Truckee man in good health after near-fatal ski accident in Russia
Katie Morrison did not receive a phone call from her husband, Jim, on Valentine’s Day this year.
“I expected a call from him that day, and I was pretty scared when he didn’t,” she said. “I was going to go to a friend’s house that night, but I canceled. I wanted to be home (in case he called). I sort of had a bad feeling.”
Get this man to a doctor
Along with two skiers, a photographer, and a writer, Jim Morrison – a local skier and business owner in Truckee – had set out for Russia’s Krasnaya Polyana village and ski resort a week earlier to ski for a Powder Magazine article.
Set at the foot of the Caucasus mountain range on the Black Sea, Morrison had visited the location for three weeks with a photographer the previous year. Upon seeing the photos that Morrison brought back, one of Powder Magazine’s writers, Keith Carlsen, decided to write a story covering the prestigious location.
Morrison and his crew had been there for two days when a somewhat simple trip turned into disaster.
On the day of Feb. 14, on a routine downhill run, Morrison would take a fall that would begin a harrowing two days for him.
“We were just skiing down on this really mellow terrain, similar to Shirley Lake (at Squaw Valley),” Morrison said. “I hit a rock underneath the snow and fell over the bars. I landed on my side, and a rock hidden in the snow broke my ribs. My ribs ruptured my spleen and kidney.”
Morrison was unaware of the seriousness of his injury when it first occurred.
“I got up, and I had the wind knocked out of me,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking about the pain, I was just trying to get myself out of there.”
The focus of the article was a heli-skiing operation, in which the skiers are photographed from a helicopter as they maneuver down the hill. When Morrison realized the extent of his injury, he radioed to the helicopter crew.
The pilot responded, saying he needed a flatter, more wide-open area to rescue Morrison. It took Morrison 30 minutes to ski to a suitable area.
Although he did not fear death, Morrison was having trouble breathing and understood the urgency to get medical attention. Judging from the pain, he was sure he had broken a few ribs, but he had no idea he was bleeding internally.
“I had skied down the hill on adrenaline,” he said, “but as soon as I got into the helicopter, I basically shut down.”
The helicopter flew Morrison to a small, makeshift clinic in the village of Krasnaya Polyana, but it was nothing like a clinic an American is used to.
“It was basically an abandoned house,” he said. “There was nothing in there, kind of like a shanty.”
Morrison’s blood pressure was extremely low, so he was given injections by some local patrol officers to keep it stable. He was then helicoptered to Sochi, the nearest town, where they met an ambulance that drove Morrison to a local hospital. It was about this time that Morrison began fearing the worst.
“I was horrified by the conditions in the hospital,” he said. “It was really dirty and nasty. There were bugs running around, and dogs running around. Luckily, there was a really good surgeon that took care of me, but the equipment he used was Third World.”
After X-raying Morrison’s ribs to verify they were broken, a translator informed Morrison that surgery was necessary to save his life.
“I was freezing cold,” he said. “They told me they were going to open me up and investigate the area after they put me under. And if they found something wrong, they weren’t going to wake me up; they were just going to operate.”
With adrenaline and fear taking over, Morrison tried to advise the surgeon he was serious about wanting to live.
“I grabbed the surgeon by his shirt and said, ‘This is unacceptable. I know this is all you have to work with, but make sure you do a good job with me because, whether or not you do a good job, I’m gonna be around.’
“He didn’t know any English, so it was basically like I was yelling at him and he was yelling back at me. There was very little communication, but I think he got the point.”
Using a tube, the surgery consisted of recovering vast amounts of blood that had situated in Morrison’s abdomen, which had filled up with about half the amount of blood in Morrison’s body. After it was filtered, plasma was added to the blood and placed back into Morrison’s body. Luckily for Morrison, a blood transfusion was not necessary.
Morrison lost his damaged left kidney and his spleen in the surgery.
Happy birthday, honey
At 5 a.m. on Feb. 15, Morrison woke up in a dark room to a deathly scene. Beside him were two other patients with tubes coming out of their bodies, alive – but barely, thanks to the aid of machines.
Lifting a bandage covering his stomach, Morrison could see that a large incision had been made in order to perform the surgery. He had made it until now, at least.
Shortly after, at 6 a.m., Morrison finally spoke to his wife, Katie, and told her what happened. Katie responded like any concerned wife: Three hours later, she was on a plane bound for Russia.
Meanwhile, through the same translator that had been with Morrison since the hospital in Sochi, he expressed his desire to go to a more sanitary hospital.
“He was like my savior,” he said. “He organized for a jet to come pick me up and take me to a private hospital in Moscow.”
The catch was that it would cost Morrison $18,000 to complete the transportation. In desperation, he charged the expense on his credit cards. Morrison was transferred to a private hospital in Moscow on Feb. 16.
Katie had spent that whole day in Paris, trying to obtain her visa to gain entrance into Russia. On the night of the 17th, Katie’s birthday, she finally made it to Moscow to visit her wearied husband.
“He looked pretty haggard,” Katie said. “He sat up in his bed, looking pale and exhausted and said, ‘Happy birthday.’ Once I saw him, I knew he was going to be OK. It was a pretty good birthday present to know he was all right.”
Back to work and skiing
Since 1992, 29-year-old Jim has lived in Truckee, moving from Walnut Creek to get closer to his favorite skiing terrain, Squaw Valley. His family had frequented the resort since his early childhood. Morrison has skied since age 6 and used to ski in competitions around the world.
He owns Jim Morrison Construction, Inc., which is currently building two 5,000-square-foot homes in the Squaw Valley area. Morrison is spearheading the projects, proof that he has not been slowed down much by his brush with death. He maintains that his injury has not hampered his daily life.
“I was back at work on a limited basis about three weeks after the injury,” he said, “and I was back on skis in the middle of April. I climbed Shasta in May and skied back down. Skiing is definitely a big part of my life.”
Keith Carlsen’s article will appear in the next issue of Powder Magazine, featuring an add-on story about Morrison’s injury.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.