On Friday I put myself back on the injury list, but only temporarily and right at the end of a day that couldn’t have been better in every other respect.
We arrived on the mountain just as a bright morning sun was breaking through the clouds above the Emerald Express, and warmed up with a couple of easy runs before heading over to Blackcomb. The views from Peak to Peak were stunning: hazy clouds filtering the sunlight, and a dusting of fresh snow all the way to Fitzsimmons Creek. Every time I ski, I’m reminded of little things that I’d missed so much: the smooth sweep of skis on freshly-groomed corduroy, the epic vistas from the gondola, the anticipation of hanging between two massive mountains and knowing that all that terrain is yours for the taking.
Over on Blackcomb we headed straight for Seventh Heaven. It was a perfect day for cruising groomers: no new snow overnight, but a full week of powder days packed solid underfoot. I’ve missed Seventh – hell, I’ve missed the whole of Blackcomb – like crazy, and the pitch of the gorgeous open runs was perfect for building confidence and speed. On Cloud 9 the wind burned my face and I remembered just how amazing it feels to let the skis straightline, building insane amounts of speed and power and driving it all into huge carving turns into the snow.
After that the whole day was one high speed run after another. I couldn’t get enough of it, and couldn’t quite believe that not only my reconstructed knee but my whole out-of-ski-shape, unfamiliar body was able to rip so hard. Seventh, Springboard, Ross’s Gold, Ridge Runner, Dave Murray, Tokum – we found the longest groomers we could, and skied them as fast as we were able. I couldn’t stop smiling and on half the runs I was yelling with the sheer joy of it as we cruised into the lift line; I never imagined I’d be skiing like that on just my second day back at Whistler.
The accident, when it happened, was a mixture of my own fault and freakish bad luck. We were on Dave Murray, catching a last few laps on Garbanzo before the lifts shut for the day. I was heading straight down when a skier shot out of a side trail and stopped dead directly in front of me. I swerved violently left to avoid him – no easy feat at the speed I was travelling – and realised as soon as the manoeuvre was complete that it had left me headed straight for my friend P, who was waiting at the side of the run. I flung myself back to the right but couldn’t quite clear him. My skis caught the very ends of his tails, catapulting me into a clean 180 spin. My right ski blew off on the ridge as I landed, giving my good knee a hard twist, then I crashed down onto my face and slid feet first about fifty yards down the hill.
I knew immediately that I’d pulled something on the outside of the right knee, but I could also feel that it wasn’t a sharp pain and it wasn’t deep inside the knee where I’d felt my left ACL rip away a year ago. The first thing that went through my head was the LCL (lateral collateral ligament.) Then I got caught up thinking about the bad knee, checking that out and making sure the impact hadn’t caused any damage. It felt fine and even the right knee didn’t seem too bad, so I put my loose ski back on and went for a couple more glorious runs – not much slower than before – before the lifts closed down on us and we headed back to Creekside.
That night things stiffened up badly, and while it didn’t hurt to walk or even to hop certain pivoting movements caused excruciating pain in the outside of the right knee. By this point I was pretty certain that I had a grade one or two tear of the LCL, and after it failed to improve on Saturday I took it to the doctor on Sunday. He confirmed my diagnosis, and advised a week of complete rest and then a week easing back into activities. No skiing for at least two weeks.
I’m really bummed out that I just lost another two weeks of my already very limited ski season. At the same time, I’m grateful that this time I tore a collateral ligament that, unlike a cruciate, has the ability to heal by itself. And in some ways I’m relieved that the first fall is finally over and done. It was going to happen sooner or later, and now I no longer have that fear of how the knee will react hanging over me. I’m very happy that the bad knee survived the impact without damage (it tested rock solid), although I’m very aware that had it been the left ski that blew off and twisted the consequences could have been far more serious. Like the snowshoeing fall, this was a wake up call.
I went for physiotherapy yesterday and the LCL injury is already starting to feel a little better. Now I’m doing my best to follow doctor’s orders, and counting down the days until I can head up to Whistler again.