One of the recent social media challenges that has been keeping our stoke high during the Coronavirus lockdown is the #crashchallenge. To take part, riders look back through their hard drives and post the biggest slams of their career. There was one undisputed champion of the challenge - Gee Atherton.
It's a dubious honour but the 35-year-old has endured a fair few hard slams in his career and he showed some seriously wince-inducing airtime in the crashes he posted. We caught up with Gee to get his memories on some of the biggest hits he's endured inside and outside the race tape:Tignes, 2008
"Someone had put on a snow race but the snow wasn't firm enough on race day and it got called off. We got the boys together, me, Affy [Dan Atherton] and Cunny [Richard Cunynghame], and just hiked up the hill to find something to ride. It was a big snowboard jump they had put together for something else and our eyes popped out of our heads, it was perfect. It was massive but we were all buzzing for it.
"We were jumping on a snowmobile to get us to the top of the piste and we all did a few roll-ins to it and it seemed relatively chill. I remember Me and Affy sat in front of it and we were like, 'Whatever happens, whoever hits it first, the other one has to hit it as well'. We shook hands and I went up for another roll in. As I was coming up to it I thought, 'I'm going to hit it, this feels perfect'. Obviously, it wasn't... by about 50%.
"There were two issues I think. One is you're on a big wide open snow piste and you don't have things to judge your speed against like rocks and roots. Everything's really smooth and all the usual things that we're so refined to gauge our speed on just aren't there. Next problem, if you look carefully in the video, you see me quite close to a skier who was just cutting his way down the piste. I was trying to get past him and I had to speed tuck and pump a few times because I didn't want him to hold me up. So I managed to get past him, thinking, 'Oh it's clear now, brilliant' but I was probably going at 70km/h and I hadn't realised I'd gained so much speed. Even leading up to the jump I wasn't sure if I had speed and you can see me pump a few times just to get that extra few miles per hour out of it.
"I remember being in the air and I was level with the people in the chairlift next to it and I remember still climbing as I was going over the lip. I had this brief split-second thinking, 'Should I jump off?' but I decided that would be the completely wrong thing to do. The last thing I remember was thinking 'just brace' and I tensed up as hard as I could. It's like a film because I remember that quite clearly and then I remember going into the floor and it cuts and just goes black. That bit of my memory is just missing.
"I didn't break anything I just slammed the floor hard and it was packed ice so it was like hitting concrete. I smashed my face up a bit, cut my neck, I cut my balls open. I think I popped out one side of my jaw as well so my face was really swollen and I couldn't eat for days. I knocked myself out pretty bad but I had this weird thing for weeks afterward where every time I tried to do something my body just didn't want to do it. I felt horrific and really heavy but I didn't really break much, I'd say I got away lightly.
"We were all staying in this chalet and I think two days after that we had a really good dump of powder and we were all going out skiing so I remember going out with them trying to get a day in but I felt so bad I had to knock it on the head and go home."
"I remember on that bit of the track there was a boardwalk that they'd put in to cover a muddy bit and then a bit of a flyoff. It was quite rutted so I remember just coming in, absolutely cracking on and pulling off the end of it to clear a load of the stuff. As I pulled, I got the timing wrong and I just pitched slowly forward and passed that point of coming back.
"It's probably the fastest part of the track, it's quite open there it's literally through the speed trap. When we looked at the results from timed training I had a speed next to my name despite not being on the bike... it wasn't a bad time either! I went down and then I rolled and the ground was just hard-packed, rough and rocky and every time I touched the floor it was bits of skin coming off. I didn't break anything, I took a fairly heavy hit to the head but I lost so much skin. I remember going home after it and there was no part of my body that wasn't torn apart and bleeding. I was missing so much skin.
"I hadn't broken anything so the pain was just that type of pain where if you can get through it, it's not going to physically stop you it's just the uncomfortable feeling of being sore. My whole career I've tried to have a rule that I would race no matter what and that always helps because it takes that question out of the situation. I managed to ride and I was on the podium. I remember crossing line having come fourth being a bit frustrated but looking back on it I'm surprised I managed to ride."
"I remember going in really really hungry for it, I love Rampage. The problem with this event though was on the Tuesday or Wednesday the week before I built this step-down, it wasn't huge, but I 50/50'd it straight onto the rock at the top of the lip and broke the bottom of my leg. My ankle slammed into the tibia and fractured the bottom of my leg.
"I couldn't walk on it, it was massive and basically I went back to the hotel for two days and iced it. I couldn't move around and the lads were cracking on building my line so I said, 'Right, I'll chill for a few days and do what I can.' The night before the event I was limping around the car park, I was on the bike, we gaffer taped my ankle up and I was dropping off kerbs and steps thinking 'Can I ride? Can I not?' We were up all night doing this.
"Anyway, inevitably we decided it was worth a try and hiked up the mountain about 6am the next morning and my warm up was that gap to wall ride which I'd hit for my finals [in 2010]. I managed to do it and I remember being so stoked because it meant it was on. The next thing to try was to guinea pig this new gap so I came in hot, misjudged the angle and slammed the wall as you can see in the video.
"I don't remember being overly fussed about the gap but I think that's the problem. I was kind of rushing, I wasn't quite concentrating because I was already injured and I didn't quite line up the run in perfectly. I've got a nature that if I'm a bit unsure about something I just want to get it hit and get it done, I think that's what I did with this. I hadn't quite eyed it up perfectly and put the markers out and that was part of the problem. I wasn't anxious about it so maybe I wasn't careful enough.
"I was fine, I think I knocked myself out a little bit, rag dolled, chopped up some skin but nothing broken - apart form my leg, which was already broken. I remember getting up, covered in dirt, I had put my teeth through my lip, concussed and my leg was killing me and I was thinking, 'f*ck me, what am I doing?' I was just a mess you know? I was like, 'I can't compete boys, you've broken me'.
"I've always thought myself to be quite cautious and quite calculated and I think that's why I've managed to have a long career and get away with a lot. The crashes are a part of what we do but I think they definitely make you aware of what can go wrong. You can't let that dampen your spirits and make you get too cautious and I think I've always been able to deal with them quite well and find a way to just dull them down in my head so I don't look back on them as that big."
Are you interested in returning to Rampage if the event runs this year?
"I would be yeah, I went last year and watched and I was gutted I wasn't competing. Rampage has always been an event that's so special to me and I do love it. When I go back there I always get that feeling driving into the site and, it's hallowed ground you know? I'd love to do it and I hold a special place in my heart for that."
Mont Sainte Anne, 2013
"It was a pretty simple crash really. It was that super fast section that you dive off into a super tight bus stop. I'd gone through a hundred times and I probably wasn't super concentrated at the time and it just caught me out. It was all about timing where to brake and I was a little late in the rut and it stood me up. I just got thrown off the track and into those tight trees. I was right off the back of the bike braking, trying to slow the bike down and just slammed into the trees which stopped me dead. Well, they stopped the bike dead and I shot forward. I had a seat with carbon rails on at the time and I just tore it off with my balls.
"I had that hit and I stumbled out of the woods and I remember thinking, 'Oh no'. When you watch the full video, there's a bit of a period between me crashing and whipping my shorts down to check and it was just because it took me 20 seconds to work up the courage. I was convinced I was going to see something I didn't want to see.
"I remember thinking, 'If I look and I see what I'm expecting to see, I don't really know what to do'. You can deal with a cut on your arm or leg and you're used to it but I remember thinking 'If I see something missing down here then it's game over'."
Fort William, 2017
"It was the British National round and I'd just changed to a 29er that weekend. Practice had gone well, qualifying had gone well, I was just in front of Danny [Hart] so in the race run, I remember going for it. Pushing those extra few percents for a race run where you're so on the edge when you have something you're not quite used to, I guess that just caught me out. I hit that first hip fast and they had built it up with a steep lip for some reason so as I squashed into it, the back wheel just caught my ass and perfectly catapulted me up and over. I did a perfect up, over and down like someone had picked me up and turned me upside down and slammed me into the floor with my head the other side.
"It was a heavy crash and I went down hard and knocked myself out because the ground is like concrete. I remember coming around just woozy, trying to stand and my hip hanging around at a bad angle, my head absolutely battered. I broke two vertebrae as well, which I kept quiet, one quite high up and one quite low down, just from landing on my head.
"It was a massive psychological battle. The nature of the crash was really unpleasant and the nature of the time after it was horrific as well, which is why it stayed with me a bit more. I was on the hill for an hour or more before they could get me off, all this time with my hip hanging out of the socket. I remember kneeling up because sometimes with a shoulder you can get it back in. I remember kneeling up and pulling down on my hip and nearly passing out. Apparently two big strong lads are needed to pop a hip back in, it's not something you can do yourself.
"Anyway, I was in the hospital and they couldn't put it in there so they took me up to Inverness - all this time I'm on a stretcher, gripping my leg, trying to hold it still because it's hanging out of the socket and I was a bit f*cked up. I had to learn to walk again mid-season, I remember walking down the corridor of the hospital with this walking frame it was a slow process but overall at the time I was quite lucky.
"I probably raced a bit early but it was mid-season I managed to get back for. I just wanted to get back on the bike as quickly as I could because, to be honest, that was the only crash I've ever had that made me think I didn't really want to race again. That was the only time I'd ever thought that and it was scary to have that thought because that's quite a serious thing. It passed, it took a bit of time before I could get back into it but I soon did. It was once I could get my head around the recovery process I came back to it you know."