February 17th began as any other trip to McCall. I rolled out of bed around 5:00 am, packed the car with my gear, and 20 minutes later, I was leaving for Moscow to meet up with Tyler and Genevieve. We made it to Brundage around 10:30 local time and headed straight to the Centenial chair where we met up with Chloe, Ben, and some of Chloe’s family. We had a good day on the mountain, but stuck to the groomed runs and trails because there hadn’t been any fresh powder in over a week.The first thing we noticed was how crowded the resort was. This was the first time we had to wait in line to ride Centenial. Later on, we headed over to Bluebird Express where the wait for the lift was ridiculous. We skied a short day, but really, we got in more runs in four hours than we would normally get playing in the trees on a full day. We came off the mountain exhausted, but happy that we had chosen to come down this weekend.
After winding down with a few drinks in the lodge, we headed to the hotel to check in and change for Tyler and Gen’s maternity shoot. They had offered to buy me two days of skiing in exchange for a couple of photography sessions, and we decided to cash in on one of them at Ponderosa State Park. It was fun, and some of the results are available here. We closed out the evening with a soak in the hot tub at the hotel and called it an early night so that we could get an early start on Monday and beat the crowds.
The funny thing is, for a 3-day holiday weekend, we barely saw any people on Monday. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this trend. On Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend, people seem to clear out Monday morning leaving trails and campgrounds wide open. Their loss, I guess. It was nice to have no lift line and and no crowds of people to dodge on the slopes. I decided to bring the GPS with me to track stats for the day.
Tyler and I took our first run down the speedy 45th Parallel, one of my favorite runs of the mountain. 45th starts with a nice drop to get you going but continues on a fairly straight track. It “levels” out a little about 2/3 of the way down, and then drops down along the ridge spine around a small curve to the steepest part of the drop. You can build up quite a bit of speed here if there aren’t too many people in front of you, and generally it’s ok to do so because the drop ends with a long level runway leading to the lift. I tend to head into a racing tuck to take the last drop and then stand up and let my coat parachute me to a stop. On this run, I made a top speed of 68.8 mph, and that would remain my top speed for the rest of the day.
The other great run for building speed is Alpine. This is also the run used for races. Alpine starts between the Bluebird and Centenial chairs and pretty much descends straight down the face of the mountain. It’s not as steep as 45th Parallel, but it can still be fun. In fact, the allure is a short up-hill cat track to the top of the Bear Chair lift, and the goal is to make enough speed to get to the little snack hut atop the knob without any pushes or skates. This is where I clocked myself at 58 mph last year.
Overall, it was a fairly quick day. In an hour, we had completed four full runs down the mountain, each run about 1.5 miles and 1600 feet of vertical drop. When we met up with Chloe and Ben, we put two more runs behind us. The longest run was a 2.5 mile 1800 ft. decent from the top of Bluebird to the bottom of Centenial via Lakeview Ridge and Temptation. It takes about 10 minutes due to some cat track sections, but it’s a fun one to take. On the 12th run, I challenged Ben to a mogul run, which he took with no sweat, but I took much slower.
And then there was the last run of the day. Apparently, there is much dread around “the last run” that many people just don’t even take it. Hell, even my last ski accident in 12th grade was on a “last run.” On this run, we chose to finish on Engen, a trail that follows the Centenial lift most of the way down the mountain, but affords us an easy access to the lower parking lot where the car was located. In hindsight, there are a number of decisions I made that, if done differently, could have altered the outcome of the day. My friends all turned off of Engen onto Skid Row. I decided to keep going and ride the cat track at the bottom out to the car. I was running the trail quite well and thought that maybe I could beat my speed for the day. But really, I should not have taken the last run of the day so fast. It’s one thing on fresh legs. It’s another when you’re tired and ready to quit. I should have had my edges sharpenend as I was having trouble making sharp turns. But most of all, I just shouldn’t have chosen this trail for a speed trial because it does turn into a cat track rather than make a straight run. As I descended that final drop, I knew I wasn’t going to make it onto the cat track. And so, in the final seconds, I decided to hit the snow and slow down as much as I could before smacking into the trees. I was thrown into the air and landed uncomfortably on my side. I couldn’t move. I knew something was broken. I immediately started calling for help.
It wasn’t long before another skier came by and stopped to help. He got my phone out of my jacket and called for the ski patrol. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but someone on the lift saw the whole thing and also called 9-1-1. It seemed like an eternity before the ski patrol finally arrived, and even longer before they were able to transition my mangled body onto a stretcher. By that time, I was getting sore from laying uncofortably and cold from lying on the snow. I would only begin to feel the pains of my injuries after being moved and stabilized. They skied me out to the lower parking lot, hooked me up to a snowmobile, and brought me to the upper parking lot where an ambulance was waiting to take me to the McCall hospital.
Once I was warmed up and pumped full of pain meds, I felt fine, at least as fine as I could be in that situation. Luckily, I had no head injuries. I attribute that to my quick thinking moments before hitting the tree. But it could have been bad. I wasn’t wearing a helmet, and the GPS recorded me at 51 mph when the impact occured. So what are the final results? I broke my left humorous into 3 pieces, severed my right femur near the ball, broke my right tibia near the knee, fractured ribs 10 and 11 on my left side, suffered chest and possibly heart contusions, though my heart seems to be doing fine since the administration of some beta-blockers. This was all too much for the little hospital in McCall, so I was flown by plane to Spokane for my treatment. All the breaks had to be fixed surgically. I now have pins, screws, and plates in my left arm and right leg. My other leg and arm are just fine. Surgery went well and recovery seems to be going smoothly. I was brought home on Monday, though recovery will be a long and arduous process. Suffice to say, I’m done skiing for the season, and probably next season as well. I may be out for the hiking season this year, though by September, I could be up for some easy trails. It will be a few weeks before I can hold a camera, and a few months before I can walk.
In the mean time, I’m healing quite well and every day I’m getting stronger. So while there won’t be any new adventure stories from me in the near future, it won’t be long until I’m out and about again.