“Not listening to your intuition,” the man said.
He was answering my question about the number one cause of accidents in outdoor active and wilderness sports. I had expected him to say, “Not wearing helmets,” or “faulty equipment,” or even “bad weather,” but not some California Crunchy New Age statement like that. I mean, the man was Director of Safety for all of Outward Bound. Not listening to your intuition.
I wish I’d thought about what his words really meant before I set out for the top of Alta with my famous NASTAR silver medalist “Black Smoke” skis and my two best single girlfriends from college, Laurie and Pam. Jet-lagged, exhausted from rushing to meet pre-vacation deadlines, thirty-one and not as fit as past ski seasons, but still as competitive as Tomba, I led us straight to the toughest terrain I could find.
“Stay in bed,” some inner voice had admonished me that morning. “Call it a day after lunch,” it chided later. “Hit the bar early. Who cares if you look like a baby?”
It took four Diet Cokes at our lunch break to silence that voice. An opportunity to be called a lightweight? Not a chance.
I have never been much of a mogul skier, I’ll admit that much. I’ve always been what my ex-boyfriend calls a “speed monster,” easily goaded over cliffs and cornices beyond my ability with taunts like, “I guess that’s why they call you a girl,” and “don’t be a wimp.”
But that first day out, I could do no wrong. I sailed effortlessly through two-man-tent-size moguls, quickly passing my pals, and weaving easily in and out under the ski lift. I imagined the awed faces above me as they recognized my style and dispatch to be not unlike that of Picabo Street.
I was carving perfect turns, building momentum, coming to the last three moguls, almost home free. But the snow that had the consistency of fluffy pancakes when we got off the lift, had evidently been in a more heated encounter with Mr. Sun at this point on the mountain, and was rapidly taking on the quality of molten tar. As my left ski shifted happily around the mogul to the downhill side, moving easily in tandem with gravity, my right ski hit a tarpit and held fast. I heard an enormous ripping noise and found myself airborne, right calf flapping behind me. The pain exploded halfway up my leg, sending a hazy filter across my vision like dark goggles on a gray day. I screamed like a six year old on a rollercoaster and hit the snow face first.
Once the initial detonation of agony receded, I tried to sit up. I realized the toe of my right boot was facing at a ninety degree angle to my thigh. Something I had tried desperately to accomplish in many a yoga class, but a feat I recognized as fully impossible clad in ski boots. “I think it might be my knee,” I said to the concerned voices around me.
My poles and wayward ski appeared from hands and arms that seemed almost invisible to my dazed line of sight, and by this time Laurie and Pam had caught up to me. Laurie moved to my side to help me sit up, and Pam stayed above us, crossing her poles in the snow like an X. Not like anybody could have missed the spectacle we were creating, between the three of us in our fluorescent fashion attire, and the well-wishers who had come to my aid and were now taking one last gawk and thanking God it was me not them.
Laurie must have been propping me up, unbeknownst to me in my shock buzz, because Pam starting calling out, “Laurie, Laurie throw me the camera! You guys look so good together there in the snow.”
Me with pains like saber stabs running up and down my leg, and my friends having a Kodak moment. Nice. Fortunately I was spared their lens by the prompt arrival of the blonde twenty-five year-old ski patrol guy.
“Sounds like you had quite the dramatic spill out here,” he offered before I could comment on his dispatch. Then eyeing my coat, he added, “At least fourteen people reported a screaming lady in a pink jacket falling out of control under the lift.”
So much for my Olympic persona.
“So, what have we got going on here with this leg?” Blondie asked in a tone I suspected he reserved for his senile grandmother when she locked her keys in her car. I was preparing to respond when I caught a glimpse of Pam signaling to Laurie with a flurry of broad gestures and winks. What the hell was she doing? Contrary to my initial impression, she had not, in fact, lost one of her contacts, but was indicating the backside of my savior and mouthing something about the caliber of his behind.
“I heard something rip in my knee, I think,” I finally responded, re-focusing on Ski Patrol Boy’s face. “Can we take my boot off, or at least loosen the buckles?” As he bent down to examine the situation, a wall of red appeared on my left. At first I thought I was passing out. But no, it was just the arrival of the dreaded sled.
Patrol guy number two, Sled Commander, began narrating the process for loading me on the death cart. “First, we’ll slide your left side onto the sled, OK? Nothing else hurts to move besides your right leg, right?” I struggled to nod and he turned to Laurie, “Can you help hoist up her shoulders, there? Yeah, that’s it.”
I pushed off with my arms as they wrestled various parts of my body onto the wooden slab, and I heard Laurie whispering from behind me to Pam above us, “No way man. I think this guy is way cuter than the other one.”
My buddies’ concern for my well-being brought tears to my eyes.
After refusing the standard full mummy, read baby, treatment and demanding they leave my face uncovered amidst the fluorescent yellow wrappings, they skied me down the remainder of the mountain. The ride was less painful than anticipated, but the contorted upside down faces framed by dangling ski undersides provided a bizarre encounter as we passed under the lift.
Lying on my back in the emergency room two hours later, and surrounded by my pals, I attempted to absorb the doctor’s verdict: a severed arterial collateral ligament.
“The doctor says you’ll be OK to hang out for the next few days,” Pam said.
“We can just take you with us to the ski mountain and prop you in a deck chair, it’ll be all right,” Laurie added. “No need to wreck the trip because of a little accident. You can see your doctor when you get home on Monday, right?”
This “Suck it up, don’t let crutches slow you down” argument appealed to part of me. I had a vial of Vicadin, why change my flights and go home early?
It was then I remembered that Outward Bound Director.
“Just say no,” my intuition told me. And wimp or no, this time, I did.