At Least It Was a Black Diamond Run

My mother told me I should quit skiing twenty years ago when I was approaching fifty. It was too dangerous, I was too old. She seldom told me to do anything. I was, as the youngest of eight kids, spoiled and could do no wrong. Twenty years later, I have no regrets. I love to ski. I love the outdoors, the clothes, the gear, the food, the drinks, the joy, the laughter. I love the feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day. And I love the feeling of skiing progressively harder and harder terrain.

This season I had the feeling my skiing was off–I couldn’t put a finger on it, I just didn’t feel my edges were catching right. I had taken a lesson at Grand Targhee last year, and had the whole season to practice what I had been taught. When I started this season, I was disappointed that I wasn’t at the same level as I had been the end of last year.

That’s not to say I wasn’t having a good time. I met up with many friends and family. I skied thousands of vertical feet. And this week was no different.

SKIJOURN SISTERS

I am blessed with circles of friends who fulfill my life like nothing else. My Skijourn Sisters are one of those circles. As I have been travelling around the country skiing, I have noticed bands of brothers who go on ski weekends together, but virtually no groups of women. A few years ago I attended a Professional Ski Instructors Association clinic for women at Snowbird. It was so much fun! The next year I invited a few of those women and a group of my ski sisters from Minnesota and hosted the first women’s ski weekend at Steamboat for my PSIA ski friends–we dubbed ourselves the Skijourn Sisters. This year we were meeting at Taos, New Mexico for four days of skiing.

One major flaw to my planning was picking President’s Day weekend. We were skiing the Ikon Pass at Taos, and some of the participating areas require reservations to manage crowds. Monday the holiday was booked out so Taos we couldn’t ski Taos. Within an hour of Taos are three other ski areas: Angel Fire, Red River, and Sipapu. Linda had friends at Sipapu and she could ski free so we drove up highway 518 thirty-five minutes to the resort. It was a small, family style resort. I rode the chair with two young boys from Albuquerque and they filled me in on the area. Twelve year old’s and younger ski free! If a kid maintains a 3.5 GPA, ski free! People 70+ ski free! They promote that they are the least expensive lift ticket in New Mexico. And I can vouch for how friendly the place is!

This is a five chair resort–not really big by industry standards. They have a poma lift on the far left side of the mountain. Every area has green circle easy, blue square intermediate and black square expert terrain. The delineations are relative to the difficulty of the mountain itself, not compared to other mountains. That means that my Minnesota home hill, Hyland has green, blue and black terrain, but honestly compared to anything out west or east where big mountains are, Hyland’s black would be more like an intermediate at best. So Sipapu’s blacks are likely not as difficult as a Taos black. I didn’t ski all of Sipapu so I can’t vouch for this very subjective analysis, so don’t quote me!

Linda’s friends, Weto and Barbara, met us and Weto guided us around the mountain. Everyone seemed to know and love Weto. He had worked at almost every job at the resort. Barbara brought us lunch from the deli she works at, and the sandwiches were not only delicious, but necessary–the resort ran out of food due to the large crowds over President’s weekend!

In the afternoon, we ran into a mother-son duo at the top of chair #1. Donna loved Ann’s ski pants, and son Brian tolerated us old ladies with aplomb. We decided to ski together since they knew the mountain, and Brian took us up chair #4 to the top. He lead us from the top of the mountain across a narrow traverse that none of us would have taken alone. It took us through nicely placed trees called No Caboose. It was so beautiful, the snow was perfect, the sun glowing through the trees. And we were with newfound friends.

It was a great warm-up day to prepare us for Taos. Taos has a reputation for being a tough mountain. The first time I skied there, I was encouraged by a young man to ski the top, Kachina Peak where all the runs are black. With his encouragement I made it down, and since then had skied it a few times more. Cathy, a Skijourn Sister, and I had closed down Hunziker Bowl a year ago, the fast falling snow creating avalanche danger right behind us. And Taos is where I lapped lift #1 sixteen times to top 500,000 vertical feet during Solo Ski Sojourn 3.

Taos felt comfortable, like my home resort. My dream of moving to Santa Fe includes skiing at Taos and Ski Santa Fe. We took lift #1 and skied down to lift #2 which took us to the ridge. I urged the group to go to the backside, since a weather front was coming and I was afraid they would shut down lifts. We skied down to lift #4 and took #4 up. The top, Kachina, was closed, so a couple went to Hunziker bowl. I opted to ski down a groomer to warm up more. We met down at #4 where the rest of our group met us. All six of us Skijourn Sisters were together!

We decided to all take Hunziker bowl. It’s a short hike to Hunziker. Four of the women traversed to the far side, Gina and I took the nearer run. The top of the run wasn’t bad. Then it got a little steeper. I turned, traversed, turned traversed, turned, and oops! I over rotated around a bump and my left ski dug into the mogul, my right ski kept going.

I heard a small pop! in the back of my left leg. I though I might have hyper-extended my knee. The left ski had stuck and stopped, but my body had kept moving forward. That left leg stretched as far forward as it could before it just couldn’t stretch any more.

My first thought was, “Damn!” My second thought was that in my family a niece and nephew both had torn or ruptured their left Achilles heels. My skis didn’t pop off, and it took me awhile to get myself and my skis back parallel and perpendicular to the fall line. My left calf hurt, but I could move my foot and it didn’t feel broken. My right leg was fine. A skier came by and I told him to tell my friends (who were all waiting downhill from me and could see me struggling) that my left leg was hurt. He took off and abruptly fell. He had trouble getting up, too.

When I was an instructor at Hyland, I taught my students what I described as “Survival Skills”. My goal back then was to get a Never Ever skier (one how had never been on skis before) to be able to ski every chair lift at Hyland by the end of three lessons. I helped them get the confidence to do this (remember, at Hyland the runs aren’t hard, but some are rated blue and black) by teaching them skills they can use when the terrain looks or feels too hard. I pulled out one of my Survival Skills–side-slip traversing. I side-slipped on my right leg downhill. When I ran out of traverse, I sat, flipped my skis 180 degrees (another survival skill) and side-slip traversed a short ways on my left leg downhill with most of my weight on my uphill right leg. Once on the flatter ground I took a few turns to get to my friends.

Of course I said, “I think I can ski down.” My five Skijourn Sisters said, “No, you are not skiing down. We’ve already called the patrol.” I love my sisters.

We all stood around waiting for ski patrol. Finally Bob the patroller came up. I had been a ski patroller in a previous life, so a part of me was intellectually interested in their patrol process. And a part of me was swearing a blue streak.

Bob told me to sit down. He took off my skis. A rescue toboggan with a young patroller came. Bob took charge, and after a little jostling, immobilizing my leg in a splint, lifting me into the toboggan, wrapping6 me in a blanket and then a tarp, laying my skis and poles next to me, they strapped me in so I couldn’t bounce out, and we started down the mountain.

Riding in the toboggan gave me time to think. It was maybe a 15 minute ride (I was pretty high up on the mountain and on the backside). I waved to people as I passed. I had only ridden in a toboggan once before, and that was when I had been snowboarding and got hit by another snowboarder. They had taken me in for observation.

This ride was different. My leg hurt. I knew this was more serious. Possibly season ending. Definitely a last run injury. I didn’t feel like crying, I was angry, mad, sad, disappointed, filled with regret. Why didn’t I just sideslip down the steep part? Why did I let my fear make me over-rotate? My season wasn’t even half through! I had hoped to ski later into the Spring, there was so much snow everywhere! Our Skijourn trip had just begun! Booooo!

In the patrol room I was propped up as was my leg. I could observe the injured coming and going. One young man had a shoulder injury. A middle aged man had racked up his right knee. A lady accompanied by her husband came in with her hand and wrist held high over her head. A young snowboarder came in with blood all over his face. To my left was what I guessed was the X-ray room. The man with the bad right knee went in there and came out. The lady with the elevated wrist went in and came out. One time she walked past me and I saw her left wrist–swollen, lumpy, purple, pink and blue. I felt better just looking at her. I think that’s called Schadenfreude in German.

I had my Skijourn Sisters floating in and out of the care room. They kept skiing and I just sat and waited my turn for the doc. At one point I commented to one sister, “At least I got hurt on moguls and a black run,” at which Jeff the right knee injury said, “Great, that makes me feel even worse. I fell on a green run.” Oops.

Patients came and went. The doc did an exam of my leg. His best guess–torn gastrocnemius muscle. He recommended I get an MRI to verify and ensure it wasn’t something else. I kept having him repeat the name of the muscle–it sounded like a gut issue that was my downfall. I had all afternoon there since the ladies were skiing and I was going nowhere. They let me stay because, while they were busy, they had an extra bed. I called two clinics to try to get an MRI scheduled, one in Albuquerque and one in Santa Fe. I called my orthopedic doctor from Minneapolis who had me queued up for hip replacement in the spring. He was on a chairlift in Breckenridge when he answered. I told him what happened. He said he’d call me back! I was having issues scheduling the MRI so I talked to the Mogul Medicine doctor (yes, their on mountain clinic is called Mogul Medicine!). It was the end of the day, and the place had cleared out except for me and Right Knee. The doc took it upon himself to schedule my MRI in Santa Fe. Turns out he just became the head of ER, and had a little bit of pull at the ortho clinic. He got me in.

The ladies came in from skiing and Sue and Cathy were going to drive me back to our condo in Taos. I had been listening to Right Knee and knew he was having trouble getting in touch with his friend who was working and skiing. His right knee was in a splint. I figured he couldn’t drive. He was also on pain killers. I volunteered Cathy to drive him down to Taos–we were all going there anyway–and while he lamely objected, it was clear he couldn’t/shouldn’t drive himself.

They drove our cars up to the Mogul Medical building on the mountain, and I hobbled on my new crutches to the car. Sue drove me to the Worldmark Taos where we were staying, and we got the luggage cart to get me to the room. I was exhasted so they parked me in my room where I was as happy as could be. My Minnesota ortho doc called me and over the phone diagnosed a torn plantaris muscle. That’s better than a torn gastrocnemius, I think. Some people don’t even have a plantaris and I don’t think it’s related to plantar fasciitis, but I don’t know for sure. It was Tuesday, February 21.

I was done skiing.

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6 thoughts on “At Least It Was a Black Diamond Run

  1. Donna Beck says:

    We’re so sorry to hear that you got injured. Guess there was a reason why my gut kept telling me I should go up and meet you guys at Taos. Darn!
    On the bright side you have time to recover before next Fall. BTW Sipapu is the first to open in New Mexico. I’ve also got a couple of extra beds for my ski sisters.
    Bryan and I enjoyed our time skiing with all of you. Get well soon!

    Like

  2. Rett says:

    Elaine, there is no good time for an injury to happen. Utterly disappointing this early in your sojourn season. Looking forward to your blogs as your healing and recuperation begins! Be well.

    Liked by 1 person

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