Freestyle snowmobiler Dylan Harju is in a coma in the intensive care unit at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., after an accident on Monday at Justin Hoyer's home in Ellsworth, Wisc. Harju crashed after over-rotating a backflip while training for the upcoming Monsters of Dirt events, Feb. 24-25 in Vienna, Austria, where he was scheduled to fill in for Hoyer, who was injured last month on a double backflip attempt during the Snowmobile Best Trick competition at Winter X Games Aspen.
"It was really a fluke thing," says friend and fellow rider Josh Huppert, who witnessed Harju's crash. "The sled just flipped really quick and he locked it up right away coming around, but it didn't really slow down the rotation because it was flipping so fast. Dylan rode it out the best you'd want to and pitched his sled at the last second to get away from it. He maybe fell four or five feet from his sled once he'd pitched it, and he hit the landing with his full body, but he was unresponsive to us screaming in his helmet so we called the ambulance right away."
Huppert said the doctors have told his friends and family that it could be a week or two before Harju regains consciousness. "At that point they can start to assess how much head trauma, damage-wise, there's going to be," Huppert said. "But they did a CT scan and he doesn't appear to have any other injuries, which is a good sign."
Harju's immediate family is with him at the hospital, Huppert said.
"Dylan is currently in critical condition," confirmed Regions Hospital spokesperson Kelli Trask. "At this point that's all we can give out."
Harju has been a judge at the Winter X Games and other freestyle snowmobile events for the past two years and is a member of the Slednecks freestyle team. Huppert described Harju as a "behind-the-scenes hero" to just about everybody in the sport, and has set up a donations page at FreestyleSnow.com to help support him and his family through whatever lies ahead.
"So many of the top guys in the sport have all gone to his place in Ironwood, Mich., to practice and he's always been an open-hands, open-arms kind of guy, helping anybody who wanted to come up or anybody looking to get into the freestyle side of the sport," Huppert said. "He's one of those guys who's just definitely in it for the sport and he's never asked for anything in return, but I'm hoping we can rally together to support him now."
Injuries have plagued the sport this year: Top competitors including Levi LaVallee and Daniel Bodin missed the SMB Freestyle and SMB Best Trick events Winter X Games 2012 with injuries, and Hoyer broke an arm and a leg in his crash during the Best Trick competition. Slednecks co-owner John Keegan says Harju's crash serves as an unfortunate reminder of the risks involved in the sport, and of another crash at the same location: Harju's Slednecks teammate Paul Thacker -- now an announcer at Winter X Games and other events -- was paralyzed after a crash there in November 2010.
"It's all too eerily similar -- same jump, same hospital, same everything -- as Thacker," Keegan said. "At this point all we can do is hope for the best and try to support Dylan and his family."