Aleksander Aamodt Kilde remembers seeing the net along the edge of the ski slope rushing towards him at 120 km/h (74.6 mph). Then darkness.
The Norwegian alpine skier was involved in a horror crash during a World Cup downhill race in Wengen, Switzerland, on Saturday, resulting in the two-time Olympic medalist suffering a dislocated shoulder, two torn shoulder ligaments and a gnarly laceration on his calf that needed urgent surgery due to nerve damage.
After undergoing the operation in Bern, Switzerland, Kilde is now in Austria awaiting an operation on his shoulder, which he describes as being “torn a little bit apart.”
“It was a big hit,” Kilde told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire from his hospital bed in Innsbruck. “Downhill is fast, it’s dangerous and, when things happen, it’s really hard to react and to remember tiny details.
“But what I do remember is that I collapsed in one of the turns right before the finish, which is a crucial turn too, fell into the gate and then slid down the slopes and straight into the nets. I hit the nets at 90 degrees, so what I remember is that I saw the net and then hitting it – and then I probably blacked out for a little while.
“Then I woke up again, laying there with really a lot of pain in my shoulder and then I think I fainted again, woke up on my back and then I looked down at my leg and I saw the cut and the blood bleeding out of the leg.”
Kilde, the 2020 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup champion, says there were “so many thoughts” running through his head after looking down and seeing the state of his leg, including that this might be the end of his career.
As he flitted in and out of consciousness, Kilde turned all of his focus during his conscious moments to “staying awake and staying present” as much as he could.
“The only thing I was thinking about was sort of survival, trying to breathe and control the situation as much as I could,” he recalls. “I knew that I couldn’t do much myself because the pain was so severe and I had to just use my breath[ing].
“Luckily, I had people around me that took care of the crucial things. I just remember my thoughts running [wild] and seeing it was really serious.”
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, Kilde’s girlfriend, rushed to his side at the hospital and was with him when he woke up from surgery.
The American, widely considered one of the greatest skiers of all time, then traveled to Austria where she earned an emotional victory – her 94th overall World Cup win, the most in men’s or women’s skiing history – in the FIS World Cup women’s slalom.
Shiffrin beat rival Petra Vlhova by a mere 0.27 seconds and later wiped away tears in her post-race interview.
“Really, really proud of this evening,” she said, per the Olympic channel. “Very thankful for my whole team. These last days have been very challenging, they’ve been so supportive, they helped me go see Aleks.”
In an Instagram post, Shiffrin described the ordeal of watching her boyfriend’s crash.
“I can’t even put into words how much joy and energy Aleks brings into my life,” she wrote.
“Watching him get torn apart in Wengen from the TV, then airlifted, rushing with my family to meet [team physio] Henril Legernes (such a hero during this time) at the hospital while Aleks went straight into surgery … and then finally seeing him as he was waking up hours later, confused and just repeating: ‘I f*ed myself up so bad.’
“I don’t even know how to explain this, but it made me want to burn down the universe.”
Kilde said it was “amazing” to have Shiffrin by his side for 24 hours after he woke up from surgery. He was particularly grateful they got to spend some “peaceful moments” together considering the difficult circumstances.
“She just shows up, the star she is, and for me how much love she brings and how much care she brings into something that’s really, really difficult,” he said.
“She has a very tough [ski] program herself and I woke up that night after the surgery and I got to hear that she was there and her family was there.
“It just says everything and I didn’t expect it, but of course, she makes it happen and I don’t know how, but she is just incredible and without her, her family and my family and everybody that supported me, it would be really, really tough.”
After finishing second overall in 2022 and 2023, Kilde had already amassed five podium finishes in this season’s World Cup, but the severity of his injuries mean that the campaign is now over for him.
Ever the competitor, Kilde is already looking forward to being back out on the slopes. He describes the current situation as nothing more than a “bump in the road,” albeit “one of the bigger bumps” he’s faced in his career.
As frustrating as it is to end the season without a victory, Kilde has now altered his perspective.
“Right now, it’s just to be healthy and get on my feet and just enjoy the process as much as I can,” he says. “But it’s definitely gonna be tough.”
For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com