Shred for the Cure

Saturday was a huge fail. I aborted my planned Whistler trip just outside Squamish due to some of the scariest road conditions I’ve ever seen on the Sea to Sky. Freezing rain, sheet ice, black ice, and cars fishtailing everywhere. After passing a really ugly six-vehicle pileup I decided it wasn’t worth it and headed home.That’s a first for me in the seven winters I’ve lived here. I’ve never seen so many cars turning back on a powder day.

Since visitors are going to make skiing opportunities thin on the ground in February, I headed up to Mount Seymour after work last night for Shred for the Cure (formerly Girls Ride Free.) The parking lot and runs were wrapped in dense fog when I arrived, with the cloud glowing in the floodlights and chairlifts sliding away into shrouds of mist. There’s something otherworldly about skiing at night in fog or falling snow; the mountain seems to exist in a completely separate space, with no connection to the world below.

My physiotherapist thinks my knee is more than strong enough to ski without the brace now, so I took a deep breath and left it in the car. Without it, my left leg felt strangely naked and horribly exposed. The nerves made me rigid and tense, and my first couple of runs were an ugly mess of skidded turns in the backseat. Then I began to relax as I adjusted to the absence of the brace, and immediately started skiing better than I have in a long time. The reaction lag and imbalance that have been affecting my turns disappeared. The brace is so light that I hadn’t felt like it was impeding my technique at all, but without it everything seemed to move quicker and easier on that side.

By this time I’d abandoned Mystery Chair due to the lineups, and as Lodge got busier I took a little detour into the trees and found the beginner terrain park. Given how good the knee was feeling, I figured it was time. I took a moment to focus, and then let my skis run toward the small kicker. The first time I hit it I was going so slow I probably only got a foot or two of air; that’s less than I’ve been getting off natural features this season, but somehow being on a man-made jump for the first time since the day of the ACL tear was much more nerve-wracking. Having landed safely once I herringboned back up the hill and hit it again with a little more speed. Half a dozen jumps later, I was getting some respectable air. The knee didn’t twinge once. It felt huge (much bigger than the kicker warranted); a big step toward getting my skiing back to where it was before all this began.

The slopes emptied out at around 9pm, and I had time for a few faster runs. At speed my carving felt smoother than it has done in a very long time, and the left leg felt strong and stable. Between ditching the brace and hitting the jump I left the mountain grinning from ear to ear: even after all this time, there are still milestones in recovery.

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