Itís October! Weíre almost there! And while we should be busting out some squats at the gym weíre not. Instead weíre eating donuts, watching Candide do things that arenít even possible on shred sauce. Why? Because nothing elevates the stoke like watching our favorite athletes turn the gnarliest of zones into their own personal sandbox. Itís inspiring stuff, and for many of us replaying our favorite ski movies has become a tradition every time the leaves start to turn. However, as awesome as these flicks are, they tend to push the darker realities of this sport to the background. Injuries, big or small, are overshadowed by behemoth peaks and bottomless snow.
An injury in big mountain skiing is like diarrhea after Taco Bell- it might not happen every time but if you go enough, itís pretty much a guarantee. Watching ski movies over the years and more recently after starting my avalanche education, I have become increasingly aware of the dangers in the mountains. However, that risk wasnít completely real. That was something that happened to other people, not me. I was able to tell myself that I accepted the possibility of injury partly because I love the mountains so goddamn much, but also because a small part of me thought I was above it. Fast forward to today- seven months after a grade v shoulder separation I can finally do a pushup, but I will never look at a day in the mountains the same again.
It happened in the early afternoon of March 28th, after skiing one of my most confident days to date. My legs felt strong, I landed every spin, and the sun was shining (of course). Then it happened. On a catwalk off to the side of Redtail at Beaver Creek I botched a switch 180 and came down on my shoulder hard. The damage was done. Luckily my buddy was right behind me and immediately called for ski patrol. The ensuing 45 minutes it took to reach the emergency room were the most painful of my life but I was going to be ok.
My first thought when the morphine started to kick in was thank god I was somewhere accessible on the mountain. If I had been further off piste or worse, in the backcountry, the trip would not have been so easy. Its difficult enough getting my huge ass down a groomed slope! I canít overstate how helpless I felt in those moments, I owe so many thanks to the patrollers who do these sorts of things on a daily basis.
In the days, weeks, and months since the accident Iíve tried to identify Ďwhat went wrong?í I fancy myself a strong skier and I had already taken a few spills that season. Why was this one any different? After some serious retrospection the answer became abundantly clear- it came down to my decision-making. If I had stopped to think I would have realized that my landing was in the shade, and therefore a sheet of ice. Much different than the sunny aspect I had been skiing all morning. It would have also been wise to take more time to plan/visualize the trick I was about to attempt. By failing to stop and take that second to think, I ended up spinning my unnatural direction and shoulder planting on a sheet of ice. Ouch.
One bad decision ended my season and put a screw in my shoulder. Skiers will talk proudly of broken bones and wear their scars as badges of honor- and to a certain extent I will to. Yeah, injuries can verify how sendy you are but if thatís all you care about then youíre missing the point. Getting injured in the mountains teaches us that we arenít special. Mountains are stunningly beautiful and intensely spiritual, but they are also raw and dangerous. We are simply visitors in these magisterial spaces and we must show respect. Getting injured in the mountains is a rite of passage because like my old man always says, Ďyou canít teach experienceí. Until you spend 8 weeks in a sling because of a decision that lasted a few second, you wont truly understand how fragile this whole thing is.
While I will never stop my quest to become the best skier I can possibly be, I am approaching this winter with a revitalized respect for the mountains. I hope you will to.