[Updated 3/11/2013] Meet Max Elles, younger brother of StokeLab's Art Director Randy Elles. He lives near Killington, Vermont, where his family owns and operates the First Stop Ski & Bike Shop and the Board Barn Snowboard Shop. On a snowboard, Max leaves most mortals in the dust with his aggressive, boardercross style. This past December, he was maching downhill on an awesome pow day, and crashed so hard he broke his back and lost feeling in his legs. He's walking again after rehabbing like crazy, but the hospital time and rehabilitation carries a heavy price tag as you might imagine. Max is now back home after a long stay at the hospital, making "I Ride For Max" diecut stickers to help pay the bills. Read on for the full interview -- buy some stickers -- and Ride For Max.
StokeLab: Max, first off, can’t say how stoked we are to have you back in Vermont. Welcome home, we’ve been pulling for you all the way. For those who aren’t familiar with your story, how old are you and where do you live?
Max Elles: I was born in RutVegas Vermont during the famous state fair on September 11th 1992; Now I am 20 years old.
StokeLab: What’s your background and connection to snowboarding? Your family owns a shop, right? And you compete in boardercross?
Max: I have been lucky to grow up in central Vermont, and at the best winter resorts. In my opinion Killington remains the best mountain to ski and ride in the world. For 33 years my parents have owned First Stop Ski & Bike Shop and the Board Barn Snowboard Shop located one mile east of Killington’s SkyeShip Gondola; best access in the east. I’d say I was sorta’ born into it; since 1975. I love every bit of Vermont’s nature and serenity. That hippie sh!+ is in my blood.
I don't remember when I got my first snowboard. I'm pretty sure it was the very first year Burton made youth boards. All I can remember is that it was green and my brother's was purple. I still have mine in my bedroom; it's only 80cm long. So I guess I’ve been riding since I was about three-feet tall.
In 2009, I was a sophomore in high school and riding full time for Killington Mountain School and the K-Team on weekends. I qualified for nationals and placed second in snowboarder cross. This sparked my interest in the high-speed death race. In 2010, I competed on both the Revolution Tour and North American circuits. In 2011, I was invited to race against the best of the U.S., Canadian, and other national teams in the Grand Prix U.S. Snowboarding Championship at Canyons Resort in Utah.
Since going to college I’ve been unable to race in high-level competitions, but never the less enjoy snowboarding just as much. Last year I rode many new mountains in northern Vermont and met a lot of cool people. Next season, I’m looking forward to exploring Sugarbush more with my college buddies.
StokeLab: Can you explain what happened in late December? When did you finally return home to Vermont?
Max: On December 27th I was riding one of Killington’s most difficult trails. At the very bottom where the slope goes from steep to completely flat I slammed into a uncovered water-bar. I instantly broke my back but didn't stop. I flew through the air until I hit the snow and began tomahawking until I came to a stop. I was buried upside down in about three feet of pow. My legs were folded over at my waist at a 90° angle. When I went to move them they didn't work. I knew I had busted my back bad, but for a moment forgot how lucky I was to be alive and conscious. I started panicking until I thought to myself, “What if no one saw me eat it? What if they are not coming back?” I was riding with three close friends, two were ahead of me and the third was on the opposite side of the trail. After what seemed like an eternity of thinking about every single life decision I have ever made, I finally heard a voice coming towards me. The first friend on the scene was my college buddy Drew Growth. I instructed him not to move my body too much as my back was broken and I couldn’t move my legs. In another minute my two hometown friends Rocky Lucian and Wyatt Mosher had hiked up to me and helped lay me flat. They built a bed of snow beneath my back for support, took off their coats to blanket me from the falling snow, and kept me calm while we waited. Our other best friend Kyle Anderson had gone down another trail and was waiting for us at the base. I had Wyatt call Anderson and instructed him to get ski patrol with a sled and stretcher. I have taken diggers before but knew there was no riding away from this one.
StokeLab: Did you meet anyone that inspired you along the road to recovery?
Max: I think I met God, in one way or another. I’m not Catholic or Jewish, nor do I worship any other deity (except for the ever elusive snowgods), but I sure as hell became spiritual. I believe I see God in the good of average people. I don’t believe in God; it’s just the term I choose to describe a higher power. Something larger than life exists out there and if you look close enough it is easy to find.
StokeLab: Is hospital food bad as they say it is?
Max: It's worse. I lost 21 pounds in six weeks. I had a double order of PB & J’s almost every night.
StokeLab: Talk to us about the “I Ride For Max” campaign.
Max: “I Ride For Max” isn’t just about snowboarding, it is really meant to encompass all action sports. Whether you ski or snowboard, dogsled or cycle, it really doesn’t matter. So long as you’re willing to slap a sticker on your Subaru or Macbook you’re on my team. I am making and selling die-cut vinyl stickers for a suggested donation of five bucks a pop or five stickers for twenty. A lot of friends came to me with the idea for “I Ride For Max,” expressing interest in some sort of sticker or t-shirt, and they all said they would pay. It has become a great source of fundraising that has become tremendously helpful in paying for related medical expenses. In the first week the campaign generated hundreds of dollars - I am super thankful and appreciative of everyone's generosity. It really helps.
StokeLab: How’s your rehabilitation going? What keeps you motivated to work so hard? Word on the street is you’re hammering through rehab.
Max Elles: Rehab is fun, that’s what keeps me motivated. I hated sitting on my ass and taking prescribed narcotics. That lifestyle really makes you feel like shit. I have always been hyperactive and can’t sit still. Exercise brings peace of mind and makes me happy. My biggest goal has been to get on my feet and take my lovely girlfriend out on a well-deserved date in Boston. In the back of my mind is the ability to get back on the mountain and be with the idiots I love. I have been progressing much faster than any surgeon or therapist had estimated and this keeps me going too. I’m not worried about reaching a plateau in my recovery because I know the sky is hardly a limit. I’m shooting for Neptune, or what ever other planet NASA considers furthest from earth within the Milky Way.
StokeLab: The High Fives Foundation is helping sponsor your recovery. How did you get connected with them, what was the process like?
Max: Several family friends told me about High Fives. For those of you who are not familiar, the group operates as a not-for-profit organization with the sole purpose of assisting injured athletes. Within an hour of submitting my application on a Friday afternoon, High Five’s founder Roy Tuscany, also a Vermont native, called me in the hospital and spoke with me for about half an hour. I told him all about my accident, where I was, and what my specific goals were. That night I was thrilled to hear him say I was a perfect candidate for a grant and that they would no doubt help fund my rehab.
StokeLab: What else would you like to say about the organization?
Max: They are great. I wouldn’t be where I am now without High Fives' resources and financial aid. I’d be lost without them, period.
StokeLab: Any friends, family or others out there you’d like to give a shout-out to?
- My therapists Amy, Cole, Mary, Melissa, Nadia and Sam
- My surgeon Dr. Scott Lollis
- Drew, Kyle, Rocky, And Wyatt
- Patients Pat, Stan, Bill, Matt, Scott, Peter, Kevin, Zach, and Jack (hope your all doing well and healing fast)
- My Family, and family friends
- My Girlfriend
I RIDE FOR MAX DIECUT STICKERS
If you're interested in supporting Max you can do so by purchasing "I Ride For Max" stickers. Stickers were designed by Jess Trovato and are all produced by Max Elles & friends in Vermont. All of the donations will go towards Max's medical expenses and rehab.
A NIGHT FOR MAX ELLES
On Sunday April 7th, 2013 the community will come together in support of Max at a benefit event in Killington. The Max Elles Benefit will be held from 4pm to 8pm at The Foundry at Summit Pond. Donations will be accepted at the door, and the event will include hors d'oeuvres, live music, a silent auction, balloon prizes, a raffle, and magic by local favorite Steve Finer.
Prizes include a 2013-2014 Killington 7-Day Blackout Pass, a Snow Cat Ride, ski and snowboard gear, and more.