It just happened that one of Sarah's buddies from middle school was vacationing at The Canyons, so Sarah was excited to meet up with her to ski. By mid-morning, the sun was out, Sarah and Lily had hooked up and taken off together, and Sam, Becky and I were scrutinizing the trail map for good runs. (Bobby was back at home, having decided to take the day off.)
We found some beautiful groomed "blues" (trails of intermediate difficulty) off a lesser-used lift. Sam and Becky can handle very advanced terrain, but I am a slightly wobblier skier than they are, and so they accommodate me by choosing steep but smooth slopes, and we all stay together. We spent the morning zooming down the blues and jumping back onto the lift to do it again and again. The mountain view from the top was spectacular, so we stopped occasionally to take a few pictures.
After a while we got hungry, so we paused for some lunch and hot chocolate. There is nothing like dining al fresco in 17-degree-Fahrenheit weather. It makes you feel alive and invigorated. It may sound corny, but it gives you a sense of belonging to the landscape, of being part of the scheme of creation. Becky gave a bit of her hamburger bun to a chickadee, who consumed it right next to us, without fear.
Then it was back up on the lift. We moved to some different slopes and kept going, all afternoon. I felt euphoric. My heart was pounding. This could be the best skiing day I had ever had, and I was certainly skiing the best I had ever skied. I even beat Becky and Sam down some of the trails. I had been thinking about taking a lesson once I got really warmed up and into my game. I knew I was ready, so I made plans in my head to arrange for a lesson tomorrow. I hopped off the lift and followed Sam down a new trail.
When Sam got back to the lift, I was right behind him. I must have been going 40 miles per hour as I approached the designated slow zone near the lift. With just a few hundred feet to go, I tried to slow down, and the edge of my ski caught in the snow. I lost control. I swerved, wobbled, and finally tumbled. My ski bindings gave way, as they are designed to do, and I lost my poles. I slid down the remainder of the slope and landed on my right shoulder. Pop.
A group of skiers who had been right behind me gathered my gear and brought it down to me. Becky was there in an instant. "Are you okay?" asked a man who was handing me my poles. "I think so," I replied. I tried to stand up.
A searing pain tore through my shoulder. "I don't think I can get up," I said.
"I'll get help," the man said, and quickly took off.
"DAD!" screamed Becky as she held my hand. "Mom's hurt!"
Sam ran up the hill. I told him someone had already called the ski patrol. We both reassured Becky that whatever was wrong was minor. (Becky was a fan off Natasha Richardson, the actress tragically killed when she hit her head in a freak skiing accident in 2009. I constantly invoke Ms. Richardson's story as we all put our helmets on before a skiing day. Helmets are not optional in my family. Skiing is a high-risk activity, and anything could happen at any moment. Human skulls are fragile.)
But I had not hit my head, just my shoulder. A trio of ski patrollers named Sarah, Johnny and Joey appeared and ran me through the basic slopeside first-aid exam. They loaded me and my skis onto a sled, hitched the sled to a snowmobile, and towed me to the mountainside clinic for x-rays. Sam and Becky followed on their skis.
The Canyons has its own little medical office at the base of the mountain, and it is staffed by a full-time orthopedist, radiologist and nurse. The nurse peeled off my jacket, sweatshirt, and t-shirt, took a quick medical history, and gave me some Advil. "Did your shoulder go pop when you landed on it?" he asked.
"Yes, that's exactly the sound it made."
"Okay. I know what you did; let's see how bad it is." The radiologist took some formal portraits of my right shoulder. I sat and waited for the Advil to kick in (man, it was painful) and for the pictures to be developed. The nurse and the orthopedist told me funny stories about dumb snowboarding injuries, and I wanted to laugh, but it hurt too much.
When the pictures were ready, the orthopedist showed me, Becky and Sam what I had done. The outer, round part of my shoulder bone was cracked all the way through, but it had not detached. I had fractured the greater tuberosity of my humerus, a very common skiing mishap. Because I had not detached it, I would probably not need surgery - just immobilization until it healed. I was warned: "If you move it suddenly, you could detach it, and then it will need to be screwed back into place."
I promised to keep it still. I did not want my shoulder to get any more screwed than it had already been.
I gave the ski patrollers a one-armed hug and left with my x-rays, a script for Vicodin, and a handsome black sling.
Sarah and Bobby were worried and a little disappointed that they had missed the action. They vowed to help with the small bits of housework around the vacation condo and to fetch whatever I wanted at the dinner buffet last night (which they did). Becky was also a trooper, helping me every step of the way. I can't get dressed or do my hair by myself, so I look a little funky. I have a new appreciation for the trials of people who are permanently disabled. This will just be a couple of weeks, and then I'll be fine again.
I am a little sad that my ski season is over, but what a way to end it: in the cold, glorious sunshine, with my heart pounding, on the best day of the year.
Much love to all of you,