Physical Therapy at the Burton US Open

snowboarding physical therapy denver

By Aaron Page, DPT
Therapydia Denver Physical Therapist

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the medical providers for the Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships in Vail, CO, just up the hill from our Denver clinic. Needless to say, this event brought many of its own unique and exciting challenges for a PT, but overall, it was another incredible way that we at Therapydia are able to relate to our patients and provide high-quality care in a variety of settings.

If you’re not familiar with the US Open, it is one of the largest snowboarding competitions in the country. In its 37th year overall (and 7th year in Vail), the event continues to grow and draw the top snowboarders from all around the world. Burton and the staff involved do an incredible job putting the event together—constructing a world class course in both Slopestyle and Halfpipe, as well as (more directly related to my realm) a remarkable medical support system for the riders.

Situated at the bottom of the Slopestyle course and steps away from the corral where the athletes land on the final jump, is the medical tent. In the tent is what can be described as a “Treatment and Recovery Zone” for the athletes—complete with all of the features you would expect from a small clinic. Treatment tables, compression recovery boots, foam rollers, exercise bikes, etc. all available for athletes throughout the entire event. Behind all of the equipment though, are those practitioners that help facilitate care and are what really shine through when it comes to protecting the pro athlete. The interesting thing to me was that familiarity and environment allowed the treating practitioners, physicians, and physical therapists alike, to jump right in to a quality treatment approach. Interactions with riders still began with an evaluation (though it may look slightly different than from one you see in our clinic) and focused on identifying specific needs and issues the rider may have. Ultimately for a PT in that setting, the foundation was the same: Pinpoint areas of concern (ie. limited mobility, limited flexibility, limited stability) and implement an intervention that addresses those concerns. Though the timeline and plan of care may be different for the snowboarder considering that they have to compete in the next few days, the framework is similar to any patient that we see in the clinic. Our goal was to educate the rider on what we can address together to improve their mobility, stability, and possibly strength, to get them where they needed to be for competition.

physical therapy snowboarding

Headed by Dr. Bryan Huber, Medical Director for Burton Global Snowboard Team/Team Physician for US Snowbaording and Dr. Tom Hackett, Steadman Hawkins Orthopedic Surgeon/Team Physician for the US Snowboard Team, they have developed a system and orchestrated a team that covers all aspects of care for the riders. For orthopedic surgeons, massage therapists, surgical fellows, paramedics, certified athletic trainers and physical therapists, the riders are supervised and cared for in each aspect of the event, something unique to this type of competition.

From a physical therapy perspective, unfortunately this high level of care is sometimes a rare occurrence at an event like this. More often than not, these competitions are not covered with the same detail due to the chaotic nature of trying to manage 40+ riders each day. Though some of the top riders/teams may have a PT on staff and receive quality care, being responsible for the entire team can make personalized treatment difficult following an injury when you also have to ensure the safety and care of the rest of the team. That’s where we came in that week.

physical therapy denver

With the first practice of the day at 9am, the medical tent was open and ready to assist the riders with any pain or concerns that they had. I heard from numerous riders during the first few days that they had been nursing an injury over the last few weeks but didn’t have an opportunity to follow up with a trusted medical practitioner. Some even waited intentionally because they knew they could trust the team at the Burton US Open. Engineered by Mike Giunta, owner and physical therapist at Evolution Physical Therapy in Los Angeles, this system of evaluation and collaboration with the other medical providers allowed for comprehensive, individualized care throughout the whole week. It wasn’t uncommon that a rider would come in shortly after practice, feeling the effects of being 20 feet above the deck of the halfpipe, and leave the medical tent more comfortable and confident that their issue was going to be addressed.

My time at the Burton US Open was extremely valuable. Not only was I fortunate enough to work with some of the best surgeons, ATCs, PTs, and snowboard athletes in the world, it also provided me with a renewed sense of understanding and circumstances of any patient. Now, not all of us are landing the first ever double crippler as a female in competition (shout out Maddie Mastro), but we can all relate to the challenges, on any scale, of dealing with pain and injury. The stakes are high for everyone and it is our responsibility as physical therapists to meet any patient where they are so we can fight for them to overcome their own adversity. Not just on the professional level but on any playing field: in the clinic, in the insurance industry, in the research lab, and with healthcare as a whole. I look forward to taking that back to Therapydia and continuing the high level of care for the field of physical therapy and those who need it.