Finding freedom in the Utah powder

Eighteen years ago Dustin Godnick was a carefree 17-year-old, ripping it up as a competitive mogul skier, spending days in the Park City backcountry finding the best line down the mountain, slicing through the trees or bouncing atop the champagne powder that has made Utah famous.

“I literally grew up on skis,” he said.

Dustin Godnick and wife, Natalie, with their 5-year-old twins.

Dustin Godnick and wife, Natalie, with their 5-year-old twins.

In 2001, Godnick’s world turned upside down. After a night of partying with friends, the car he was riding in ended up wrapped around a tree and he was life-flighted to the hospital in critical condition. Godnick had sustained a C5-C6 spinal cord injury which would leave him paralyzed from the chest down with limited function of his arms and hands, and with severe scoliosis and chronic right shoulder pain. 

Looking back, Godnick said the accident was a blessing. “It helped turn my life completely around. I straightened out and found God. 

“It was tough at the beginning, but I found my beautiful wife, Natalie, and we now have two beautiful 5-year-old kids.”

A couple years after the accident, Jeffrey Rosenbluth, spinal cord injury medical director at the University of Utah Rehabilitation Center, ended up becoming Godnick’s doctor. Rosenbluth recently proposed an outing to Godnick: He and engineer Ross Imbrugia were trialing a prototype of a new electronic ski - the TetraSki - that promised more independent control for spinal cord injury patients. Rosenbluth asked Godnick if he wanted to go skiing and test it out.

“The first time I was in the TetraSki we went all the way to the top of Alta (Ski Area). It’s awesome to be up on the ski lift again and in the country, smelling the fresh air and hitting the fresh powder.

“I loved the feeling of powder while on my skis growing up. It’s that bouncing feeling and in the TetraSki it was exactly the same. It was so cool to create that perfect little ’S’,” Godnick said.

The TetraSki provides independent turning and speed variability through the use of a joystick and/or breath control, allowing the skier to operate it safely, with a high degree of performance and independence. A guide is tethered to the TetraSki with a remote control override for safety, but the individual is in complete control of the ski. 

The TetraSki technology is almost unheard of - adaptive skiing devices and equipment for people with complex physical disabilities haven’t advanced much in 30 years. The options have been limited - until now.

“When I was younger, after my accident, I went to different adaptive ski programs. Not all the skis worked for me,” Godnick said. “I did use the bi-ski and cart-ski (two other types of adaptive skis), but I have bad scoliosis and I could do some turns, but my trunk would curve and the rest of the day I just needed too much help.

“I have so few things in my life that require skill in order to do, or things that I am not able to do physically…,” he added. 

“So the TetraSki is the one thing I have been able to feel that it takes real skill to do and I can do it well even with my amount of physical disability. I was able to take control and that felt great.” 

Godnick remembers when he started skiing at age 4 or 5 - around the same age as his twins. He’s looking forward to seeing them get their start on the snow, spending days on the mountain together as a family and utilizing the TetraSki to again feel that all-too-familiar bouncing and gliding along the fresh powder.

Please support our nationwide fundraiser to provide more TetraSkis to adaptive programs across the country so more people like Dustin Godnick can benefit directly from this amazing technology.