Date of Surgery: 9/11/2014
Update (5/2016): Andy returned to ski patrol full-time at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
I grew up in Ukiah, a small grape and pear growing town in Northern California. While still in grade school my parents started taking me and my older brother skiing at Lake Tahoe and hiking/mountaineering in the Sierras and Cascades. It didn’t take long for me to develop a deep love and appreciation for snow and mountains. Not long after graduating from high school in 1976 I rode my bicycle to Alaska and had my first glimpse of “big” mountains like Sanford and Denali and the hook was set. On returning home I quickly moved to Crested Butte, Colorado and began my careers as a ski patroller and carpenter. After four years I found myself in Boulder, Colorado where I eventually earned a degree in exercise physiology. During that time I took multiple semesters “off” to climb and in 1984 was invited on my first trip to the Himalayas – Gasherbrum IV in Pakistan. I performed well and from then on it was an upward spiral of more Himalayan peaks and the world of guiding on 8000 meter giants. Somehow I managed to also stay in school – coming just shy of a master’s degree in exercise physiology and in 1997 earned a Physician Assistant-Child Health Associate degree from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. After a period as a physician assistant in Aspen and Snowmass I realized my heart was in the outdoors so I returned to the Himalayas and eventually settled in Breckenridge, CO (where I’d met my wife, Abbie) and my previous careers as a ski patroller and carpenter. Currently, I work winters in Breckenridge as a ski patroller and avalanche technician and summers as a carpenter in Breckenridge and Salida.
In 2011 Abbie and I adopted a shelter dog and I began training her as an avalanche rescue dog. In the winter of 2014-15 she became fully certified as an “A” level dog with the ski area as well as passing her exams to be part of the Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment (C-RAD) program. Through the winter months we’re on 24/7 stand-by as a team for deployment (often by helicopter) should there be an avalanche involving a burial or injury. She’s added an entirely new dimension, passion and responsibility to my winter work.
The other area where my “snow career” has evolved is in avalanche education. Over the years I’ve become progressively more and more involved with the American Avalanche Association and American Avalanche Institute as an instructor in avalanche courses at various levels. Through the ski patrol we’ve also developed a free community avalanche education series that’s entering its 6th season. Finally, in 2016 Breckenridge will host the International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW) – an international gathering of snow researchers and practitioners – where I’m part of a committee to select appropriate research papers and presenters. We’re expecting to draw up to 1,400 snow professionals –researchers, patrollers, guides, forecasters, and educators – from across the country and around the world! Avalanche education is truly an area that keeps me learning, engaged, and passionate about my career.
Treatment Procedure and Recovery Plan
In 2014 I had total hip replacement surgery for a severely arthritic joint due to what appears to be a congenital deformity. Over several years my right hip had become progressively more painful with decreased range of motion such that it was significantly impacting most activity – skiing, cycling, carpentry and even walking. There was no doubt it needed to be replaced. With a fair amount of discomfort I worked through the carpentry season and spent countless hours with rigorous physical therapy to strengthen and prepare the joint for surgery. Surgery was on September 11th, followed by more intense physical therapy, and by mid-December I was back on skis (though initially limited to more groomed terrain). By February I was back to leading difficult avalanche control routes and running toboggans down expert terrain. As the season ended my hip felt awesome – strong, stable, and pain free – and this summer I’m back to carpentry and ultra-distance cycling with confidence and vigor. In all honesty I couldn’t be happier with my hip replacement and life without that source of pain and limitation. It’s priceless!!
"Because my wife and I have always lived in what could be considered a “fiscally responsible” lifestyle – always maintaining adequate health insurance and an emergency fund – we probably could have seen our way through covering medical and prescription costs during the period when I was recovering. However, knowing the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation was there backing us up made a huge difference in relieving the amount of stress we felt around the surgery. We were able to put all our energy into both preparing for surgery and then regaining full recovery in the shortest amount of time. Though the financial support we received was tremendous, what was most important about the KBF were the “background intangibles.” My soul has been refreshed to know there are people and groups out there that truly care about other human beings. Sometimes with the way today's news is, we forget that there's a lot of good and that great and wonderful things happen in the world too. The Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation completely fits that role. That more than anything has made me want to be more compassionate, to give back more, to be the best person I can be. I know those are all cliches, but they're true. The KBF gave me so much more than just a new hip. You are all super stars!!"
- Andy Lapkass