Matt Niswonger

A Tahoe non-profit is changing the lives of injured winter athletes

By Matt Niswonger • Photos courtesy of High Fives Foundation

Photo courtesy of High Fives Foundation.

Imagine that you wake up in a hospital bed in Tahoe and it slowly dawns on you that your body is broken. Whatever happened on that last run down the mountain did not go well for you, and now you are facing a sobering future and a long road to recovery. Maybe you broke your neck, or maybe you broke your back, but now you have to face the possibility that you might never walk again. As an active skier or snowboarder, this lifestyle change is tough to contemplate. Deep depression sinks in.

All of a sudden, a stranger appears next to your bed. With little introduction he or she starts talking about the healing process, including your mental anguish. This person will look you straight in the eye and say, “I’ve been there, and I am here to help. I will be with you and support you on every step of this journey. Now give me a high five, and let’s get to work.” With that simple statement the depression starts to lift.

This is the vision behind High Fives, a 501c.3 started on January 19, 2010. They are committed to the idea that no one should sit in a hospital bed alone to face the crushing weight of a broken body and a broken life. With the help of High Fives, you commit yourself to recovery and you fully recover, whatever that means for you. Then you get on with your life as an outdoor athlete, a High Fives athlete.

Not everyone likes to ponder such things, but all too often serious injuries are a part of the scene in the winter action sports community. In the age of Red Bull and the Winter X Games, the fact is that the social pressure to “go big” has never been more intense at ski resorts. How this affects the rate of spinal cord and other serious injuries on the slopes is unclear, but for sure one backflip that results in paraplegia is one too many.

Founder Roy Tuscany broke his back in 2006 while training in Mammoth Mountain. Surrounded by friends and family who refused to give up on him, Roy skied again two years later. Realizing he never would have made it without the encouragement and positivity of his support group, he learned that a huge portion of the healing process is mental. He also realized that this kind of support is lacking or partially lacking in the lives of too many injured athletes.

Photo courtesy of High Fives Foundation.

Photo courtesy of High Fives Foundation.

Photo courtesy of High Fives Foundation.

As Roy explained to ASJ in a recent interview, “The creation of High Fives was a way for me to pay it forward for everyone who helped me through my recovery process. I knew that I was not going to be the only winter enthusiast to suffer a life-altering injury so it made sense to create a non-profit for the healing of other injured athletes in the snow-sports industry.”

In just under three years since founding High Fives, Roy and his staff have been able to unite a community around the idea that athletes who have suffered a life-altering injury should and will be supported. For life. They are currently working with over two dozen athletes in all phases of recovery through athlete workouts at the Foundation’s facility, the CR Johnson Healing Center and The Bar Effect in Truckee and Tahoe City.

Through fund raising events like the TRAiNS ski and snowboard contest, and the Squaw Valley Prom (a hilarious ‘80’s themed party at Squaw Valley), High Fives has expanded its fundraising to fulfill its mission to include safety and awareness programs that aim to prevent devastating injuries before they happen.

Check out the High Fives website ( for ways you can get involved and upcoming excitement. Also, buy yourself a classic High Fives trucker’s hat made by Big Truck brand, which are widely available in the Tahoe area. Just don’t be surprised if wearing the hat results in random strangers walking up to you expecting a high five. The hats are very cool, and the healing vibe they promote is contagious.


Mark Your Calendar – Two High Fives fundraiser events that shouldn’t be missed

April 20, 2013: TRAiNS Ski and Snowboard contest at Alpine Meadows

If you go to one ski and snowboard contest this winter, TRAiNS is the one. Teams of ten will compete in a “train” format with each competitor closely followed by the next in an aerial display that emphasizes world-class tricks and split-second timing. An unforgettable spectacle that appeals to the whole family, the beauty of Alpine Meadows will be on display.

Search “trains ski contest” on youtube for a sick teaser, or check out for more details, as dates are subject to change.

8th Annual Squaw Valley Prom

The hottest ticket in Tahoe is an eighties-themed prom event at Squaw Valley that is both awkward and hilarious. Headlining DJ’s will mix eighties classics with contemporary beats. Costume contest prizes will be given in multiple categories, including 80’s movie, and 80’s pop icon. Couples are encouraged, as prices increase for showing up stag. Grab your favorite dance partner and your MC Hammer pants and come ready to dance.

Date is subject to change, check out for more info.