Wipeout weekend

I went up to Whistler on Saturday with two friends, K and R. It was a perfect day, with 10cm of overnight snow under a bluebird sky. And I reached one more of my personal milestones: I took the Shoguns back to Whistler. I fell in love with them all over again the second I made my first turn.

With big mountain skis on my feet and all that fresh snow, it was probably inevitable that I would eventually give in to temptation. A short run behind K and R on the Horstman Glacier was enough to convince me to make the bootpack to the Blackcomb Glacier, an open bowl of ungroomed snow so big you can’t even imagine it until you’ve stood on the wind lip preparing to drop in. For the first turn – maybe even two – I tried to be cautious, then I just let everything fly and rocketed through beautiful soft snow and powder pocket after powder pocket all the way to Glacier Road. By the time I got to the bottom I couldn’t even form a coherent sentence; all I could do was sort of yodel joyously at the sky.

I know I’m not supposed to be skiing off piste this season; I know I shouldn’t really have been there. But it was the best run I’ve had since I started skiing again, and made every single second of this feel worthwhile.

To get back from the glacier you have to take a 5km cat track that is one of the most boring pieces of slope on the mountain. It’s flat, narrow, dull, and interminably long. I was ambling slowly along with my mind wandering when I caught an edge on a bump that I missed as I moved from light into shadow, and fell backwards onto my skis at the exact same angle that I fell when I tore the ACL a year ago. My knee gave a good twinge, then I hit the bank and stopped and just felt sick.

My rational mind knew perfectly well that the twinge was the knee being forced through that last 5 degrees of flexion that are still stiff. It knew that nothing felt bad, and as I skied out afterwards there was none of that weird unattached feeling in the lower leg that had characterized the remainder of the run after the ACL tear. It watched me climb the stairs at Glacier Creek without discomfort, and reminded me that within half an hour of the original tear I could barely walk. Unfortunately I also realized that my irrational mind wasn’t going to be able to listen to my rational mind until I’d heard from a doctor that everything was okay. So I downloaded and went straight to the clinic.

They got me in immediately; by then it was obvious that the knee was fine, and I felt a little shamefaced while answering the doctor’s questions about where it hurt. (“It doesn’t. But it’s my new ACL!”) She xrayed me as per policy, then checked the knee and pronounced it more stable than most original ACLs. I was in and out in an hour, but just missed the last chair back up the mountain at 4pm.

Regardless of the outcome, I think going to the clinic was the right decision. It’s the first time I’ve fallen directly on the bad leg, and while a 5kph tumble on a cat track doesn’t compare to dropping 5 feet out of the air at speed there was that similarity in the way that I fell that really freaked me out. I was way more unnerved by this than the big crash the other week, because this directly involved the bad leg. There’s no way I could have relaxed until I got it checked out, no matter how it felt.

So I headed back to Vancouver, and K and R stayed to ski on Sunday. Then on Sunday afternoon I got a call from K. She had taken a bad fall on Spanky’s Ladder, leaving her with a torn calf muscle and fractured pelvis. I feel terrible for her, especially because I know from my own experience just how tough it is to be on the sidelines. Heal up fast, K.

On the wind lip

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