Keiffer Christianson: From US Ski Team to New Challenges

At Momentous, our passion is providing athletes with the tools they need to perform at their absolute best. The experts who build our formulas are integral to the success of our products, but our athletes are the ones who bring Momentous to life. Nothing makes us happier than seeing what Momentous athletes can do when their recovery is everything it should be.

In today’s blog, we’re featuring the story of one of our athletes — an elite skier whose struggle with concussions lead him down a new fitness path. We love hearing about your adventures and big moments, so if you think your story shows what it means to be a Momentous athlete, tell us why in a comment below and we might just highlight you next.

The end of many outdoor athletes’ careers comes in dramatic fashion when injury is involved. A rag-doll tumble down a slope. Obliteration by a monster wave. A how-did-they-survive-that fall from a rock face.

For 2016 US Grand Slalom champion Kieffer Christianson, the slopes may have been the source of his mounting health problems, but the end of his days on the World Cup tour arrived unexpectedly during the 2017 offseason, the result of years of seemingly innocuous micro-traumas. After an up-and-down season that saw him sustain a concussion during every month from January to April, the 25-year-old Alaska native decided not to go to the Southern Hemisphere to chase powder with his peers.

Instead, he looked for closer-to-home challenges that would keep him in shape while avoiding yet another head trauma incident. A local mountain running event seemed like a safe bet. Sure, the idea of running up and down a big, snowless ski hill might sound like madness to many people, but to a world-class athlete, it shouldn’t have been a big deal. Kieffer figured that his lungs would burn a bit due to the 3,800 feet of vertical gain, but nothing more.

Initially, everything seemed to be going fine; Kieffer settled into a steady pace he thought he could maintain all the way up to the Teacup Bowl and across to the Headwall. His pacing plan took him to the top and after taking in the view across the Chugach Mountains, he began his descent back to the bottom of the course. After just a few steps, Kieffer knew something was wrong. “I began to feel a bit lightheaded and every time I stumbled I felt this tugging at the base of my skull.” 

Nonetheless, he got to the bottom, met up with his girlfriend and a few buddies, and went to get a well-deserved celebratory drink. Later that night his symptoms intensified, and Kieffer started thinking about what would’ve happened if he’d taken a tumble down the mountain. Then he considered all those concussions he’d had the previous season, not to mention the thousands of slaps to the helmet that comes with the territory when you’re flying through course gates at 70 miles an hour year after grueling year. “That’s when I realized that I just couldn’t go on. I was still in love with skiing but at that moment it hit home that my long-term health was more important.”

And so, on August 15, 2017, Kieffer took to Instagram to formally announce his retirement in an impassioned post that began, “Goodbye ski racing.” During the weeks that followed, Kieffer struggled with the remorse that many athletes encounter when they hang up their skis, spikes, or surfboard for the final time. But the knowledge that his brain health was in jeopardy overcame any desire he had to reverse his decision and return to racing.

So now what? As a fierce competitor who’d been goal-driven for as long as he can remember, Kieffer needed something to work towards. With his racing career in the rearview mirror and a newfound interest in neuroscience, Kieffer now took aim at finally completing his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth. “The first six years of college it was all about hanging out with my friends but with all those concussions, I finally found a topic I could get excited about.” With this newfound enthusiasm for academics, Kieffer threw himself into his coursework, which culminated with a 30-page paper on concussion therapy that preceded graduation this past summer.

Degree in hand, Kieffer has turned his attention back to physical pursuits. While he has had to give up mountain biking and team sports like soccer and basketball and because of the head injury risk, Kieffer is still seeking new challenges. He recently finished the multi-stage Fireweed 200 road bike race, placed 3rd in the intermediate division of the Tour de Anchorage, and completed a long hiking loop up, across, and down Raggedtop Mountain with his girlfriend. And recently, Kiffer came full circle at the event that prompted his retirement almost a year ago, the Alyeska Cirque Series race. He also maintains his strength with lifting and interval sessions at his local gym.

All this output requires high-quality input. That’s why Kieffer has made Momentous a fixture in his nutritional game plan. “After a gym session, I make my go-to shake with chocolate ArcFire with peanut butter, and a banana,” he said. “Then when I’m out hiking, running, or biking in the mountains I’ll take a couple of packets of RedShift to put in my water bottle and keep me going, even if I’m out for hours at a time. Since moving to a more plant-based diet with my Dad after he had a heart attack last year, Momentous not only helps me recover better but also provides some much-needed extra protein.”

These days Kieffer is trying to find the right balance between living a mountain lifestyle, the youth coaching that he started with the local ski club last winter, and putting his work on concussion therapy to good use in a clinical setting.

Whatever he does, Kieffer will be sure to attack it with the same fearlessness he showed while hurtling down the ski hill on the way to a national championship title. “We’re going to learn so much more in the next 10 years about diagnosing and treating head trauma and having experienced that first-hand, I’m passionate about helping people,” Kieffer said. “I also want to teach the kids I coach that it’s important to have principles and do things the right way whether someone’s watching or not. Lessons like that are bigger than sports and will empower them to become the best version of themselves in life.”

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