A bit farther down the hill, I checked to scrub speed at a line of control fences a few hundred feet above the Comstock lift maze. Again I pre-released from both skis. Only this time I was probably still going about 10 mph. Not very fast—but fast enough to do some damage. I went airborne. The skis flipped under me bottom side up—and I slid across the edge with my left thigh. Serious bad luck. If I landed on the ski binding side up, maybe I get a small bruise. Probably not even that. Instead I filleted open a five-inch wide, two-inch deep gash on my thigh and unleashed a gusher of type A+ blood all over the slope. Not pretty.
I was surprisingly composed when I realized what had happened. I immediately ran through my Bear Grylls “Man vs. Wild” check list. I applied compression to the wound by hand as best as I could while lying in the snow. The young mountain safety employee, who had been working the fence line with a foam “slow down” hand to encourage speed control, was first on scene. I instructed him to remove my jacket so I could knot it around the wound and get tighter compression. I also thought about separating both halves of my Leki adjustable poles so I could twist the jacket tight and create a make-shift tourniquet if necessary. At that point I didn't know if I had severed an artery.
I was pretty proud of myself for thinking so clearly under pressure. The only problem was that the rattled safety host refused to help me remove my jacket. “I can’t, I can’t” he said repeatedly. Apparently it’s SOP not to move a fallen slider without patrol on scene. I begged him three times to help me remove my jacket and told him I feared bleeding out. I could sense he was torn but he stuck to guideline—which make sense in cases where there’s a potential back, neck or joint injury but not where the greatest danger is from massive blood loss. I was the exception to the rule and was in danger of paying a great price for it. (I suggest Northstar and all resorts re-consider their directives to non-patrol employees in cases where extreme blood loss is evident. And provide all employees with basic first-aid training as they can often be first on the scene.)
Fortunately for me, a woman named Carol and her husband Ted skied by, heard me screaming at the safety employee and stopped to see what was wrong. I'm not a religious man but good samaritan Carol turned out to be heaven-sent—she was a nurse. Carol took over compression and was able to do a much better job than I was pushing down from above. And I was able to remove my jacket just in case something more was needed.
First-year Northstar pro patroller Mike Tracey came on the scene just a few minutes later, cut away my pants and with Carol’s assistance, did a great job stemming the bleeding and bandaging me up for the sled ride down to the ambulance. Fortunately, the ski edge had completely missed my femoral artery.
The Truckee fire/ambulance crew members were also stellar pros. Captain Donnie Akers and paramedic Chad Brock stabilized and sedated me for the 15 minute ride to Tahoe Forest Hospital. The docs at Tahoe Forest were first rate and Dr. David Dodd, who sewed me back up, was quick—and relatively painless. His stapling job is incredibly neat.
Dr. Dodd estimates 4-6 weeks of recovery and rehab and I hope to be back on snow in time to help test ski boots at Mount Bachelor next month. All in all, not a long-term tragedy but certainly one of the freakier ski injuries I've ever heard of—and certainly experienced first-hand. And one that could have been completely avoided with just a cursory bow to safety.
The lesson? Double-check your binding settings yourself whenever jumping on a new pair of skis. I can personally attest it’s worth the few seconds it takes. Even for an industry veteran.