Should have broken the wishbone instead… our Christmas Break!

My first post of 2005! I have had an eventful holiday to frame my planning for this next season. It seems that 2004 has ended in numerous tragedies for families around the world, and although I haven’t personally endured a tragedy, we did encounter a life threatening scenario. Nothing that compares to the catastrophe in Asia, but combining our experience with the shock of the news of the tsunami gave us pause. This motivated me not only to plan this season, but also to think about where I want to be one, two, four and ten years from now. I hope that everyone had the ability to look outside their normal daily pursuits, and consider the global consequence of our daily lifestyle, and also to recognize that now is the time to live, this moment, because you never know when your next breath might be your last. We were lucky this time, on our Christmas backcountry snowboard trip, when a tree and broken femur created a very scary situation?

This year Ross and I went to Baldface Lodge, a wicked snow-cat operation outside of Nelson, BC, nestled at 7000 feet in the Selkirk Mountains. We spent a day snowboading at Whitewater outside of Nelson, to get our legs back, and then met the helicopter to fly up to Baldface Lodge. Jeff and Paula have such a great thing going there, the lodge was gorgeous (including the Gabriel Ross furniture), the food was incredible, the snow insanely deep and the landscape absolutely breathtaking. I have never stood at the top of a ?ski run? and looked down incredulously thinking ?we are going this way?? It was a memorable few days of boarding for me? and I think my level as a snowboarder improved as a result.

Christmas Eve and Christmas day were both awesome snowboarding days, leaving my body begging for mercy. Boxing Day was to be our last day at the lodge, at which point we would board all day, then fly back down in the helicopter to Nelson, and bust back home to Victoria. The day had a late start, and it was snowing heavily so the sno-cat was really laboring to haul us up the mountain. The first couple of runs we were also seeing Category 1 avalanches, which were just past heavy sloughing of the top layer of snow, but seeing cracks in the snow was making me a bit nervous.

It is funny how in hindsight you feel like you knew something was going to happen. A lot of things that happened on Boxing Day weren’t adding up to me, the late start, the snow-cat kind of getting stuck, the mini-avalanches. I felt like there was something not right about the day all along. Before the accident I remember thinking, ?Be careful, only a few runs to go?

We were on a new, as yet unnamed run, very far from the lodge, on a brand new cat road. It looked like the best run of the whole trip. Steep slope, powdery snow, lots of trees, but not too thick, it was just an absolute winner. Ross had given his camera to another fellow on the trip to take a couple shots somewhere if it opened up. The run didn’t get any more open, it was a treed run the entire way. I went first, and was really battling the huge snow. It was so much work to turn at all. You really needed to pick a reasonably straight line through the snow, and point to the bottom. I waited for my partner, Ross, to follow and watched in horror as Ross went down in a pile of snow, and said ?I think I broke my leg!? While looking for the camera, rather than where he was going, Ross managed to connect full speed with a five year old spruce, which most skiers will also know as: a very hard surface capable of snapping bones like twigs.

Hysterical, I plowed my way back up about 50 feet to where he was (15 minutes of effort) to see him motionless and grimacing in pain. This is where the guides from Baldface truly shined. The lead guide, Mark, rounded up the rest of the group, asked them to wait, and hiked his way back up to Ross. The tailgunner, Chev, got to Ross, brought out extra jackets and water, radioed the lodge, organizing the rescue sled, and the helicopter to get us down to Nelson. Unfortunately, because we were so remote, it took a long time for this rescue to be executed. The snow machines dragging the rescue toboggan to our remote location kept getting stuck. I heard the radio reports and was silently freaking out about it, watching Ross. Ross was shivering with shock and cold, and I tried to hug him warmer, but lying in snow when you are wet and sweaty is not conducive to heating up. I felt so useless, Ross lying in wait, me not knowing how to help, and the guides organizing more help.

Ross had fallen about 100 feet from the top of the run. With about four feet of soft snow on the surface, that may as well have been a kilometer. Instead of pulling him back up to the top, he would have to make it down to the bottom of the run to meet the helicopter. Once we had the sled, four snowboarders plowed a trail ahead of the toboggan down to the clearing where the helicopter had landed. There were many scary moments when the sled was moving so quickly the two guides, Mark and Joel, were having serious problems controlling its speed. Ross said that it was terrifying in the rescue sled, strapped in like a mummy with piles of snow building up beside you, threatening to bury you alive.

It took about an hour and a half to two hours for Ross to reach the helicopter. They transferred him to it, and we flew down to the Nelson airport. What should have been five minutes was more like fifteen as we picked our way down the hill at the tops of the trees in a zero visibility cloud. I watched as we followed a cat trail so as to not get lost? but it was terrifying coming so close to the treetops. I imagined a crash, how could we rescue this broken femur guy in the middle of the wilderness? So many worst case scenarios were dancing in my head?..

We made it down to Nelson, where Ross was taken in an ambulance to that hospital, where they knocked him out and pulled his leg into alignment (transverse fracture) and splinted it. I saw the x-ray, it looked like a broken chicken bone with the two ragged ends lined up beside each other. How that all fit in his thigh is a mystery. They then packed him back in the ambulance for an hour drive to Trail where he was admitted and rolled into surgery that night. He was given some new titanium bits, some drugs and some crutches. Welcome to your new reality for the next three to four months. Dr. McVicar met us two days later to give us the okay to go home, a prognosis of 100% recovery, perhaps some spring skiing (out of the question, says me) and well wishes. We noticed he had his snowboots on?a lunchtime hospital visit after the morning on the mountain. Couldn’t ask for a more sympathetic doctor I don’t think!

Now that we are home we have time to reflect on all of the could haves? it could have been colder (if it was minus 10 rather than minus 5, would Ross then have dealt with hypothermia), it could have been a compound break, in which case, Ross might have bled to death, and we could have not had the amazingly efficient and professional guides we had with Baldface. We owe a lot to Mark, Joel, Chev, Daiva and Chris, they took care of both of us, Ross the patient, and Melanie the mental patient. Thanks so much you guys. The people in Nelson absolutely ROCK, and we are going back next year for sure! Ross will be back, just as he was right back gap jumping after breaking a collar bone two years ago.

So that was our Christmas break (no pun intended)! I am thankful Ross is going to be okay, not that excited about my new nursing role, but it doesn’t hurt to work on my nurturing side?. I am now on track, focused on this season, and look forward to announcing my new sponsor partners for this season. Until next time, I hope you all had safe and happy holidays? and a reminder? live for today!

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