Looking at my WordPress stats today I noticed someone visited the site and looked at my post Consequences of Youth. This, of course, got me thinking about more of the boneheaded pickles I got myself into before developing a mature fear of injury and death. Many I will take to my grave for fear of my children and grandson learning of the more irresponsible ones. I suppose they could learn from their telling, but I’ll leave that for my sisters to share at my funeral.
The episode that came to mind, also, took place at Killington, Vermont, where I had returned to work as a ski bum after graduating from college around Christmas 1973. This was my second season of ski bumming at White Stone Lodge (no longer open) in Mendon, Vt. in the ’71-’72 season. I took a break midway through my junior year to celebrate making it through the draft lottery avoiding a government sponsored trip to Southeast Asia.
White Stone Lodge was now under new management, bought by two couples from New York City. One couple lived and worked at the lodge and the other couple would come up on weekends to help out. I was the lone ski bum at this small ski lodge with a few motel units nextdoor. The kitchen staff (i.e., “Ruth the Cook”) and a couple neighbor teenage girls were the same folks from my first season there. My first season under the previous owners there were two ski bums, which was nice to have a partner to ski with and two vehicles. The latter allowed for relatively reliable transportation – usually one of them would start.
Being a small, intimate lodge, many of the guest were regulars and families, which included my family who had been coming to the lodge for several years. In the ’73-’74 season this included a guy (let’s call him Bill because I can’t remember his name) about my age who I met my first season there. As is the case with most young men in their 20s, Bill’s primary focus was on meeting girls and it happened that we had two young ladies staying at the lodge at the same time. I had only been at the lodge for about a week and was on my best behavior getting to know the new owners, so hitting on the guests was not on my agenda. However, Bill needed a “wing man” and was quite insistent. I agreed to meet up with him and the two young ladies at the mountain as soon as I could get there after my morning chores. I believe we met up at the Killington base lodge and headed up to the summit. We may have met at the summit lodge, but 48 years has clouded my memory of that part of the day. More indelible memories were about to occur.
Bill was a fair skier but the girls were novices. Therefore, the choice of trails were limited. The Bear Mountain development was being built and it included a very long novice trail called Great Bear, I believe, and so we started down this 2 or more mile trail. Bill and I would ski ahead and wait for the girls to catch up. This got boring very quickly, so we started skiing through the woods picking up the trail as it switched back and forth on the side of the mountain. This was great fun until we were about mid-trail (read: still a long way from the base) when I caught a tip on something under the snow, probably a downed tree limb, and made a classic “forward leaning, twisting fall”. Half-way to the ground I felt my right tibia snap at the boot top.
Now here I was in a awkwardly twisted heap on the snow, far from the base ski patrol shed looking at a clearly misshapen right leg. Did I mention it was somewhere below 10 degrees. Bill thought he should stay with me while the girls went for the ski patrol. I noted that we both could freeze to death before they got there, so I sent them all on. Like with my blown out knee, the cold can be helpful for the pain and soon my feet, which were uphill of me, became more painful from the cold than the broken bone.
This first patrol person arrived from up the trail and told me she had been given inaccurate information about where I was and not close to a stored toboggan as she thought, so she called for a snowmobile to bring a toboggan. While we waited she was able to get me untangled from skis and poles. She got an air splint on my leg as we heard the snowmobile coming up the trail. Never before did I enjoy being wrapped in blankets on a ski patrol toboggan as much as I did that day (wasn’t my first rodeo). The warmth of the ski patrol room was even better.
So the problem was obvious to me and the ski patrol; my tibia is broken at the boot top. The ski patrol folks advised that unless I wanted my very expensive (relative to a ski bums income) racing boots hacked up at the hospital, I should let them get the right boot off. I instantly knew he was right because these boots had only three buckles and were a bear to get on and off because they just didn’t open up very far or easily. The scary part was while we knew the tibia was broken we weren’t sure about the condition of the other lower leg bone, the fibula. I didn’t think it was broken, but something to consider. Fortunately, there was a big, burly plumber installing a bathroom for the ski patrol who was called in to help. So here’s the picture – me on my back on a small cot, one patrolman on the heel of my boot, one patrolman holding my leg below the break, and the plumber pulling my boot open with all his strength. At the point where my foot straightened to come out of the boot I reflexively wrapped the cot mattress around me reacting to the pain, at which point the guy pulling the boot off stopped. I began kicking at it with my other foot while hollering “DON’T STOP NOW!”, after which the boot went flying across the room. RELIEF!
So now, how do I get to the hospital in Rutland? I have no money and I wasn’t sure I had any insurance. No problem they said, you can get a ride with the airport shuttle. They go right past the hospital. Cool. So picture Otta Mann from the Simpsons.
Of course, that is about how I looked in 1974 (notice the image at the beginning of this post). Anyway, I was lifted into the shuttle van and the only other passenger was the driver’s very friendly Black Lab puppy. The challenge was keeping this dog off my leg for the 16-mile ride.
After that things get a bit hazy. Turns out I was still covered by my parents health insurance. Also, my new boss was very helpful and supporting in spite of the fact I was out of commission for a week or so before I could do much of anything. Washing dishes and entertaining guest with games of backgammon was about the limit.
I don’t recall how I retrieved my car from Killington, but my father took it back home when my family made their annual ski trip. He gave my girlfriend (now wife) a crash course in driving a stick, so she could come and get me when the season came to a abrupt end with an early thaw. I learned later the business arrangement between the owners fell apart and the remaining partners couldn’t survive the poor snow season.
My post-college plan was to ski bum around the world for a year or so, but that never happened. Routine life caught up with me while I was recovering back home in New York. You know, love, marriage, job, etc. But those two seasons gave me a lot of wonderful and a few painful memories to become wild stories to tell my grandson around a campfire. Well, some of them…