Colorado Orthopedic News

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Success Story: Ben Nilsson, Alpine Skiing

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At age 59, Ben Nilsson has seen more action in the mountains of Colorado than most people have in a lifetime. He’s been hiking, alpine skiing, and fly-fishing for decades, and even won a spot as an alternate to compete on the Loveland Ski Area demo team, which competed in the International competition at Aspen Mountain.

Nilsson is a full-time ski instructor at Loveland Ski Resort, and he’s skied thousands of vertical feet, both on groomed terrain and alpine – which involves hiking backcountry areas to ski down in pristine, untouched powder. “Last year I was able to extend the season all the way past the July 4th holiday, when I hiked Mt Epworth and raced in a recreational ski race,” says Nilsson. “I’ve been a very active person all my life. Baseball was my real love until I was 21 and could not continue to compete.”

These accomplishments alone are enough to consider Mr. Nilsson a success story, but all of this recent activity was done after not one – but four major surgeries.

Any lifelong athlete knows that strain on joints is inevitable as we age. In July of 2011, Dr. Andrew Motz performed a partial replacement, and removed a bone chip out of on Nilsson’s left knee. At the same time, Nilsson opted to have a meniscus procedure on his right knee. “I had some wear and tear on my knees, and was able to recover,” says Nilsson. He worked hard at physical therapy and was highly motivated to get back to activity. He completed his first hike to the Continental Divide by the end of August – just over a month after the procedures – and skied again the last week of October.

That same year, Nilsson taught 50 days at Loveland and was selected as an alternate on the Loveland Ski Area Demo team, which included the Director of the ski school, and four Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) trainers. As an alternate Nilsson supported the team in numerous days of drills and practices. They practiced day and night at Keystone, and while the team did not make it to the podium, they had good results at the World Synchronized Championship 2013 in Aspen.

For two solid seasons, Nilsson skied actively and taught full time. Then, in April of 2013, he was hit on the slopes in a painful and devastating skier-to-skier collision. He broke his left fibia and crushed his left ankle. Nilsson was transported off the mountain by ski patrol. He endured three complex procedures from mid April to the end of August – all performed by Dr. Motz. Despite cables and bolts in his left ankle and a plate in his left leg, Ben taught his first lesson of the 2013/2014 season on October 18, and continued to teach full time the entire season.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done without Dr. Motz’s expertise,” says Nilsson. “In addition to his excellent surgical skills – the proof is in the pudding on those – it’s his manner that I appreciate most. He’s very calm, kind and straight forward, which always makes me feel like I am in very good hands.”

Nilsson was admittedly impatient in recovery, approaching it as more of a workout than physical therapy. Dr. Motz helped him adjust the regimen subtly to reflect Nilsson’s athleticism and motivation, but still maintain moderate activity while his injuries healed.

“I am just a guy who loves the mountains, and I have many friends who I admire who have similar or more inspiring stories who I hold in high regard. I consider myself average in ability but make up with my passion to live my life as I do in the high country,” says Nilsson. “I can’t think of a better place to be active than Colorado. And knowing that I have experts like Dr. Motz to keep me on my feet – literally – means I can keep my career and my favorite ways to be active going strong for many years to come.”

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