I've fallen and I can't get up!
I’ve been skiing for 43 years and I’m a firm believer in the skiing principle that every run is different. No two runs down the same hill are ever alike, but I took one run on a recent ski trip that turned into the unusual run of my entire skiing career. I found myself trapped. I had fallen and I couldn’t get up!
My son Scottie and I took a day trip to California’s first ski resort, Sugar Bowl, a couple of weekends back. The weather was great, the lifts were fast, the snow was fresh, the runs were groomed and the day was near perfect.
Scottie discovered his “inner mogul” during the day and was skiing better than I’ve ever seen him ski. He was convinced that he had mastered the double black diamonds once and for all. While his skills were obviously improving, in truth there was a ton of new snow, it was light and fluffy and all the hills were very forgiving.
Since this was a single day trip, we pushed ourselves (maybe it was just me who was feeling pushed). Our goal was to get full lift ticket value and we determined that happened once we hit 20 runs for the day. As we rode up our final lift of the day, Scottie declared that he had a better route down the hill. His last words to me were “follow me.” This was not a double black diamond. In fact it was a fairly easy hill with only a few paths down. I half watched as Scottie headed down figuring I knew where he was headed. I was wrong. I looked up and noticed that he was one bowl over from the run I was on. No problem. I took a turn and traversed across the powder to catch up.
I’m not sure what happened. There was nothing too terribly challenging about the traverse but I hit something and the next thing I knew everything was dark. I had fallen. I was facing up but my goggles were covered with snow and thus it was dark. My mouth was also covered with snow and with thoughts of suffocation dancing through my brain I quickly sat up thus surviving my nanosecond long brush with death. I had lost my skis and as I started to readjust myself I felt like I was falling into a quicksand-like hole. The next thing I knew, I was standing up with snow up to my chest and I couldn’t get out of my hole. I tried everything I could think of to no avail and this was when a small degree of panic set in.
I didn’t die, but I was good and stuck. Later in the week with a bit of research I found a story in the paper that said a, “...death trap is created by periods of clear, warm weather, when the snow will melt around the base of trees, followed by a series of big storms in which light powder fills up the tree wells, often 4 to 8 feet deep. The untouched snow surface in the forest is thus disguised as a continuous moonscape.” These were the exact conditions I faced and essentially there were two surfaces that looked like one. The article went on to report that 15 snow boarders have died across North America this season alone largely because snowboarders like trees and their boards don’t detach like skis do.
As I stood in chest deep snow I didn’t fear death. Mostly I was dreading the thought that I might require assistance getting down a blue run! My efforts to climb out just caused me to sink deeper. Further frustrating me was Scottie who called me to ask where I was. When I told him I was stuck he refused to believe that this was even possible on such an easy hill!
My nightmare lasted about 10 minutes. Ultimately I put my poles in a cross and did a belly flop on top of them, then rolled on my back and put both skis on while lying on my back and wagging my feet straight up in the air. If you told me it was even possible to put your skis on this way, I wouldn’t have believed you. Ultimately I skied away, required no assistance but I have been scarred for life. I may never ski again. This was clearly the worse fall of my long skiing career. See I was not injured in any physical way but all of this happened beneath the chairlift. I think I would have rather broken my leg.
Since writing this I saw yet another article about a tree hole death.
March 2, 2011
© Greg Harris, 2011
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