I fell. It was my second ski trip of the season. The first was a bit of a disappointment. We are having an unseasonably warm winter in Japan. Around New Year, we usually have deep snow, but some resorts were struggling just to open. But mid January was better. It was snowing heavily with plenty […]
I fell. It was my second ski trip of the season. The first was a bit of a disappointment. We are having an unseasonably warm winter in Japan. Around New Year, we usually have deep snow, but some resorts were struggling just to open. But mid January was better. It was snowing heavily with plenty of powder around.
On the second day, it was cold, really cold. The snow falling horizontally in 50km/h winds, and the thermometer registered -17C at the mid-mountain gondola station. The conditions were a real test of my equipment and in a way, my resolve. I was with a ski instructor; an experienced backcountry skier from France who has taught in Japan for many years. We were working on my technique for tackling steep, deep snow. In a way, the conditions were perfect.
Except, I couldn’t really see where I was going. I went down the run. It was steep and soft. I was making my turns well. Then, the texture of the snow changed. It was so sudden. I was thrown and I fell. Tumbling forward I rolled over twice then got stuck in the soft snow. I instantly felt like something was wrong.
The emotions hit harder than the pain. Anger, frustration, and fear. Why didn’t my skis come off? Was the tech at the ski shop incompetent? Did the instructor send me down a slope unprepared? Why did my family talk me into a lesson on a day like this? Am I just too old to be skiing anymore?
I felt something wrong with my right leg, but I couldn’t figure out what. I sat in the snow, oblivious to the cold, and talked through it with my instructor. As I was falling I had felt something give in my leg. I remember crying out in my mind, broken leg, shattered knee – a wail of possible injuries that must have shot through my soul in a fraction of a second.
I was able to stand up. I was able to ski on, but only in pain. I could put weight on my leg, but some movements sent a short, sharp pain down the side of my shin. We had to stop.
Thankfully, there was a mountainside cafe nearby. The instructor and I sat in silence for a while, sipping the complimentary water. We didn’t know each other well. My usual instructor wasn’t available and this one came highly recommended. Our silence wasn’t entirely uncomfortable, but in the end it was easier to break it with some small talk, before discussing whether I could continue skiing.
Our location was a long way from where I had agreed to meet my family for lunch. If my injuries had been worse, I could have sought out the ski patrol and gotten help getting down the mountain. But, I felt like I could ski on, at least to meet them, then assess my options from there.
The instructor and I made our way to the nearest chairlift, which would take us to a run that would connect us to the long touring run where would eventually find the small restaurant we’d picked out for our meal. Most of the eateries on this mountain are vast food courts, serving curry, beef bowls and ramen. We try to avoid these when we can, and find the smaller places, often less frequented by tourists. Perhaps they don’t always have menus in English, or maybe the cramped interiors and decor, remnants of earlier time when skiing was more glamourous and popular in Japan don’t meet tourist expectations.
My instructor was patient with me, skiing an easy path with wide turns on the first, steeper slopes, and stopping regularly once with got onto the wider touring run, rather than carving the long fast turns we might normally have aimed for. My leg hurt most of the time, though oddly it felt OK when my right leg was the downhill leg, bearing more of my body weight. But, when it was the uphill leg, I felt bursts of pain on every bump.
I kept having to pull myself out of this overthinking and concentrate on just skiing. When I did that, it all felt easier – and less painful.
It took a lot longer than normal, but we made it. I didn’t like skiing so slowly, having so many people ski past. It felt odd to depend on other people’s judgment to feel safe, rather than controlling my own line.
But it felt worse to tell my family I was hurt. My role, in our skiing trips, had always been to provide ballast, stability. I was the most experienced skier, the guide, the coach, the one looking out for the safety of the family. But, here I was. Not necessarily broken, but probably unable to ski on. Certainly unable to ski hard. I was going to be holding everyone back.
I sat there, staring into big bowl of vegetable fried rice (the wholesome, home-style cooking had drawn us to this place), trying to put a brave face on things. I was badly hurt. I hadn’t “done a knee” or “broken a bone” but something had snapped, down deep in my soul. I felt like a disappointment.
All of which is silly, of course, I keep telling myself that. Soon I was lying on the physiotherapist’s table, having flesh and sinew, muscle and fibre being cajoled back into place. After a few days I was able to walk without a limp, then I started to feel moments when I realised there was no pain, no discomfort. I’m not sure when I’ll be skiing again. But, I know I will.
Still, there’s no getting away from it. I fell.