Earning Karma

I’ve told this story but felt like it was worth wider sharing. If you’ve heard it before; move along, there’s nothing new here.

Skiing is one of the few sports/activities that I enjoy. I’d do it more often than three days a year if I could a) afford it. b) miss more work. c) physically endure it. It’s essentially a controlled slide down a frozen mountain with a plank stuck on each foot and a sharp stick in each hand. Since I don’t have any depth perceptions, I ski rather stiffly. I can’t see the bumps coming so I’m always, at some level, expecting to fall. However, it’s not so much the sliding down the mountain that I enjoy. It’s the being in control or when and where I slide that I find amazing. That being said, when I come across someone who had failed the ‘controlled’ portion of the equation, I just have to stop and help.

We were skiing down Galaxy run to the Galaxy lift. Even though this was our first day skiing and we were rusty, we had already done a lot to get our ski legs back. You can’t get this far when you start on the California side of Heavenly without taking three lifts and skiing as many runs. And this was not our first time down this run. We were almost at the bottom and coming over the last plateau before dropping to the lift area. On the trail map, this is where Outlaw and Galaxy meet. (As a side note for those who don’t ski, it’s engrained in you early on that it is the skier’s responsibility to avoid other skiers in front of/below you with the result that you spend so much time watching downhill that where trails meet there are actually signs that remind you to look uphill.) I noticed a ski in the snow and started to slow down. While I was adjusting my path to be able to pick up the ski, I noticed a ski pole and a few inches away something black that turned out to be a hat. As I’m braking to get the ski, I see below the hat another loose ski, And below that I see a man huddled over someone and a younger man sitting in the snow with one ski on. Thea has stopped below them and is asking if everything is alright. I don’t hear all the the exchange but she agrees to ski down to the lift and try to get the ski patrol involved.

So that’s the tableau. The older gentleman is talking to the woman huddled on the ground. She’s saying that her shoulder hurts and it’s really uncomfortable but she doesn’t think that she wants to stand up. The younger guy below her is holding his hand to his mouth and looking very green like he’s about to pass out. At this point, I start taking in more and notice all the spots of blood in the snow and on the younger guy’s hand and white ski pants. It looks like he has a vertical cut from just under his nose into his mouth. The woman on the ground has pulled her hood back to reveal that there’s blood in her hair and on the inside of the hood. The older gentleman and I are keeping them talking, asking them what we can do. I tell the split-lip guy that he looks very pale and ask if he feels like he’s going to throw up. He holds up his hand a gives me the so-so sign. I ask him to please just sit and wait for help.

Within a few minutes of our stopping, a ski patrol stops and takes charge. The first thing that he does is ask the older guy and me to walk a little way back up the hill and signal to the other skiers that there’s an accident by holding our poles over our heads and crossing them. The second thing is to call for more experienced help. He reiterates to the younger guy to stay down and gets him to show him his mouth. He then moves to the woman and starts examining her. I’m looking uphill and listening downhill. He’s asking both of them their names, if they know where they are, if they know what happened. I can’t hear any of their responses. As skiers and boarders come down, we hold our poles crossed over our heads. Skiers above us slow and cautiously go by. Most turn and shout something to the others they are skiing with. Boarders slow down and hold up their fist to signal other boarders to slow down. One girl sees us holding our poles crossed over our heads and skies by saying “I don’t know what that means”. But by the time she’s saying it she knows what it means. So, instead of it coming out as a question it comes out as an apology.

A second ski patrol has arrived. he’s going through the same things but gently touching the woman’s arm, shoulder, head and back. He asks me what I saw. I told him that when I came along they were both already down. I put in my two cents saying that I didn’t think that either of them could make it down on their own. I was probably just reflecting his own thoughts. They had already been sitting in the snow for at least ten minutes. He kneels down for another look at them and calls for snow mobiles and back-boards. The younger guy still has his hand to his mouth. When they tell him that he’s going to be taken off on a back-board, I see him nod a few times, silent, I hear the second ski patrol say into his radio that the woman has a long cut behind her right ear. To my eyes, she hasn’t moved from her huddled position. I’ve never seen her face.

It’s at least another five minutes before the snowmobiles arrive. For some reason, I was expecting them to come from below. But they come across from Outlaw and stop in a line in front of me. They have strobe lights that they turn on to signal the skiers. I’m thanked for helping and asked to clear the area so that they can work. They start unstrapping the backboards. I ski away.

2 Comments

  1. Wil C. Fry

    Interesting reading.

    I’ve never been skiing, but your story reminds me of being the first person to the scene of a car accident; I’m never sure exactly how to act or what to say. I can’t say “Is everyone all right?” when it’s obvious they aren’t. When I worked for the newspaper, I often listened carefully to my radio scanner and slowed my car to make sure I wasn’t the first to arrive.

    Reply
  2. Richard

    Wil, I do that too.

    Michael, only the Universe can dole out karma.

    Reply

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