Local’s recovery is one painful step at a time after skiing collision
March 7, 2017
VAIL — Patrish Koenig was in Game Creek Bowl standing in the sun under a sign reading "Slow Skiing Zone," waiting for her husband Ken Koenig and their sons. It was two days before Valentine's Day; they were winding down a ski vacation. She was surrounded by loving family, friends and the Rocky Mountains on a perfect ski day.
Life was good.
Then her world went black for several minutes. She awoke screaming, as searing pain flashed through her body.
She was strapped to a ski patrol sled being hauled down the mountain to the Vail Valley Medical Center.
Another skier had crashed into her from behind, she broke seven bones and got a concussion.
The initial story was that Patrish Koenig crossed her tips and fell. That tale did not stand the test of time.
"I was in the hospital 12 hours before we realized something else was going on," Patrish Koenig said.
After she had been transported to the Vail Valley Medical Center, a trauma surgeon took a look at her and told her she did not sustain seven fractures and a major concussion by crossing her ski tips. She had been hit, and hard.
"Then they were able to figure it out, that it came from behind," Patrish Koenig said.
Her husband, longtime local chiropractor Dr. Ken Koenig, has not left his wife's side since she was hit. He said he and his sons did not see Patrish get hit. She was unconscious in the snow when they found her.
They think the person who hit her stuck around and directed traffic away from her. When the ski patrol showed up, the person allegedly slipped away and has not been heard from since. That may be where fable started about Patrish crossing her ski tips.
"If this guy had come forward in the beginning and shown some empathy, fine. It was an accident. But now he's obviously hiding from the truth," Ken Koenig said. "We hope he sees some of the reports and feels some remorse, but it's sad that he's not accountable for what he did."
Instead of enjoying the last couple days of her vacation, Patrish Koenig will spend the next six months recovering from these injuries, Ken Koenig said.
She has four screws in her upper right arm, suffered three broken ribs, two pelvis fractures and a broken finger.
"If that was our boy — who are snowboarders — they would have stopped and taken responsibility for their actions," Ken Koenig said.
Dr. Peter Millett helped put Patrish Koenig back together. He figured out that she had been hit, and had not fallen over her crossed ski tips. Millett is an avid skier, as time allows. He's also the medical director with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail and many other athletic organizations, including USA Olympic Team and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. He's a consultant for the Major League Baseball Players' Association and a consultant with the National Hockey League Players' Association.
"I love skiing, but there's risk with it," Millett said.
He said awareness of where you are and who's around you is important.
"Skiers can slow down by snowplowing. A snowboarder has to turn to slow down," Millett said. "Giving snowboarders enough space to do that is important."
Many on-mountain injuries occur on easier terrain or even catwalks, instead of where you might expect them — in the trees and steeps.
"They catch an edge or collide with another skier," Millett said.
Then there's what Millett calls the "GoPro-ization" of the sport.
"They can capture everything on video. The peer pressure is not just from the kids who are there at the time, it's from the whole world," Millett said.
Millett said Vail Resorts and other ski companies have taken safety steps with things such as slow skiing zones.
Broken, but getting better
From the Vail Valley, the Koenigs migrated to Oregon, where they spent 15 years building a business creating and providing herbal supplements for other physicians.
They sold the herbal business and are free to travel now. Even with all of this, they say they'd like to migrate back to the valley.
"There is no reason in the world I was hit. I'm good now, but I was in terrible pain," Patrish Koenig said.
Patrish Koenig spent a week in the Vail hospital, and will spend six weeks in the new senior center in Eagle. After that the Koenigs will bunk with their old buddy Dan Telleen, whose home has no stairs.
"I have to learn to walk again," she said.
To demonstrate her point, she worked her way out of her chair, picked up her cane and walked across her floor. Each step is a huge step forward.
She can get into bed by herself, but still struggles to get out.
Ken Koenig filed a police report and under Colorado's Skier's Safety Act. If caught, then the perpetrator faces a second-degree assault charge. So far, no witnesses have come forward to help locate the perpetrator.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.