This Saturday, along with half of the Colby population, I headed up to Sugarloaf for some skiing. Unlike the majority of that population, however, I am a very inexperienced skier; I have only skied twice in my life. As such, I go very very slowly down the mountain on bunny slopes where I can’t possibly hurt myself. The steeper the slope was, I found, the slower I would go. And so, petrified at the summit of a shady black diamond slope at 3 in the afternoon, I stood still for long enough that I got to see the capillary sphincters we learned about in class in action. But that is only the beginning of the nightmare.
I stood at the top of the hill, looking at the tiny ant sized figures at the bottom of the cliff I was about to have to tackle. We had intended to only go down intermediate and beginner slopes, but had followed the wrong path and had ended up at the top of a black diamond with only one way down. I was with a very experienced skier who could easily descend in a matter of seconds, but I was frozen with fear. In the 20 minutes it took me to descend approximately 15 feet, my body temperature had dropped significantly because my body was no longer moving constantly. As we learned in class, the body, in order to maintain homeostasis, began to conserve heat by centralizing blood to my core. The capillary sphincters in my hands tightened, keeping blood from coming close to the surface. As a result, standing there 30 feet down on the steepest slope ever (in my mind), my fingers became numb. In a matter of minutes I could no longer hold my poles.
Mentally, I was absolutely freaking out. It was bad enough knowing that I was stuck on a slope way above my level, but now I had a medical problem. I knew the dangers of frostbite, and knew I wouldn’t last long if I didn’t do something. My first instinct was to call the patrols and have them take me down the mountain to where I could find warmth. I was saved from the embarrassment, however, when my friend climbed back up the mountain to reach me and gave me his gloves, put my hands in a fist in them, and manipulated them to force them to move. Slowly, I regained feeling and was struck with relief. It lasted about two second because I then realized I was still standing at the top of a black diamond facing my imminent doom.
The story, I regret to say, does not end particularly well. Well, I suppose it depends on your point of view. In the opinion of “standing on top of the cliff looking down” me, I am alive and writing this post, and thus I didn’t die…in other words the story ended spectacularly. In the opinion of right now me who is typing this whole thing with my left hand, it wasn’t an ideal ending.
After gaining a little confidence while descending, I started managing smaller turns, going a little bit faster. Unfortunately, a certain large patch of ice wanted to quell my growing ego and caused a wipeout I really wish I had on camera. I fell straight sideways into the ground on my right hip, as one would normally fall, but instead of stopping this time upon reaching the ground, my skis caught on the ground flipping my body up the mountain, twisting it at the knees. As I was pulled sideways, I realized I was headed straight towards the trees. I knew I needed to get my skis moving in a different direction or I would crash into the trees. My attempt to shift, however, resulted somehow in me facing up the mountain on my stomach, clawing at the icy snow as my skis, which were now facing down the mountain, dragged my body down the hill. It had felt as though someone had suddenly grabbed both of my legs and was dragging me down the mountain. Terrified at the speed at which I was descending, I made one last attempt at flinging my body sideways to turn it. I know not how exactly I ended up coming to a stop, but I remember vividly the sharp pain that shot down my right wrist and arm as I landed on it and it twisted under my body. A slightly less severe pain in my left knee from the previous twisting rendered me incapable of moving in my mangled position. It took my friend a good five minutes to get me back on my feet without sending us both tumbling down the slope. Needless to say, that was our last run.
Nevertheless, three lessons were learned that day that I wish to share with any other inexperienced skiers that may try their luck at the slopes:
1) Buy warm gloves. When you think they’re warm enough, put another layer under them.
2) Make absolutely certain you’re going down the right trails.
3) Always ski with a skier that is more experienced than you. You never know when you will get caught somewhere and need help that only experience can provide.
Me at Sunday River on a trail (even easier than a bunny slope). Look how happy I was…