VIDEO: JT Holmes, Daron Rahlves and more at BASICS film premiere to help promote safety on the slopes

Kaleb M. Roedel
Kids bounce on trampolines prior to the premiere of "Five Critical Mistakes" last Friday at Woodward Tahoe.
Courtesy High Fives Foundation |

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Visit to watch “Five Critical Mistakes,” a safety documentary produced by the High Fives Foundation.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — It’s a Friday night and Woodward Tahoe is a circus of kids — bouncing on trampolines, boarding down ramps, flipping into foam pits.

These high-flying kids are indoors, sure, but many of these future shredders are practicing big-air maneuvers they hope to someday flaunt outdoors on the slopes.

Which is why after the 50 some young athletes are done practicing their aerial acrobatics, they’re gathered together to be reminded the importance of practicing safety.

In doing so, last Friday, Oct. 21, High Fives Foundation presented the premiere of “Five Critical Mistakes,” the sixth safety documentary of the Being Aware Safe In Critical Situations (BASICS) series. The movie will also tour schools in the Truckee-Tahoe region and mountain towns across the country.

The film highlights the stories of five High Fives Athletes and the importance of safety in the mountains and on the snow. Each story uses the lens of hindsight to teach smart decision-making throughout the film’s five chapters: speed; shooting in the dark; dropping your guard; know your line; and ego vs. intuition.

One such athlete depicted in the film is Tahoe City’s Eric Zerrenner, who suffered a spinal cord injury on Jan. 8, 2015 while skiing at Alpine Meadows.

“I think a film like this is important to educate people on the fact that you don’t have to be this extreme athlete or world-class athlete to be vulnerable, and put yourself in a position where a significant injury could happen,” Zerrenner said to the Sierra Sun.

Case in point, Zerrenner suffered his injury during a warm-up run.

“It was a bluebird day, no adverse conditions,” he said. “It wasn’t this epic powder day, it wasn’t like I was sending it huge in the park. I could see everything, perfect corduroy — literally, it was a warm-up run — and I just carried too much speed, caught too much air.”

Landing hard on his chest, Zerrenner fractured his L1 vertebrae and was paralyzed from the waist down. However, through his physical therapy and rehabilitation with the High Fives Foundation, the Tahoe City resident is now walking.

Taking small steps

In addition to illustrating the stories of those who’ve suffered serious injuries, the film peppers in the perspectives from professional athletes such as Truckee-Tahoe’s own Jeremy Jones, Daron Rahlves and JT Holmes.

Rahlves, a former American World Cup alpine ski racer and freestyle skier, said he was encouraged to see so many kids come to the film premiere.

“You can see just out here at Woodward — kids are doing double backflips, they’re getting skilled and trained the right way up here,” Rahlves said. “But the level of skill on the mountain is at such a high level, and these young kids are watching these pros that have been doing it for years and are like, ‘Oh, I can do a backflip on my bike or double backflip on skis.’ But you got to take little steps to get there.

“There are so many people that venture off and get in a situation where they get spooked or stuck or they can’t handle it. You have to pay attention to your surroundings first.”

Accident prevention

Holmes, who aided the development of the BASICS program in 2011, said it’s especially important to educate safety practices to the younger generation of action-sport athletes.

“I’ve had a lot of friends that have died,” Holmes said. “And also some that have had life-altering injuries. And there are risks that you just can’t avoid, and there are risks that can be avoided. And a lot of accidents happen and can be prevented if you use your head even just a little bit.”

Holmes, known for pushing the boundaries of big mountain skiing, had a brush with death last winter. While skiing with friends in the backcountry northwest of Lake Tahoe, Holmes was buried in an avalanche — unconscious under three feet of snow — before being dug out by members of his group.

“You have to respect all snow conditions,” Holmes said. “All jumps — big jumps, small jumps; deep powder, shallow powder. When you let your guard down, that’s when accidents happen.”

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