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Snow Doctor

LORY POUNDERsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
ALL |

FRISCO – Dr. Randy Viola sat behind his desk on the third floor of the medical office building in Frisco wearing a black jacket decorated with a medical cross and the words U.S. Ski Team.In the last seven years, he has traveled around the world, skiing alongside the U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams at resorts on nearly every continent.”I love to ski with the guys,” he said with a sweet smile. “I don’t race, but I love to go out early in the morning when no one else is around and ski fast.”Viola, who established the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Summit County, specializes in orthopedic trauma, sports medicine and hand and microvascular surgery and sees a side of the sport and the talent, drive and focus of its athletes that even dedicated fans may not realize. He is one of the 30 rotating physicians who spend a week or two at a time with the teams while they train and compete. He has stood by as skiers speed through amazingly steep and icy courses. He has seen devastating injuries and has an appreciation for how hard the athletes work, training away from home most of the year.Viola also sees the intricate details working behind the scenes of the competitions. The snow temperature is measured to determine the best wax to use on the equipment, the course is video taped to figure out every aspect of it and everyone is given radios to communicate and help each other, he said.

“For instance, if Ted Ligety goes flying through the course and notices something, he can call Bode and say, ‘Stay wide on this gate,’ or ‘Stay tight on that gate,'” Viola said. “It’s a very tight-knit, fun little family… The guys take their sport very seriously.”Monitoring injuries and healthThe U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association makes sure a physician and trainer are always with the athletes.”When you travel abroad you often don’t have anything available … You don’t have the medical network that we simply to take for granted in this country,” Viola said, adding that it is hours to any significant medical center from where the team trains in New Zealand.And while he was with the ski team in Europe when one of the athletes suffered from a limb-threatening injury, his medical expertise truly stood out.

A high-speed collision ripped the skier’s knee apart, but the trauma center there wanted to put him in a splint and send him home, Viola said. So he worked to make sure the athlete had proper care and assisted in getting him home to have his knee reconstructed here.”He basically hit a wall of snow at 60 mph,” Viola said, shaking his head at the memory.Paul Meier, who recently started working with Viola at the clinic in Summit County, worked with the teams as an athletic trainer for about two years.”I think what they do on snow isn’t really appreciated by most people,” he said. “Really it’s a 12 month job and commitment. …You could put any one of these guys in New York and no one would know who they are, but they have rock star status in Europe.” Meier worked with the skiers on sports performance, educating them about nutrition, training and recovery and even giving guidance on medicine for common sicknesses.Taking the wrong cold medicine could create a positive drug test result and keep an athlete from competing, he said. In this sport, drug testing is taken very seriously, Meier added.

Viola agreed and said, “Our goal is to keep the guys strong and healthy to the extent that we help get them on the podium.”Establishing a clinic in Summit CountyAs an undergraduate student at Cornell University, Viola was on the ski team – an experience that led him to his career path. During his senior year, half the team had orthopedic injuries. He was not one of them, but he got to know the orthopedic doctor well and liked what he did.So after graduating, Viola went on to study at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and then to the University of Washington for an orthopedic residency. In 1997 and 1998, Viola completed two fellowships. One was in sports medicine with the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail and the other was in hand and microsurgery at the Indiana Hand Center.

The following year, he joined Steadman Hawkins in Vail and went on to establish a clinic in Breckenridge. He started out practicing sports medicine and general orthopedics there, but the practice has grown so each partner specializes in a specific area of orthopedics. Viola’s main focus is the hand, wrist and elbow. Dr. Tom Hackett focuses on the shoulder and knee and Dr. Scott Kimmerly’s emphasis is the foot, ankle and lower extremities. “Our philosophy is that we want sub-specialist care … That way everyone gets the best available care,” Viola said.People travel from all of the world to come to the clinic. The three doctors also do emergency work with St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. And in addition to working there and traveling with the ski and snowboard teams, Viola works with the Colorado Rockies and Denver Broncos. “What I love about hand surgery is I see all walks of life,” he said. “From an 80-year-old with a broken wrist to a 1-year-old with a trigger finger to world cup athletes, no population group escapes you.”Lory Pounder can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at lpounder@summitdaily.com.


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