Outside Online Guests: Steve Sheridan

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine

The General

Profile: Steve Sheridan, the General

In his own words
"I'll never be a quitter, that's for sure. You can't let a little injury stop you from doing something you love. You always have to get back on the horse."

Since his high school days in Cortland, New York, Sheridan, 43, has been known as "the General." Originally earned by cutting up in history class, the nickname moved with him in 1974 to Vail where he is best known for his courageous and occasionally reckless charges down the black diamond ski runs of Vail's famous Back Bowls. General Sheridan's "no falls, no balls" attitude has since earned him another nickname at the local hospital: the File. With a formidable tally of 20 broken bones, three plates, six pins, and 22 screws in his body during 36 years of skiing, he's the proud owner of the largest stack of X-rays ever collected at the Vail Valley Medical Center. But even if he can't pass through a metal detector without a doctor's note, the General perseveres. Drawing on the same gumption that earned the self-taught skier a regular spot as a forerunner in World Cup and World Championship downhill races, Sheridan continues backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and fly fishing. The leg break suffered two seasons ago will keep him from repeating as forerunner at the 1999 Worlds in Vail, but Sheridan still has a few turns left in his patched bones. He's even thinking of taking up snowboarding.

First impressions
When he isn't working at his Performance Sports ski shop in Vail, the amicable Sheridan can usually be found on a mountain bike. He rides religiously in an ongoing effort to strengthen the leg he broke in the same place twice. A staph infection after the second break forced doctors to graft a portion of his calf muscle to the front of his shin, and while the operation saved the leg, it requires continual therapy. Beyond the thicket of scars, the easy-going skier's most obvious characteristic is his normalcy. He walks without a noticeable limp, eagerly shares the achievements of friends, and talks openly about his string of hard luck.

Brushes with death
"In 1979 I ruptured my spleen tubing down Vail Mountain. I caught some major air half-way down and landed chest-first on a big chunk of ice about 25 feet below. I was about as close as you ever want to be on that trip. I lost half of my blood on the helicopter ride to Denver. Five more minutes and I wouldn't have made it. In the emergency room I could hear the doctor say, 'He has no blood pressure or pulse.' That's a frightening sound you don't ever want to hear."

On fear
"I'm pretty comfortable on skis, actually. I love the thrill of speed, that's for sure. But a month before I broke my leg last year, I was caught in an avalanche, skiing out of bounds in East Vail. I was totally submerged. That was pretty scary. Fortunately it was a small slide, but any slide can be scary. It just wasn't my time I guess. Another of my nine lives."

Do you ever feel like the "Agony of Defeat" guy from Wide World of Sports?
"I never try to imitate anyone in their defeats. I try to think positive, that's for sure, not negative."

Do you ever feel like you are doing something wrong, or that someone is out to get you?
"I try to put everything behind me, take it one injury at a time. I just call it bad luck. It has been a bad streak. Hopefully the next decade will be better to me."

Why do you continue skiing?
"It's my favorite sport. I'll never give it up. But I definitely have to slow down. I don't think the old body can take any more impacts the way I've done it."

What does your future hold?
"I don't think I'll be able to do a 'figure 11' any more. I don't think the leg will be able to take it. My glory days are over, but I'll be out there skiing groomers in the fresh air with my friends. I'll never retire."

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