Last Friday, a monstrous spring snowstorm promised downed powerlines and trashed landscaping in Colorado. My husband, Danny, and I shrugged and headed up to the mountains. We looked forward to tremendous ski conditions and assumed we would share the highway with many others. Forecasters predicted snow in feet.
Funny thing. As we merged onto I-70 in Golden, our daughter, Courtney, called on her way home from work. She had to pack and pick up a friend before driving up to meet us in Breckenridge.
As expected, we got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. One mere mile outside of Georgetown, we came to a dead halt. CDOT had closed the highway hours earlier because of “hazardous driving conditions,” but we had ignored all the warning signs.
Then Courtney called. She had just started on I-70. I suggested taking the frontage road to Georgetown instead of the crowded highway.
An hour later, we started to inch forward. As we passed Georgetown, Danny said, “I think we just passed Courtney’s car.
They ended up right behind us. No lie.
It’s been over a year since my partial knee replacement. Before going under the crazy laser scalpel, that is Makoplasty, to replace messed up bone and cartilage, I could only ski two, maybe three runs before calling it a day. Since surgery, I’ve been careful.
The dump of snow proved to be heavenly for skiers and snowboarders. Saturday, I sailed through fifteen inches of ice cream snow in Breckenridge and took NINE runs. Courtney and I quit before exhaustion caused a crash and burn scenario. She had a business trip in Utah the next day.
On our way down the gondola, we met three people in the medical field from California. They all looked twenty-five because California. One was an orthopedic surgeon. Whoa! I asked him about my squeaking, squawking knee after replacement. He said that was normal for some people. YAY! Then he added the technology was so new, they don’t know how much time we have before wearing it out. Bummer. I did point out that I was pretty small and wouldn’t stress out my joints as much as a linebacker.
That boosted my confidence. It concurred with some on my online research for mule-kicking, hee-hawing knees. I tuned out the part about not knowing how much time I have on these manufactured parts.
Forecasters predicted more snow, so I planned to ski again on Sunday.
Sunday night seven more inches dropped. A little stiff and sore from the day before, I headed out with the intention to ski a couple of runs and quit early. My son, Kelly, and I, took three chairlifts to meet his girlfriend and Danny on the top of Imperial. As we ascended into a cloud and white-out conditions, I assumed we would ski down the face.
Danny led us to Whale’s Tail.
My favorite bowl, in the shape of its name, had just opened for the first time that weekend. Danny said it would be filled with feet of deep powder, meaning sweet, easy skiing for me.
I followed my group by sidestepping up the mountain to the steep catwalk. Yes. This was farther into the deceptive angelic clouds masking a sheer head wall on the edge of the bowl forming the tail fin.
Then it hit me.
They hadn’t skied it.
We had no idea what conditions existed. I wasn’t sure if my knee could handle heavy, deep snow.
It had been painful to ski Whale’s Tail before surgery and I hadn’t skied it since. My shoulders tightened as we hugged the mountain. Then we skied down to the edge.
I would be dropping into my favorite run from a cornice, but we were still in thick clouds and it snowed hard. We had very low visibility. I wouldn’t be able to see where I was going.
I wanted to ski down to the middle of the tail and drop into my usual spot. Everyone else wanted to drop in from the tip of the fin. I lost.
I had always had skied this after several warm up runs.
This was my first run of the day.
I stood on the edge of the mountain and looked down. As everyone dropped in, they disappeared into the cloud.
Then I had a flashback to my heli-ski trip. After being dropped off on a mountaintop by helicopter the first time, I followed the group and carved fresh tracks alongside the rest. Sounds wonderful, right? My new boots dug into my calves. The skis they provided seemed way too long for me. They chattered while I carved turns in the wet, deep snow. It put tremendous stress on my knees. I didn’t know how to up-weight through the turns and fought through every one of them. I lagged behind and then watched in horror as our guide headed into the trees. I had never been a tree skier. I couldn’t control my crazy equipment.
Hail Mary’s became my mantra.
I made it through the trip and learned a lot about skiing and myself. Sometimes I had to dig deep.
This time, I took a deep breath and dropped in.
My pole sunk into the soft fin, never reaching bottom, unbalancing and thrashing me about. Unsupported and unsure, I kept my weight over my skis instead of my more aggressive stance on a steep incline.
When I turned to the left, I said, “This is your good knee.” When I turned to the right, I said, “Right turns have always been your strongest.” I said this every time, back and forth and back and forth until I reached the bottom.
As I caught my breath, I looked back up the mountain. It had cleared and the word was out. Tons of skiers learned there were fresh tracks to be made on Whale’s Tail.
They hooted and hollered as they made their way down the fresh snow. Some tumbled. Others face-planted, but they all had fun in the deep snow.
My knee felt strained as if I had taken twenty runs already. Pain from tendons and muscles made me wonder if I would make it down the rest of the mountain. I wasn’t even halfway.
Danny caught up with me.
I was furious. “I can’t believe you took me down this. It was my first run.”
“You did great!” he said and then reminded me of rule #1: “A skier never trusts their friends. Not when there’s fresh powder.”
As I iced my knee at Vista Lodge, I swore I would never ski anything that difficult again. The orthopod’s warning rushed back and I felt like I was on borrowed time. I had to face facts.
More snow dumped in Breckenridge as we drove back to Boulder. I woke up and expected to be gimped out and limping, but my muscles only felt the usual strain after exercise. We only lost one branch in the wet snow over the weekend.
Both the trees and I survived.
If we had skied another day, would I have played it safe? Would I stick to easy runs? Keep my knee functioning as long as possible?
Nah. I’m going to wear a full-on knee brace next time.
I am kind of a Wild Child.
Do you take chances to live your life? Has fear gotten the best of you? What is holding you back?