A Wonderful Time for a Knee Injury, Part I

So when is the best time to take up a new alpine sport that involves sliding down a mountain covered in snow and ice at a speed of 25 to 30 mph? Is it mere weeks before you plan to embark on a months long trek through steep, rugged terrain; a physical challenge the likes of which your body has never experienced before?

This winter, I decided the answer to that question was yes.


It all started about a week before Christmas

After Sarah and I aborted a hike out to the falls along the Nancy Pond trail on account of extreme cold and the fact that we were breaking trail in the most annoying snow possible to be breaking trail in (a couple feet deep with a crusting of ice on the top), we decided to hit the slopes at Black Mountain over in Jackson, NH instead. Sarah rented skis and I rented a snowboard. It was the first time in nearly a decade that I had strapped one on, but throughout middle and high school I had toiled on a snowboard a few times per winter and so it seemed a safer bet than skis, a pair of which had never before touched my feet.

Although I actually turned out my best ever performance (I managed to stop on both my heels AND toes!) I still endured dramatic wipeouts where I was mercilessly thrashed to the ground on my back, face or side at least once on every single run down that accursed bunny hill. Meanwhile, I watched Sarah, who had skied as a child but was also a decade out of practice, glide past me with ease and grace. “Skiing looks fun,” I thought. “I should really try skiing.”


Perhaps I can blame Joey…

The next day at work, while my black and blue body throbbed in an old familiar way, I shared my aspirations with my co-workers. Joey, who was working the salad station that day, told me he had been a ski instructor on the weekends last year and would be happy to teach me.

A few weeks later I took him up on his offer. We met at Gunstock on an unseasonably warm Wednesday morning and he brought his sister’s skis for me to borrow. He started me out on the very slight little hill populated by toddlers on leashes that you reach the top of via the “magic carpet.” I managed my pizza and french fries and big S turns just fine so we got on the lift to the top of the bunny hill, where I made my way down those little greens and blues with a confidence I couldn’t quite believe. It was exhilarating.

“I love skiing!” I shouted to Joey as I reached the bottom with my head thrown back and my arms outstretched like Kate Winslet on the bough of the Titanic. “Let’s go to the top of the mountain!”

The top of the mountain sobered me up a little with its cold, icy shade and steep pitches. I slid some of the way down on my butt, some of the way I walked, and twice when I had the skis on I succumbed to a fear so tremendous that it caused me to fall back and make a slow, unceremonious slide into the woods from which Joey very patiently extracted me both times. But when we finally made it to the bottom, we decided to stick to a lift that only went partway up and there, after a run or two, I got my groove back.

I probably could have stayed out all day if we hadn’t both had to work that night. I gave Joey a huge hug and thanked him approximately 20 times for taking me out and putting up with my off-trail adventuring. Then I skipped back to my car with a relentless ear-to-ear grin. I was so high on adrenaline that I drove maniacally past Alton Bay with my windows down and my music blasting. To think, so many years wasted on that infernal snowboard when skiing just felt so right!


But no, I can only blame myself

There was no question; I had to do it again.

Cut to Groundhog Day- Sarah, Mekala, and I had procured some $21 lift tickets for Black Mountain. The snow had been falling all week and was nice and light and fluffy. I took my first lift ride with a dull sense of trepidation. It had, after all, been almost a month since my one and only ski lesson and no one in our party was really all that experienced. And what about those two times I wound up in the woods? But I made it down easily enough. After a couple of runs my confidence had made a full return and after a couple more my confidence gave way to downright cockiness.

I was making my way down more and more aggressively while Mekala remained steady and cautious. Still, I figured it was best to let her go ahead of me so that we would stick together. This worked pretty well until the moment where I found myself gaining on her too quickly. In a panic I tried to slow down but only wound up losing control and before I could regain it, saw that in a approximately one second I was going to slide right into a tree.


To Be Continued…



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