By Laurel Dudley
If you skied at Snowbasin over the past couple winters, you may have glimpsed an eye-catching sight: two snowboarders, one’s hands on the other’s hips, shredding the mountain in such perfect sync that they could be figure skaters. Or dancers.
For Doug Kimball, one of the men, it does feel like a dance. He calls the other snowboarder, an Ogden Valley Adaptive Sports instructor who guides his hips, his “tango partner.”
Doug never imagined he’d need this kind of help. He’s been tearing down mountains on a snowboard for four decades. But he also never imagined he’d be diagnosed with a brain tumor either.
Doug’s life was upended when he was 53, in 2017. Doctors gave him 12 months to live after a diagnosis of a glioblastoma multiforme.
“If you are going to pick a brain tumor not to have this is the one,” his wife, Megan, said.
But despite all their tears, they embraced a mindset few of us will ever truly know. If we’ve only got 12 months, they reasoned, let’s do as much as we can.
From 12 months, to 24, to 52 as of this writing, Doug has lived well beyond his doctors’ predictions. Megan attributes his ability to defy the odds to two things: Doug’s stubborn nature and his ability to keep doing his favorite sport—snowboarding.
The first year following the diagnosis, Doug charged the mountain like usual—in pursuit of powder, trees and speed. The next season, he struggled to stand after buckling his bindings. Megan became increasingly worried about the tumor’s affect on Doug’s ability to gauge his speed. When she called Snowbasin in 2018 to ask about hiring a ski instructor, they directed her to an organization that neither she nor Doug had ever heard of—Ogden Valley Adaptive Sports.
That’s when they met OVAS instructor Jacob Vigneault, the young man turned “tango partner,” whose love of life, unselfishness and athleticism make him stand out like “a true gem” in the eyes of Doug’s friends. Whether it was because of their similar personalities, their shared sense of humor, or their utter love to snowboard, Jacob and Doug clicked from the start and have become closer over time.
Both had played water polo growing up. When they learned they had this in common,
Jacob started taking Doug to the pool. He helped Doug go on a family rafting trip. Last year, despite the doctor’s doubts, Jacob along with OVAS instructor William Taylor accompanied Doug and his son, Zach, on their bucket-list heli-boarding trip, marking Doug’s 26th ski-day that season.
“He’s my exoskeleton,” Doug said, adding to Jacob’s nicknames.
This past December, for the last time, Jacob helped Doug snowboard with his family, which included his 10-year-old granddaughter who’s taken up his favorite sport. Since then, Doug has transitioned to OVAS’s sit-ski known as the snow kart.
“It’s not the same,” Doug said. “But it’s better to be on the mountain than not on the mountain.”
Megan says going up to the mountain every week gives Doug something to look forward to.
She knows that as soon as she and Doug get to the Snowbasin parking lot, OVAS staff are waiting and ready to help. “It’s almost like a second home for us,” she said. “For two hours, I’m just his wife again. And that’s really, really nice.”
It’s especially nice for Doug to be able to keep going to a place that’s familiar, where the OVAS staff, he says, “treat me like a rock star.” He plans to ski with OVAS every Wednesday for as long as he can.
Skiing is still no cure. No matter how much motivation or willpower Doug summons, no matter what type of medical treatment he seeks, the outcome of this tumor is unalterable. Doug knows he won’t win. But he keeps making the choice, day after day, to keep living. And skiing sure does help.