Injured Nitro Circus athlete Phil Smage visits Minturn on road to recovery |

Injured Nitro Circus athlete Phil Smage visits Minturn on road to recovery

Extreme sports athlete Phil Smage, left, with professional skateboarder Spencer Nuzzi in Minturn on Saturday, Feb. 2.
John LaConte |

After overshooting a jump in a utility vehicle world record attempt on May 25 and being diagnosed as quadriplegic, Nitro Circus athlete Phil Smage is also overshooting all estimations on his recovery.

He wasn’t supposed to walk again, yet on Sunday, Feb. 3, Smage was riding a bindingless snowboard through untracked powder in the Colorado Rockies.

Visiting Minturn on Saturday for the Hovland Snowskates rail jam event, Smage said pushing expectations is part of his recovery strategy.

“I wasn’t supposed to be walking, so just to be walking, I was stoked on that progress,” Smage said Saturday. “They told me I wouldn’t be able to move my arms or hands, if ever, not for a year and a half.”

Smage attended the Little Beach Park event unassisted, shaking hands with fans and gesturing a double thumbs up to the camera, a move that has become symbolic of his progress following the accident.

“There’s no level of gratitude that I can express that fact that I’m out here,” Smage said. “I can’t even explain words the feeling that I get from that and just how far it was from a possibility seven months ago, to now sitting here, getting ready to hit the mountain.”


While he’s best known for the trials riding discipline of moto and bicycling — as well as his time as a Nitro Circus performer and contestant on America’s Got Talent — Smage said his first love was actually snowboarding, where he once aspired to become a professional slopestyle rider.

Snowboarder Pat Johnston remembers competing against Smage in Wisconsin in the late ‘90s.

“He just had an incredible talent for anything extreme, anything that involved technical ability on tough terrain, or air awareness off big jumps, Phil was a natural,” Johnston said. “I really think he could have been a pro snowboarder if he didn’t end up gravitating toward the Nitro Circus scene.”

Growing up among the glacier drumlins of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, Smage was no stranger to bombing down hills on his skateboard. He said snowskating brought him back to those days.

“(Snowskating) is like non-stop hill bombs,” Smage said. “It’s like hill bombing on a skateboard, in the snow, all day long. If you just think of it like that, every run is exciting.”


Summit County resident Zach Griffin was among the locals who got the opportunity to go pow surfing with Smage on Sunday.

Griffin said a hold up with Smage’s neck brace nearly derailed their plans.

“Smage was waiting in the car for his neck brace while we took mini laps,” Griffin said. “We headed back to grab him but he had gotten the brace and walked up the hill on his own. We watched from the parking lot. To watch Smage stand at the drop in, kick off with that signature push off and slink into that stance, it was an incredible sight to see. He was so happy to be back on a board; we talked about how our favorite place to be is outside in the snow covered forest and how lucky each moment is.”

Follow along with Smage’s progress at

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