian dev-team or ‘talent pool’ team for our national team. We were just starting our competition season in Colorado for the 2013-14 winter. Personally, I was skiing better than ever. Everyday on skis was so much fun!

I competed a bunch when I was a teenager and wanted to make it to the big show and become a ‘pro skier’. I grew up at Silver Star so I skied with a bunch of guys who all wanted to do the same thing. My crew back in the day was made up of guys like TJ Schiller, Josh Bibby, Riley Leboe, Justin Dorey, Joe Schuster, Marshal Talbot, Matt Margetts, Stu Chapman, and Mike Mertion, to name a few. Most of those guys made it in the competition and backcountry scenes. A number of injuries back-to-back-to-back slowed my roll on the competitive circuit, which led me into coaching. Silver linings in everything though, right!?

I’ve coached so many great guys and girls over the years. It’s been a blast. I’ve had the pleasure of working with skiers like Simon D’Artois, Noah Morrison, Yuki Tsubota, Cassie Sharpe, Brendan Mackay, and Megan Warner who are all still skiing and killing it.

What are you up to these days? How are you remaining involved with freeskiing?

I moved to Calgary this year to start a business called SafeStart Athletics. After my crash I realized that it wasn’t the difficulty of the trick I was trying that caused me to crash. I’d done plenty of 720’s. The problem was that I wasn’t in the right physical or mental states to perform.

There are other factors that play into ‘Risk’ above and beyond the difficulty of the trick, the conditions or the choice of jump. Staying focused in the moment is the most important. We train athletes on how to recognize harmful states like rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency so that they can stay in the zone. It’s about injury prevention, increasing awareness and focus, and improving performance.

We’ve worked with Canada’s national slopestyle team and a bunch of other ski clubs and provincial teams across the country. Anyone can hit me up if they’re interested to train their teams. I love working with skiers!

Beyond that, I’m trying to stay actively involved in the contest side of things. I am judging a few Canadian Open Tour contests and doing some some announcing this season. Skiing has given so much to me so I’m stoked to give back!

Is there one piece of advice that you could leave with athletes constantly pushing themselves?

For any skier, I suggest getting in the habit of checking in mentally, EVERY TIME, before you drop in. It doesn’t matter if it’s a trick you’ve done a thousand times, make sure you’re in the moment.

Skiing rules because when you’re our on the mountain, there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing or thinking about. But everyone gets distracted sometimes, so make sure you’re checking in before dropping in!

In your opinion, what is the biggest threat to professional skiers?

Based on my experience with my injury, one of the biggest threats is not fully understanding the potential consequences if something does go wrong - and then of course, if something goes wrong, that’s the worst.

Ignorance is bliss sometimes though because if we were always thinking about the consequences we’d never see progression in the sport. Skiing is going in a crazy direction with guys throwing multiple triples and Wacko doing a quad. That stuff is legit but ya can’t lose site of the end goal: that we all want to be life-long skiers. Understanding the risks of the sport and making sure you’re in a ready-state to perform will minimize the risk.

However, the BIGGEST threat in my opinion would be if we never felt the highs freestyle skiing can give you and the feeling of living at your edge. Most skiers thrive on pushing their own personal limits. It’s the best. We just need to keep things in perspective and minimize our exposure risk whenever possible.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the competition scene?

I think competitive skiing is as strong as it’s ever been right now. The talent and the level of skiing in the pro-field is incredible. Competitions and rankings are becoming increasingly structured, but I think we’re still holding onto the ‘free’ part of freestyle skiing. Dew Tour mixed it up this year which is awesome.

I’m not sure how sustainable the traditional competition approach is. The best part about freeskiing is that it’s free. It’s a recreational sport with a ton of people participating for FUN. Almost anyone who steps into a pair of skis can hit a mini park jump, getting that feeling, that ‘high’. It’s a whole different beast to go from that level, to throwing a triple on a 80-foot park jump. I hope that the competitive side of the sport doesn’t become “out-of-reach” for up and comers. I’d hate to see slopestyle go the way of aerials, which once started out as a recreational sport.

I love watching guys like Harlaut, ABM or Vinnie who are super innovative and really push the style side of skiing. Sounds cliche right? “Style”, everyone loves style but damn those guys are crushing right now without doing triples.

I am also super down with the creativity of the SLVSH Cup competitions. Such a sick head-to-head format. Don’t mind my shameless plug haha.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a professional skier?

When I was a kid, I always thought that being a ‘pro skier’ meant standing on the podium at X Games. One day while skiing with Mark Abma, he bestowed some wisdom onto me... In his words, “You need to figure out how to ski and survive.” - That’s it, “ski and survive”. If you can figure out a way to ski and earn a living doing what you love, adding value to the industry, I’d say you’ve made it. There are tons of ways to get there… Film and photo being one of them, look at all the #socialmediaskiers out there!

The most important part is that you do it because you love the sport. Sure time in the spotlight is cool but live by these words... “If I’m skiing, I’ll be happy.”

You just launched your brand new website! Talk to us a bit about www.mikeshawski.com

Since my accident I’ve been doing a bunch of public and motivational speaking. Public speaking is a lot like competitive skiing...

In skiing, when you’re in the start area and the competition starter calls your name to drop in for your run, your nerves are running high. You hear 3-2-1 over the radio and then you push out of the start gate… That’s right when you walk on stage. Your first few lines and the first laugh are just as important as landing your first trick! As you go through your presentation and hit all your points, you performance falls back on your preparation – just like in skiing. And the last thing you leave your audience with – the close – it’s like your final trick in competition. It’s the last thing the judges will see, the last thing they’ll remember and the crescendo of your run. When you hit your close like you’re stomping your hardest trick on the last jump, and the crowd applauds – well, hopefully they applaud – all those nerves that you had at the start, flow through you like an adrenaline rush! I really love it!

My speaking engagements have sort of happened organically up to this point with people reaching out to me via word of mouth. My website mikeshawski.com is a way to give people somewhere to go to for information, news updates, and to reach out to me!

Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

Hopefully on top of a mountain somewhere taking in the view! Haha.

Life goals include a house, a gal on my arm, maybe kids, and a whole lot of fun... I have plans but I really try to live in the moment. I like living by the words #gratefuleveryday

What do you think makes being a part of the of the snowsports industry so special?

It’s the people that make it so awesome. It doesn’t matter which chairlift you’re on, or which apres-ski bar you find yourself posted up at after a great day, you can instantly connect with total strangers who share your passion. The friendships I’ve made through skiing are some of the best ever. I’m so grateful for that.

What’s it like being able to watch your friends grow professionally and establish careers in the sport you all were, and still are, passionate about?

It’s awesome to see some of my friends achieve so much success skiing. They put in a ton of work, effort and hours to get there so it’s great to see the sport and the industry reciprocating.

Making a living at something you're passionate about is phenomenal. There are guys who have long careers in skiing and some whose careers are short and sweet. The leveling factor is that anyone could look back at their careers as time well spent. The experiences we get through skiing, the physical and the metaphorical peaks we get to stand on top of are the best!

Any final words you’d like to leave our readers with?

Freestyle skiing, like any passion, is a double edged sword. Those passions that make you feel on top of the world are also equally capable of cutting you down. We all ‘ride’ the highs and lows of sport... If ever you’re down, trust that you have the grit to pick yourself back up. We all have resilience because you can’t progress in skiing without it. Sometimes it takes like 100 tries to land a new trick! Take pride in that resilience, pick yourself up and find your new peak - Land that trick!

Skiing has given me so much in my life. It’s cut me down, but it’s made me feel on top of the world (so many times). The friendships I’ve made, the places I’ve been and the experiences I’ve had skiing are the best. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Ski and survive. Live by the words “If I’m skiing, I’ll be happy.”

Thank you guys so much SLVSH. Now I’m going skiing!

Watch Mike Shaw’s recovery in Red Bull TV’s The Healing Agent here