Jan 18 2019

Another Season starts with lots of Powder!

Now that I have a house in BC, my ski season is split into two parts. In November and December, I take advantage of opening terrain in Colorado to get my powder legs. Then when January rolls around I head north to Canada. Unlike last year, Colorado started off with a bang as I managed to ski several deep powder days at Vail, Loveland and Beaver Creek. Below is a sample of what it was like – very tasty!

That’s my good buddy Joel Gratz laughing in the background and we spent a fabulous day plundering the deep untracked in Blue Sky.

I was also fortunate enough to catch the opening of chair 4 at Loveland so got to play in some of my favorite terrain in the early season. Then 2019 rolled around and I headed up to my house in Revelstoke. As usual they had great early season snow so when I got there conditions were prime. And as luck would have it, on my first day there I ran into my favorite guide GG and we proceeded to have a lovely powder day tour. 

At the same time, a crew of my friends had just arrived and caught a great day at Revelstoke Mountain Resort before we headed out for a three day cat trip at Great Northern Snowcat. To get there we had to take a ferry across Galena Bay which you can see in the photos below.

Once we got to the other side, it was a short drive to the lodge where my Revelstoke roommate Terry now runs operations. We had three great days of skiing with deep snow and blue skies the last two days. Day one on the other hand was a bit murky

On day two the skies started to clear and we were treated to fabulous views in every direction. We had a great group of folks to ski and dine with.

Notice that everyone has a big smile on their face as we had great conditions and a wonderful guide (Jamie – who I had met years ago at another operation) show us around. That’s him in the photos below enjoying himself – his enthusiasm was contagious!

There’s my buddy Joel again who as usual kept studying the conditions to add to his extensive database of weather patterns around the world.

And it wouldn’t be a powder trip without my buddy David who I have enough footage of to do a full length movie. He brought along his buddy Chip who most certainly enjoyed himself as you can see from the pics below

And Joel brought Alex along for his continuing powder training program he started last year at Kingfisher Heliskiing.While skiing with a snowcat does not provide as much vertical as a heli, it is more leisurely and still gets you to the terrain you expect to find in British Columbia. We got up high enough above the clouds to see the awesome views and found deep stable snow wherever we went – the perfect combination!

We also had a french trail guide (Nico) who entertained us in the cat and tore it up behind us on each run as seen above.

On day three we even took a short hike for a run that felt like Alaska terrain – big wide open turns for everyone! And it wouldn’t be BC if there wasn’t plenty of airtime for all with that soft forgiving snow to land in…

For some reason I forgot to take pictures of the lodge and while all the meals were instagram worthy I did not take any and just enjoyed the gourmet fixings. On the last day I had a Banh mi sandwich in the field – certainly a first for me. But as always the staff was wonderful, the accommodations lovely and the whole trip a delight! THANK YOU GREAT NORTHERN!!!

And now I’m back at my house in Revelstoke waiting for the snow to get deep again on the local hill…life is good!

 

 

 

 


Feb 12 2018

Revelstoke Mountain- Lift serviced Heli Terrain!

IMG_0619While I’ve spent a lot of time in British Columbia heli and cat skiing, until recently I had not done a lot of resort skiing there. I had sampled Red Mountain, Whitewater and Revelstoke, but last summer I took the plunge and bought a house in Revelstoke and am now a season pass holder there. While I originally chose Revelstoke because it is the heliski capital of North America (there are 5 heli ops based in town)  I have been thrilled to discover that with a mountain like Revelstoke I don’t need a cat or a heli to get the legendary powder skiing I’ve been chasing in BC for so many years!

8ZK4HZaURLCLpEVWkFx8qg

While Revelstoke is best known for having the most lift served vertical in North America (5620 ft top to bottom) in my limited experience the most amazing thing about the resort other than also having the most snow in North America (360 inches to date with a 100+ ” base) is the amazing glade skiing that is everywhere on the hill like in the pictures above. BC is well known for its old growth forests and Revelstoke Resort takes full advantage of those with a glading program that provides beautiful open lines everywhere you turn.

JDUB8ySoQMCUDafFdTL3DQ

+MTnGdF+T6GE%AkAaYzMHw

Amazingly enough, the resort provides access to 3000 acres and 4 big bowls with only one gondola and two lifts. While the master plan for build out of the mountain would ultimately make it bigger than Whistler, right now its a pretty simple mountain to navigate. You ride up the gondola, traverse to the Stoke Chair and either do 2000 ft laps on it, do a 5000’+ run to the bottom, hike up to the bowls or ski over to the Ripper lift which is a tree skiers paradise. No matter what you do, you’re bound to find some serious powder, especially this year as there are on a record pace during this 10th anniversary year.

We9%Gw82Q1WVXPeooPz9jQ

What I have just begun to explore are the huge hike to bowls – you can see the peak and the cliff walls in the background of the photos above. There are some very serious lines to be had up there and the Lemming Line (what a great name for the hiking trail) is a well trod path.

default-5 default-2 default-1

The lines the skiers in the above photo are pointing to are just the beginning of a massive bowl with numerous entrance points. The pictures below are looking back up at those cliffs.

Like most bowls surrounded by cliffs and ridges, the snow lofts in and thus is some of the deepest on the mountain. Below is a pic from a particularly bountiful day.

mLf2gHZ7SiimLaPqMfrNog

Thankfully with all that powder there is the sufficient steepness to make it all rideable.

And if you get bored of the endless glades and bowl skiing, you can always jump on one of the 5620 vertical foot runs which will provide you with views of the Columbia River all the way down as you legs turn to mush.

H81%IqQPSDuCs%1ncW+Lpg

As for the crowds these kind of goodies attract, it’s only on the biggest days that you’ll get a line like the one above which will quickly be dispersed all over the mountain. Revelstoke is a small town with limited lodging, with no big cities nearby. and hard to get to which guarantees that it never gets too crowded or skied out. 

j6OV1xMFRaKF+m9BFB1GKwSo for now I’m just going to keep exploring and enjoying my good fortune as the snow keeps rolling in. It may have taken me 30 + years to realize my ambition of becoming a ski bum, but now that I’m here I certainly have no regrets and am counting my blessings that I landed on this incredible hill…


May 1 2017

Kevin Edwards 1957-2017

At CMH K2 12/29/2015

I lost my ski partner last week, in the same place I met him originally, deep in the woods. I met Kevin in 2001 when I was skiing alone deep in some remote woods at the Keystone ski area. As I was coming out of the woods I saw a man below coming out of the same area so I decided to introduce myself. We got on the lift together and discovered that we lived less than a half mile apart in Boulder, had a kid the same age and were both powder fanatics. We proceeded to ski another 3 runs in the same area and cemented the deal that became the basis of our relationship. I would show him where the powder was and he would tow me out of the flats. 

050330- 059

Kevin and his posse at Great Canadian Heliskiing 4/1/2005

Kevin with his two favorite guides (to his immediate left) Greg Golovach and Terry Makos 4/1/2005

By the time I met Kevin he was already a heliskiing legend. The two photos above are from an event honoring his 100th day of heliskiing at Great Canadian Heliskiing where they bestowed on him a pair of custom skis for his achievement. Every year Kevin would put together a group of friends and bring them to this heli operation located between Golden, BC and Rogers Pass for a week of heliskiing. When I met him that first day at Keystone, we hadn’t been on the lift for more than 5 minutes before he started telling me how I had to join him up there.  Besides all the friends he brought with him he also became very close to the guides who worked there and became lifelong friends with them as well.

Kevin’s favorite form of transportation

Young and happy!

Kevin lived for those weeks in British Columbia. As he often described it, his life was 51 weeks of anticipation and one week of bliss! Kevin showed so many folks the joy of powder skiing and introduced me to so many kindred spirits. While the skiing was always phenomenal, the camaraderie was even better – fabulous dinners with good friends where we gave each other shit in between reliving just how fantastic the day had been.

IMG_7609

Never without a big smile in the mountains!

Leading the way!

Faster than a speeding bullet…

DSC00110

Showing us all how it’s properly done…

By 2008 I was on my 4th trip to GCH with Kevin and company and that was a particularly bountiful year as you can tell by watching the videos below

080111- 041

The video talent after a long day in the field…

Kevin with the man who led us to all those goodies and shot those videos!

Meanwhile back on the home front (Colorado) I decided to return the favor by introducing Kevin to my favorite powder mecca – Wolf Creek. From then on the Wolf became our sacred place – the place where we could always go to worship at the alter of deep powder – a few shots from one of our prayer sessions are below…

Up on Knife Ridge

Pure bliss going down…

Deep…

and deeper…

Kevin was the one person I could always count on to make the 9 hour round trip drive to Wolf for what I liked to call “48 hours of powder”. We’d go a couple of times a year and hike the ridge lines that surround the ski area – getting fresh tracks all day. The video below is from President’s Day Weekend in 2011 and what a typical two day trip was like for us…

So every year we would plan a trip to BC – we started moving around and checking out other places and bringing our crew with us. What we soon discovered was that the guides moved around too so every where we went we would be greeted by familiar faces.

Lunch in the Valhallas…

followed by some powder turns…

and an end of the day group portrait…

when the light was just perfect

In 2012 we decided to go back to Great Canadian for one last trip and boy was that a good decision. Once again led by the incomparable Greg Golovach we enjoyed 5 fabulous days as evidenced by the video below…

I’d follow these two just about anywhere…

I must admit that I occasionally cheated on Kevin and in 2011 was lured to Haines, Alaska by my other good heli buddy David Cole. It took awhile but I finally convinced Kevin there was more to skiing than trees so in 2013 he joined our AK crew for the first time. And of course he took to it like a fish to water…

There’s that grin again…

P1110650

In to the steeps…

SONY DSC

with the AK crew

After that trip the crews began to merge and we ended up with what I called the core four – me, Kevin, David and Aaron Suzuki – four guys who could easily be convinced to go anywhere and everywhere as long as there was powder to be had…

Was it something he ate?

Our first trip together was to Revelstoke, BC where after a couple of days on the hill we headed out to Eagle Pass to ski with Scotty Newsome, our old guide from SnowwaterSONY DSC

From there it was on to Valdez, Alaska where we had a most unfortunate incident. To make a long story short, due to an unexpected cornice collapse, Aaron, I and one of our guides fell 1200 feet down a mountainside. Aaron and the guide sustained minor injuries but I unfortunately turned my leg all the way around and tore every ligament in my left knee. Kevin wrote a long piece about this trip and the meaning of faith which is worth reading in retrospect. 

Kevin at the bustling Valdez airport

and the equally busy Chugach Range

One year and 100+ PT appointments later I got back on my board and headed back to BC with the gang and sampled a CMH experience at their K2 Rotor Lodge and of course, Kevin was there.

Bonding with Aaron

Tearing it up with that big smile

and mixing with the rest of the riff raff

And earlier this year, we met up with our old friends and guides Greg and Terry at Kingfisher Heliskiing and had ourselves a most joyful reunion.

Ever seen this posse before?

or this smiling face?

or the one ski trick Kevin knew how to do?

So up till now, this post has read like a most pleasant travelogue but unfortunately it does not have a happy ending. Last Friday, April 28th, while skiing in the woods with me at Loveland, something happened – (amended note – coroner now says cause of death “heart failure” from enlarged heart which is a known issue with endurance athletes – he was a triathlete) not sure exactly what and may never know but the end result is that Kevin is no longer with us. I can not tell you how sorry I am I was not able to help him when he needed me most. We were ski partners for 15+ years and chased powder all over North America together. He was there at both my highest and lowest moments and I’d like to think I helped him through some tough times but for the most part he led a charmed life on the slopes which all came to a terrible end last week. Kevin was a great guy, who made people laugh, helped everyone he could and was an inspiration to us all. I can not believe I will never share another run with him again or hear him give me shit about my liberal leanings.

Right before the last run of his life

I am going to miss Kevin so much. I was so lucky to have him as my ski partner over all these years. He pulled me out of so many flat spots both literally and figuratively. He was beloved by so many and the first to pitch in when anyone needed some help. I can not believe he is gone but if there is a heaven I know he’s skiing deep powder right now. Goodnight sweet prince…


Jan 15 2017

Return of the Fantastic Four

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp

Since the unfortunate and abrupt ending to my last trip to Alaska I have not had the great pleasure of skiing with what I call the core four – that is is me and the only three guys I know that have just as bad a powder addiction as I do. We have done numerous trips together to both British Columbia and Alaska and except for our misfortune in Valdez we have always had a fabulous time riding together. So when my favorite sherpa Kevin started raving about a new operation he found in the legendary Monashee Range, it didn’t take much convincing to get the band back together.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

The first landing in the early morning light is a instant reminder of how beautiful it is high up in the mountains and how lucky we are to be there. The ghost trees are particularly stunning and other worldly. 

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

And then it’s time to play follow the leader…

As usual British Columbia has had a ton of early season snow so our only concern was the predicted sub zero temperatures which fortunately had passed by the time we got there. Instead we were treated to classic BC conditions – a deep base covered with a minimum of a foot of fresh wherever we went which got deeper and deeper as the week progressed.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kevin in his natural habitat

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

David getting buried

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Aaron finding his bliss..

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Rippin time

The Monashees are famous for their old growth forest and amazing tree skiing and certainly our experience did nothing to dispel that truism. Besides providing a natural slalom course, the trees help keep the snow in pristine condition by blocking the wind and letting the snow pile up for us powder carnivores. So while the upper exposed slopes might be a little wind affected and only have a surface powder layer, the trees are invariably soft and deeeeeeeep.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

One of the big boys…

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Not just tree skiing

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Oh chute!

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Quick, our guide’s getting away…

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

on his tail

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

oh, what a beautiful morning…

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

now there’s proper technique

But as you can see from the photos above there was a wide variety of terrain to keep us entertained. From tight chutes to long powder stuffed meadows there was big fun around every corner. And of course all of it had natural features to play in and jump off. And since the landings are all deep and soft, the temptation is hard to resist.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

And the man who lead us to all this glory

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Our fearless guide, Matt

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

showing us how it’s done

Of course none of this is possible without a great operation making it happen. In this case it was Kingfisher Heliskiing whose entire staff treated us like royalty and made our every wish their command. Our guide Matt Devlin, whose attitude is best summed up by his photo above, delivered the goods run after run with a smile permanently etched on his face (not surprising considering what we had at our disposal).

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

the long commute from our lodging to the helipad…

And beyond the great skiing, delicious meals, comfy accommodations and toasty hot tub that Kingfisher provided there’s simply just the incredible scenery everywhere you look.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

It goes without saying that the hardest part of a helitrip is leaving, especially when it’s snowing hard which is exactly what happened on our last day.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Do we really have to leave?

The four shots above were taken on our last run and as you can see it was dumping! This would also be a good time to thank Kevin for all the fabulous photos he took (which you can click on to see larger) which are the majority of the action shots in this post. 

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

How we all felt about this trip

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

nothing like riding with good friends

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

and with all this bounty

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

no wonder his smile’s so big

As always we shot a ton of video and like last year I’m just going to post a tease until I have the time and energy to go through all the footage. It was a fabulous trip with great friends and marvelous conditions so until I see them again, here’s a tribute to the Fantastic Four – thank you guys!!!

 

 

 


Jan 16 2016

Back in the Heli Again…

CMH K2 transport ship

Sure beats Uber…

After my accident in Valdez, one of the questions people most frequently asked me was whether I would ever heliski again. For me, the accident had less to do with heliskiing than with the inherent risks involved in riding big mountains. The big question for me was whether I’d be physically able to ride again at all, not where I would do so if I could. So once the docs gave me the okay and CMH advertised that they were having a half price sale, I didn’t think twice about booking a helitrip in British Columbia where I have had so many great experiences previously.

CMH K2

Home sweet home…

I had never previously been to a CMH operation (they have 11 lodges spread throughout British Columbia) and had always thought of them as the big box store of heliskiing. I had no doubt that they they offered a great experience, but was used to going with smaller operators and smaller groups. However they were making an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we decided to try something different and boy did that turn out to be a great decision.

CMH K2

The syndicate

The biggest difference between this trip and past ones is that we would be riding in a bigger helicopter with a group of 10. Theoretically, this could have meant fewer untracked lines, and longer wait times but in reality it meant just more folks to celebrate the amazing conditions with that we were fortunate to have all week. BC has had an excellent early season and after a long stretch of on and off snow, we managed to catch the first stretch of sunny days with cold temps and no wind to disturb our precious bounty.

CMH K2

Before…

CMH K2

After…

One of our big concerns with any heli operation is whether they “farm” their snow – that is they insist that skiers/riders stay close to one another in order to save as much untracked as possible for future groups. So we were thrilled to discover that our guides had a very much laissez-faire approach to our chosen routes down the hill. Basically all they required was that we meet up at the bottom of the hill so everyone got to enjoy fresh lines no matter when or where they started. And because the snow stability was excellent and their terrain is primarily classic Kootenay tree skiing, we got to ride steep untracked lines all day long. What else could we ask for?

CMH K2

You don’t always need a helicopter to catch some air…

CMH K 2

Aaron shows how free heelers do it

CMH K2

Kevin with his usual cat swallowing the canary look…

IMG_7221

Trevor with his V for Victory pose…

Originally, this trip was going to be a reunion of our “core four” – the same group that went to Revelstoke and Valdez together two years ago. Unfortunately, one of the founding members had to drop out but came up with a worthy replacement as seen directly above. We then spread the word and picked up three more associates who ripped along with us.

CMH K2

Did I mention how beautiful it was…

CMH K2

everywhere you looked…

DSC00158

and when you got there…

CMH K2

there were never any tracks…

Since we had nothing but bluebird days, the scenery was spectacular everywhere you turned and the late December sunlight was glorious all day. This led to an abundance of picture taking of our very photogenic crew.

DSC00131

Aaron finding his zen…

DSC00174

What me worry?

CMH K2

Who took this photo?

CMH K2

Our staff photographer, Kevin Edwards, of course…

My good buddy Kevin always complains that I never give him photo credit so I’m going to publicly state right now that any good photo of me is his doing and I owe him dearly for that as well as all the times he pulls me out of a flat spot. Who says skiers and snowboarders can’t get along?

CMH K2

But enough scenery shots…

CMH K2

let’s get back to why we were really there…

CMH K2

to find deep powder…

CMH K2

to rip turns through…

CMH K2

run after run…

CMH K2

and I’ve got to say…

CMH K2

it was absolutely worth…

IMG_0025

every second…

CMH K2

of my…

CMH K2

rehab.

Of course, we need to thank all the great folks at the CMH K2 Rotor Lodge for the delicious food, comfy accommodations, rides to the Nakusp Hot Springs after skiing, and most of all the incredible guiding and terrain they provided for four amazing days!

CMH K2

Cool sign too…

It’s really hard to capture just how fabulous the skiing/riding was with just some still photos especially because when you’re in the middle of an incredible run, stopping to take a photo generally isn’t at the top of your priority list. Fortunately we also shot a ton of video but cutting that into something that someone other than the participants would want to watch is a rather large task. In my past life, I was once a video editor so I may attempt to do just that but for now you’ll just have to settle for this tease.

And yes, my surgically rebuilt knee held up just fine, so there will be more tales from the Gluten Free Snowboarder. I need to thank my surgeon for sewing me back together, my physical therapists for working me hard, my family for helping me in times of need and my friends for telling me I’d be back. It not only takes a village to raise a child, but also to put a broken snowboarder back on the mountain. Thanks everyone, and see you on the slopes!!!


Apr 18 2015

Happy Anniversary?

Mount Sanitas, Boulder, CO

Sure beats the Vail Valley Medical Center…

Well, it’s now been a year since my fall and surgery and my how time does not fly when you’re rehabbing from a major injury. I recently passed my 100th physical therapy appointment (including the ones in Vail immediately after my surgery) and they tell me when I hit my 100th in Boulder they’ll name a therapy table after me. It’s been a long brutal process but I’m happy to report that things are definitely looking up. While my range of motion is definitely limited and I’ll likely always have some pain and stiffness, my leg strength has almost fully returned and as you can see from the photo above I can now hike the steep hills that I’ve always used to get in shape for backcountry snowboarding.

East Ridge Trail, Mount Sanitas

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…

East Ridge Trail, Mount Sanitas

My partner in crime…

Fortunately I live just down the street from one of the nicest hiking trails in Boulder and have a companion who’s always willing to keep me company on my treks. It’s been an unusually dry spring in town and we’ve taken advantage of the conditions to work me back into shape. While doing hundreds of squats and lunges at home and at PT never gets old, building strength by climbing up steep terrain is far more rewarding.

Little Scraggy Trail, Buffalo Creek

Back in the saddle again…

As an added bonus, last week I did my first mountain bike ride in 18 months and while my mind was a little nervous my body handled it flawlessly. So this summer will hopefully be filled with many more rides as I get back into my normal routines. All this is in preparation for next winter when I hope to take up snowboarding full time once again.

Valdez, AK

Before the fall…

It’s been a challenging winter watching the snow fly and not being able to get out in it. I’ve had to live vicariously through friends and other online powder connoisseurs and at times it’s been very painful. Fortunately for me, while there was plenty of powder to be had if one worked hard for it, it was not a particular epic winter in Colorado or BC, two of my favorite stomping grounds. Alaska on the other hand, (where the above photo is from) has been going off and is in one of the best snow cycles in years. Watching this from afar has made me thoroughly reconsider my vow never to go back. While Valdez is certainly out of the equation, future visits to Haines now seem like not such a bad idea. In the bigger picture, while I’m very thankful that I can even walk after the nasty spill I took, it’s been the dream of snowboarding again that has motivated me through many a long and painful rehab session.  While nothing is ever certain, the gluten free snowboarder does plan to ride again!


Nov 11 2014

It’s getting better all the time…

First snow of winter

It’s that time again

After an incredibly beautiful and extended fall season here in Colorado, winter returned yesterday with the temperature dropping 40 degrees in a matter of hours along with several inches of snow. They’re calling for a high of 10 degrees tomorrow with snow through the weekend so this is definitely not just another one of those snowboarding dreams that regularly course through my subconscious mind while I sleep. Of course, the snow triggers all sorts of conscious feelings – the most prominent being when the blank am I going to be able to snowboard again!

Just add snow

It’s now been almost seven months since my knee surgery and while I’ve made tremendous progress by committing (or submitting, depending on how you look at it) myself to an intensive rehabilitation program it appears I am not quite ready for primetime just yet. The physical therapist’s office has become my second home and I am now much more familiar with the different types and levels of pain one can endure without actually passing out. When I wasn’t gathering that excruciating knowledge, I did my best to get back out in the mountains even if only by car and then later foot (no mountain biking season for me this year). Luckily for me Colorado is just as beautiful in the summer as it is on a pristine powder day.

It's a family affair...

Road tripping with the family

Fortunately, I have a new partner in crime, a young blond I met just last year. She’s passionate, athletic and generally up for anything – just what I needed to help get through these challenging times.

IMG_0758

Her name is Lola – short for Lolita

IMG_0836

Me and my girl

Together we’ve been whipping me back into shape by hiking the local trails in Boulder. If there has been one upside to this injury it’s that I’ve been motivated to get back into hiking and Boulder certainly has plenty to offer on that front.

Our typical morning stroll

So between all the hiking and physical therapy my leg has gotten much stronger. I still however lack the full range of strength, motion and flexibility I need to get back out on the mountain. While my surgeon is very pleased with my progress and no longer suggesting the need for a second surgery, he is not at all interested in seeing me back on the slopes anytime soon. Granted, this is not surprising news given the severity of my injury but just the thought of maybe getting a few powder days in the spring has been the carrot that has kept me going through a very long and painful rehab. And given the rate at which my leg has been improving, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that I could achieve that goal. So for now, I will abide by his wishes and keep hammering away at my very incalcitrant scar tissue but come spring I may have to take matters into my own hands…


May 26 2014

May I have another please…

Vail PT

I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers…

Tomorrow marks the six week anniversary of my surgery. On the one hand I’ve made tremendous progress since then as immediately after surgery my leg was one big swollen mass that I could barely bend at all. Now I can see my ankle bones again, have had all my stitches and bandages removed and can almost bend it 90 degrees. On the other hand, it took me almost ten minutes and five rest stops to walk 2 blocks this week and I have paid dearly for everyone of those degrees of mobility. So I alternate between a small sense of optimism that it’s eventually going to be all better and a deep depression over how far I have to go.

Fortunately my two primary helpers, Benita and Miles have been very tolerant of my mood swings. Weekends are the toughest as during the week my work keeps me busy but on the weekends the days stretch out forever. Throughout my life I have always used exercise to keep me sane and my energy balanced and really I’m not sure how I’ve lasted this long without it. But I guess we humans are remarkably adaptable creatures, given no choice we keep on going and doing things that in theory don’t seem possible.

Physical therapy is the key to the road back and is both very rewarding and exceedingly painful. It’s really encouraging to hear my therapist say my knee is looking better and see it bend a little further than the last time but then the session starts and now it’s all about pain tolerance. While it feels like to me that there is a mechanical limit to how much I can bend my leg, my therapist assures me it could go further if I would only relax my muscles that are resisting and focus on something besides the pain that comes when he pushes me past what I think is my limit. I am no longer taking any narcotics so I wonder out loud if they could just knock me out for 45 minutes and do whatever they want with my leg while I was unconscious. Unfortunately that does not seem to be an option so instead I grimace and bear it and leave the sessions totally exhausted.

At home, I have a whole other set of exercises designed to do the same thing. Fortunately those involve a stopwatch which gives me an end point that I can focus on. Surely I can stand another 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 10 and oh the joy when the clock hits zero. While I generally lack patience I am nothing if not disciplined so I do everything I’m supposed to and then hit the ice machine for some short term relief.

Tomorrow being six weeks also means I am allowed to start weight bearing on the bad leg. While I’m not sure how this works, it ultimately means I will be able to get rid of my crutches and while I have these new fancy ones that are easier to use, I will not miss them for a second. Having your hands tied up when you move from place to place means carrying things with you that are larger than pocket size is very problematic and means you are totally dependent upon others to move almost anything around and frankly I’m no Blanche Dubois.

I’m frequently asked what the timetable for my recovery looks like and unfortunately no one without psychic powers can answer this question. So much depends on how my knee (particularly my meniscus) responds and it seems like it’s a 50/50 proposition that they may have to go back in at some point for further work but that in the bigger scheme of things that would not be a huge setback. I was just recently give a new brace that I have to wear for the next six months 24/7 so there is a timetable on that but I’m best off not trying to figure out “whens” and just focusing on what I need to do today. Being a pessimist by nature that leads me to totally write off the next ski season but I must admit there is a tiny part of me that dreams about some spring skiing next year especially as I see my friends are already planning a trip to BC next March – highly unlikely but you never know.

I’m not really sure who I’m writing this for as no one is really interested in the minutiae of my recovery but I figure as long as I’m documenting everything else I might as well include this and perhaps it will be helpful someday in providing me perspective on the whole experience. There are moments when I still can’t believe this has happened to me and don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next year but then I remember there’s nothing I can do about it that I’m not already doing so I just sigh (or cry, depending on my mood) and continue on my merry way. I’m sure there are some bigger life lessons here but those will have to wait till further down the line when I’m looking back in a more reflective mood – right now it’s just a matter of putting one crutch in front of the other…

 


Apr 27 2014

Rehab, anyone?

IMG_0725

My newly refurbished left knee

First comes the accident – unexpected, chaotic and life changing in less than a minute. Then comes surgery – definitely expected, very controlled and over in a matter of hours. Last comes rehab – definitely expected, many, many variables and lasts a long, long time. The accident was like spinning a gigantic wheel of fate – could of have escaped entirely (like two of my friends did), could have easily died – ended up somewhere in the middle (major injury but nothing life threatening or overly traumatic). The surgery was brutal – 4 and a half hours, very complicated, total rebuild from scratch required but lucked out and got one of the best docs in the world to do it and went as well as it could. Rehab – just getting started down a very long road but finally I get to have some say in the matter and that feels good.

One of the major recurring themes for me of this whole experience has been the notion of luck. Never has the term “relative” meant so much. Definitely got unlucky that the cornice collapsed, lost again when I got caught in it, won the battle when I didn’t die, and could have done much better (as my two fellow tumblers did) or much worse (paralysis, brain injury, amputation – just to name a few) on the injury front. Every time I show my medical record to someone I go through the same process. First they take a look at the damage and are suitably impressed  – no run of the mill ACL tear here – and immediately ask how this happened. Then after I describe the scenario and maybe show them a picture, we’re in “you’re lucky to be alive territory”. And then, there’s there’s all the rest – what do we do now?

The first doc who saw me locally did me a major favor and quickly acknowledged that while he could fix me up, their were people close by who were a lot more experienced at this than he and I might be well suited to visit them. Like any athlete in Colorado, I was well aware of the Steadman Clinic in Vail where all the professional skiers and lots of other major athletes go to have surgery and rehab. And because I live in the state of Colorado, my insurance company considers them in network so no additional cost to use them over any other provider. This clearly falls on the good fortune side, yes?

So I call them on the phone, get a consult with surgery tentatively set and have my brother fly out to help me get there and get through the surgery. Only when I see the doc, it turns out I have a blood clot so have to have another procedure first where a valve gets installed in my stomach which means no knee surgery and another week of waiting – not the best of “luck” but not at all uncommon and once again a lot better than that clot getting loose before discovery and floating up to my heart and lungs and potentially killing me.

Finally we get to surgery – major, major damage to all ligaments and other attachments – nothing holding the leg together so they have to have three docs just hold the leg in place the whole time so main surgeon can work on it. Initially can’t find meniscus and are about to give up on that when it finally appears. All in all, surgery is a success but is that good luck that they were able to overcome some serious obstacles or bad luck that it was so screwed up in the first place?

In the end, obviously “good luck/bad luck” – none of it matters. It is what it is, gotta deal with the cards dealt, time to move on to something where I have some control over the outcome and that is rehab. Now my will and determination come in to play. Still a ton of variables (particularly how my body responds) but at least it’s no longer just a waiting game for me. Initially there’s not a lot I can do – since they had to rebuild everything from scratch there is no strengthening to be done until the new ligaments and graphs have set up. This means most of my day is comprised of short bouts of stretching mixed with long bouts of icing and seeing how far over my head (heart actually) I can get my leg without my hips and hamstring applying for amnesty. Now I was not a particularly limber guy before the accident – a yoga teacher used to refer to me as a “classic stiff white guy” (at least I hope she was referring to my flexibility) so this constant raising my leg as far as it can go is not only problematic but incredibly uncomfortable.

But once again I guess this is something that I should be “thankful” for – the biggest issues I face right now are being physically uncomfortable all the time and the resulting lack of sleep that follows. I’m not paralyzed, crippled or brain damaged (at least not permanently – in the short term the narcotics are definitely not making me smarter).  I’m making good progress so far in the mobility department – up to 65 degrees – and that is the biggest short term battle – getting as much mobility as I can before the scarring sets in.  So as I slowly evolve from glutenfreesnowboarder to ligamentfreesnowboarder to hopefully onceagainasnowboarder I’ll continue to ponder the concept of “lucky” and will let you know when I figure it out…

 


Apr 22 2014

The enemy is finally starting to show her face…

IMG_0724

Time to pay the piper

It’s 3 am once again and here I am back at the writing tablet. I was here at the same time last night but that was a very different experience. That was almost giddy fun in a way – let’s play this recovery from an injury as a comedy, milk it for a few laughs and get some sympathy at the same time.

Tonight is a very different game. Tonight is the start of a long new battle with a very old adversary.  I knew she was out there, lurking, just biding her time. She’s a very sneaky opponent always changing forms. She is pain. Not sharp, I stepped on a tack pain, although that’s in her repertoire, she is constant, overwhelming, unrelenting but yet still a little subtle in her own way pain.

Most people assume that if you have an experience like I did tumbling down a mountain that it gosh darn must hurt a lot. And while I’m sure for a lot of people in similar scenarios that is the case for me it initially didn’t . When I was falling everything was happening so quickly and I vaguely remember feeling my leg plant in a unusual but not searingly painful way somewhere during the ride. I can’t have tumbled more than 20 seconds and then I was upside down in the snow, knowing that I’ve been totally conscious during the ride, but that’s something’s not quite right – I can’t seem to move my leg but it’s not because I’m buried – my initial hope – but because something is wrong with my leg – it has been rotated far beyond what is has been designed to do. As soon as the guide makes it over he sees my leg pointing in the wrong direction and knows at the very least something is broken and starts the rescue.

At this point I know I’ve fucked up big time. But it’s not pain that’s my immediate concern. Yes it’s nasty and moving my body is rather unpleasant but this is not a searing, god I can’t take this, kill me now sort of pain. Maybe it’s the body protecting itself with adrenaline and maybe it’s just the the right biology but even while I’m screaming while they move me to the helicopter I know part of me is just being dramatic and that if some kind of reward for being quieter were available I could have chosen that route.

Now if you know me you know I’m not that tough, actually I’m a bit of a wimp and never hesitant to share my misery. This of course comes heavily into play in this scenario, where I am given full license to be the unhappiest person in the room and naturally I take full advantage of it. I chose to curse a blue streak and berate the gods for their callousness. Aaron, my buddy who has also taken a tumble of his own and gotten his own injuries (albeit far less serious upon initial assessment) takes a far more intelligent path and focuses on the fact that my god, somehow 3 of us have tumbled 1000 feet down a very nasty slope (your general worst case scenario) and we’re still alive – we have so much to be thankful for (we both have children) and everything ultimately is going to be alright – it’s a god damn miracle, and he’s right.

But that’s not what I see because I’m not a glass half full type of guy. No, what I see and start immediately calculating is how much a pain in the ass this injury is going to be, how much pain, how much rehab, how much inconvenience this is going to be. And I’m very good at this, having torn major body parts before and more importantly having long mastered the art of using my finely honed analytic skills to parse out all the different ways this is going to suck the fun out of my life for the foreseeable future. Am I an ungracious bastard or what? Here by some miracle my life has been spared and yet that’s the last thing I’m focused on.

But why that is and why anyone should care is a story for another evening. Tonight we’re talking about pain and while the ride to the hospital is rather uncomfortable, it’s really not all that unbearable and soon enough we’re there. This is where modern medicine kicks in, the nurses start firing questions and while they know it’s not good from the looks of it, they’re mostly concerned with making sure it’s not life threatening and after a number of quick assessments we know this is not the case. And really, I’m in Valdez, where in addition to the number of heli ops guaranteeing some good action, this is a major industrial port with major industrial accidents so nothing too exciting here.

Pretty soon I’m all doped up and that when any really significant pain ends until I go into surgery almost three weeks later. Yeah, it’s a a pain in the ass to lug your leg around in a cast but actually not all that painful – there is a definite distinction there and that’s what tonight’s story is all about. Surgery is painful. That’s why that got the anesthesiologist who’s sole task it is to keep his/ her eye on your pain. And modern medicine has more drugs and tricks for numbing that pain than hopefully you will ever need to find out. That’s great and has led to people recovering from all sorts of thing that would have been pretty much impossible in the past. But it can’t get rid of all of it and that’s what bring us to tonight.

So when I was in the heli/bus counting and ranking the list of unpleasantries this accident was going to incur, pain was high on the list. Because I remember that when I tore my ACL previously that when a friend accidentally bumped into my leg a few days after getting home from post op I wanted nothing more that to remove him and every trace of his past from the face of the earth for merely touching my leg – real pain, take me now lord kind of action. And given the severity of my recent injury and what would be involved in fixing it, I knew there would have to be some kind of reckoning for that.

I am nothing if not practical. Once you take out the option of not fighting the battle at all, I want to know immediately what I’m dealing with, what I’m going to have to do to get through this. I know I can deal with the rehab, I know I can handle all the logistics, but what I didn’t  know and have been wondering ever since I ended upside down in the snow, is can I deal with the pain?

You see, I have a little problem with narcotics. No I’m not the addictive type, but most of what makes them work well for a lot of people doesn’t work real well for me. Narcotics don’t knock me out, they wire me up – that’s why you got last nights giddy stream of consciousness. I can’t really sleep while taking them. And on top of all that they cause the same side effects that everyone hates – constipation, nausea and general unpleasantness.

This is why many of my friends who have had to deal with this have approached it in the same manner I have, which is try to get off of them as soon as possible or find one that is tolerable. My problem is that I find none of them tolerable and that with the amount of trauma my body is dealing this time with getting off them any time soon is not a possibility.

Which once again leads me back to tonight since up until now I haven’t been entirely sure what I was dealing with. You see since my last surgery they’ve added this new things called pain blockers – little bags of meds they keep attached to you after surgery that help fight/mask the pain. And until tonight I just haven’t been sure how much of a role they’ve been playing because the pain has been way up and down. One minute I think, hey this isn’t so bad, maybe I got lucky this time and then all of a sudden all I can think about is that throbbing in my leg. Turns out the pain blockers have been responsible for the “maybe I’ve gotten lucky this time” thinking because as the last drops work their way though my system my old nemesis has been rearing her ugly head.

The thing that really clued me into the possibility that this scenario might play out this way was the huge quantities of narcotics my docs prescribed for me for post op. Surely there must be some kind of mistake – why would I need week’s worth’s of painkillers – in the past, a couple of days, week tops for the prescription. And more importantly, why we’re there two sets – one for short term pain and the other for long – kind of a fine line there. And I don’t remember them coming with stool softener and anti nausea right off the bat because didn’t they take a while to develop and thus might not be necessary at all if all went well?

That because my old friend has a few allies on her side this time. Now that the pain blockers have worn off and I can actually feel my leg again I can tell just how much my love, support and most importantly, time my knee needs to become whole again. This is not a repair, this is a rebuild from scratch.

Now if you’ve hung in this long I want you to know that this is not all bad news for me. Yes, I’m pissed that I’m clearly going to need to be taking these narcotics for weeks. Which means lots of sleepless nights and more essays (oh lucky you, faithful reader) And yes, my knee needs a lot of love and tenderness but so far she’s responded beautifully. But now I know exactly who I’m dealing with – who I will be sharing my mind with till I can escape her grasp. And I have a new weapon too, one that they taught me about in school all those years ago. I’m going to use my words…