The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Slightly graphic)
It’s hard to say exactly what happened. All I know is that I was enjoying what were easily my best runs of the early season. I had just finished my second run through boot-deep pow and stopped toward the bottom of the trail, where it begins to gradually level out. If I had any aspirations of getting in one more run, it would have to be from there. For a moment I reflected on the stellar morning, and how glad I was that I had pulled myself from the warmth of my bed, waking up at 5:30 am to beat the hordes to the mountain and ski fresh, un-tracked lines. It was cold, my legs were tired, I had a full day of work ahead of me (and an even longer week of work ahead of that), and, most importantly, beating the lift to the summit was going to require a Herculean effort. Why spoil my morning of solitude and powder skiing by racing to the top, only to share the spoils with the masses when I could head home and return to my warm bed before heading to work? With that thought, I pointed my skis downhill and headed for the car.
About a hundred yards down the hill, I found myself looking down at a pool of red in the once-pristine, newly fallen snow, wondering what happened. Surely this is not the ending I anticipated the night before as I scraped the summer wax from my powder skis and gave them a quick tune in anticipation of the big day. It is both unusual and exciting to bring the big skis out so early in the season. Looking down at my skis, I realized I was sprawled out on the hill, my pole sticking straight up in the snow about ten feet behind me. I felt a pooling inside my mouth and spit. Fuck, I thought, that’s a lot of blood. With my tongue I surveyed the inside of my mouth, relieved to find that all my teeth were still intact and none of them were loose. I quickly gathered my stuff, wiping my now-warm face with the soft microfleece backing of my glove. Looking at the glove was startling: it was soaked in blood. I knew I was hurt pretty badly.
I sidestepped up to my pole and grabbed it, then took another swipe at my mouth, this time with the other hand, but to the same end: a glove soaked in blood. Making sure I had collected everything, I bee-lined it for my car. Skiing into the base, I kept my head down and tried to avoid drawing any attention to myself. The mountain has a fairly generous uphill policy, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t jeopardize that…especially since these early morning workouts are one of my favorite activities. Walking past the mirrored glass of the base lodge, I glanced at my reflection; I was a mess. Looking back at me was a face masked in blood, officially confirming I would be visiting the hospital that day, rather than returning to bed. Getting into my car, I vowed not to look at my reflection in the mirror, fully aware that the less I knew, the calmer I would be.
My apartment lies between the mountain and the emergency room, so I swung in to grab some dry clothes, Ashley, and something to read (you never know how long these things will take). Judging by Ashley’s reaction as I walked through the door, I knew my face was pretty fucked up. I finally found the courage to look in the mirror; upon seeing the huge gash in my upper lip, I began to mentally prepare myself for the impending needles at the hospital. (I hate needles! Sadly, a bunch of them were in my future: one tetanus shot, four numbing shots, and ten stitches, to be exact.) The nice thing about hurting yourself in the middle of a blizzard is that the emergency room is pretty quiet, so we got in and out relatively quickly. The other nice thing was that the doctor, concerned for both the swelling in my face and the impact I had suffered, wrote a note clearing me from work for my next two shifts. I guess every cloud does indeed have a silver lining.
As I convalesced on the couch that afternoon, with snow still trickling from the sky, I thought about skiing and something I had written a week earlier where I listed the superlatives of backcountry skiing. I had left one characteristic off that list, either because I hadn’t thought of it or because I didn’t have a good answer for it: adventure. To me, skiing the resort before it opens and after it closes , whether in season or out of season, has always seemed very safe. While I find the activity incredibly pleasurable, it also feels very tame, lacking the spice and emotion that other “real” backcountry trips illicit. To me, the front country can be sterile, so much so that I often recommend it to friends who are just getting into backcountry skiing, since the resort serves as a controlled environment, a place where, in my mind, nothing can go wrong. I was wrong. I hurt myself on what amounts to a green trail, in the most favorable conditions possible. I got hurt because I let my guard down, and failed to respect my surroundings.
Adventure is everywhere, sometimes we just fail to see it.