Hey guys, Nick again aka SkierPT. I've been lucky enough to be able to pick the brain of Alex Schlopy about the struggles of injury and rehab in skiing. Alex has been one of my favorite skiers for a long time and its amazing to see him skiing and competing at a high level again. His story is intense and his comeback has been special. I hope you guys enjoy this short read!
For those who don’t know your full story, it is truly remarkable for better and worse. Tell me a little bit about what level of skier you are for those who don’t know you as well.
Thank you- as life goes there will be ups and downs, of course, and I happened to take those ups and downs to extreme levels. As a skier I was able to win the X Games, World Championships and Dew Tour within a few week period in 2011, then missed the 2014 Sochi Olympics by less than half of a point after winning the second to last World Cup qualifier.
If any, what significant injuries have you had and how did that change your outlook on skiing?
Well, in order of appearance, at 15 years old (2007) I was in a horrible car accident which resulted in a TBI (severe concussion). After a few months of really bad post concussive symptoms I was able to get on skis and train again, but being still disoriented I made a mistake which resulted in blowing my ACL, MCL and meniscus along with another concussion. I had to fight through the concussion symptoms for the next 7 years about- maybe longer.
I’ve torn my left AC joint 8 times, and my right 4 times.
I snapped my left semi membranous hamstring muscle which wasn’t able to be repaired.
I have fractured a vertebra in my lower back.
Tore my right meniscus, which brought my surgery count to 3 right knee surgeries.
I have fractured my tailbone which left a dent in the bone.
Broken noses about 3 times.
And of course the wear and tear that comes with the sport... mostly muscle and soft tissue damage.
Have you had experience with physical therapy? If so how was it and what was your experience like? Were you able to recover fully?
I’ve done a lot of physical therapy to say the least. PT is 100% what got me back on skis in the fastest amount of time and with the most confidence I could possibly have. The knowledge and care that physical therapists have is a key component to rebuilding from injury and also building back your confidence. I’ve been able to fully recover from all injuries.
Do you still stay in contact with any physical therapists?
Yes, I still see one of the old US Ski Team physical therapists- which is a huge blessing.
Do you look at skiing and the risks any differently now that you are a bit older?
Yes, I am definitely more careful about what I do on skis. I still have confidence with a lot of tricks and on skis in general, but definitely have a different approach when it comes to trying new things and pushing my limits.
In your experience with your friends, are professional skiers usually injured throughout the season and continue to push filming and comps just like other professional athletes play through injury at time?
Yes, absolutely. That being said there is always the risk versus reward factor that comes into play. The fact is, it is better to take the time to heal and put in the work with physical therapy to prolong your career than it is to perform at a lower level and risking further injury.
What is your fitness routine now and how does it differ from when you were younger?
I typically put in about 1-4 hours a day with various activities and gym time during the summer nowadays. In the winter I spend most of the time skiing and doing maintenance on my body- not so much intense training.
What pushed you to return to comp skiing and what challenges are you facing?
Honestly it was a lot of things. There was a huge chip on my shoulder with how my career ended. There was the need for redemption after falling deep into the hold of depression and addiction. I am extremely goal oriented and set my goals high in order to push myself harder and harder... and when covid hit there were really only two options for me- go back to my old ways and wither away, or give all I’ve got to getting back to doing what I love. I believe I made the right choice.
I’m facing just about every challenge you can think of and more. I have basically no support, I’ve been fighting against every obstacle I could ever imagine... and more. Financial struggles, overcoming addiction, covid, personal life struggles and mental health challenges to name a few. It would be easy to play the victim and roll over and give up, which I think about sometimes. But I keep going and I’m determined to be my best regardless in hopes of inspiring someone or showing a light for anyone in a hard place. Competing again was just as much as it was for me as it was to hopefully inspire.
From different podcasts and media coming out recently, skiing back in the day seemed to involve a lot of drinking and partying, especially for you elite guys coming up. Do you notice a change in the scene now in regard to those habits?
Yeah, coming up in that scene was, in retrospect, a recipe for disaster. Though it was fun at times, we were all pretty much guilty of being over the top with consumption and glorifying bad behavior. I hope the scene is changing, and it seems to be changing... but the ski industry as a whole loves to party and that’s just how it is.
What is your current favorite rail trick and favorite jump trick and why?
Favorite rail trick would have to be blind 360 switch ups or super feds (frontside switch up to blind 450 out!) I like to try new tricks on rails as often as possible!
Favorite jump trick is either a good old clean cork 360 or a double cork 1260 blunt depending on the vibe that day🏼
What is your favorite skiing memory?
It would have to be winning World Championships in my hometown (Park City, UT.
Not so much because of the win, but being in front of the hometown crowd and having family there was incredible! That felt really amazing.