Real Skiin’ at Dizzying Heights

The snow’s kinda sucked this year. After so much promise dangled in front of our collective, fleece-encased faces when Loveland and A-Basin revved up their first chairs in mid-October, the Frost Giants looked at all our eager faces, pointed, and shrieked with laughter.

That finally changed two weeks ago when the Rockies started getting some love from the storms boiling in from the Pacific. 24-hour snow totals topped eight inches at my beloved Loveland several times, and Vail Resorts even put out a Tweet boasting that it was “puking snow” at Breckenridge. The image brought back more Sunday-morning college hangovers than joyful memories of cutting first tracks in champagne pow, which might’ve helped push me to bypass the Vail Conglomerate for Loveland. I’m just saying that if there are any Vail Resorts employees who agree that one of the world’s most successful ski resort management companies could use a new social media coordinator, I humbly submit my resume. Like most skiers, I will work for a ski pass and a chili stipend.

At any rate, the snow finally inspired Loveland to open up some real terrain, and on Saturday, Ethan and I went up Chair 8 to check out the ski area cut off from the ski area. Seriously, I’ve heard this chair and its terrain described as being like having your own private ski area, and it’s so remote, the analogy works. One of the methods of returning to the main ski area involves walking through a tunnel under the interstate.

The main advantage to coming back here, however, was that once the initial fuss died down and people trickled back to the main base for lunch, it was like having a mountain all to ourselves. And this was a real boon, because there was powder in them thar hills! A bit of traversing across the main black runs and into some widely spaced trees, and we were able to make fresh tracks, our skis swishing softly through feet of velvety snow. For runs on end, the snow gleamed pristinely in our field of vision, yielding smoothly as we cut turns into it and stopped to admire our footwork as well as how clearly we could view that work.

Of course, as the Grateful Dead cheerily point out, every silver lining has a touch of grey, and on this day, that came in the form of Chair 8 itself. It’s never reassuring when the chair lurches to a dead stop feet short of the top and you hear the liftie shouting into his radio, “I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I’m just gonna run it anyway!” This is the sort of thing that makes one liable to burn rubber (or whatever they’re using to wax skis these days) as soon as your feet touch snow again.

The frequent stops and starts get even more interesting when at least one member of your group gets vertigo and starts breathing audibly through his facemask. It’s even worse when you’ve ridden up so many chairlifts with your vertiginous father prior to this that your own learned reaction to a stopped chair at least twenty feet above the ground is to hyperventilate and feel a bit queasy yourself. This is further not helped when you look up at one point to discover an electrician sitting atop a tower, fiddling with wires, and then hearing him say on his radio, “Hmm, I just put the blue wire back in place here. I’m not sure if it’s connected to the main power source, though.”

But if you ask me, the snow back there is totally worth being a human guinea pig while the staff figures out what’s wrong with a chairlift that’s racked up a few years. I’ve heard that putting lavender oil in your garments helps push down symptoms of vertigo. I plan to soak Ethan’s facemask in it. Even if he does sneeze himself off the chair, the snow beneath it should be soft enough.

The agony and the…nah, just the agony of physical therapy

I have not been writing as much about the great outdoors in the past month because 1) the snow, up until last weekend, has been practically non-existent (I keep thinking of that line from Dexter where our hero is unwittingly exchanging text messages with a cocaine dealer who texts, “Lifts are open. Where’s my snow?”), and 2) because the absolute worst part of a broken wrist was not the surgery, the week I spent with my wrist practically immobile prior to the surgery, nor the awkward and hard-to-work-around bandages most of my hand was encased in for the week following the surgery, but the recovery. And by recovery, I specifically refer to physical therapy.

You see (warning: major digression ahead, but I promise, it relates), when I was a student, I was used to advancing quickly. I was upset, nay, enraged when I discovered prior to my senior year of high school that (Cherry Creek School District credit requirements being what they were) I could’ve graduated a year early if I’d just doubled up on English classes during my junior year. I was pleased when I pursued a course of study during college that would allow me to graduate in three years, and I was a little miffed that I couldn’t work four classes per semester into my graduate school schedule at Georgetown, allowing me to complete the program in a year and a half instead of two.

I hadn’t been a straight-A student since the third grade, but even with all this self-imposed pressure to get shit done, I still made the high school honor roll, graduated cum laude from college, and got a respectable 3.67 GPA from a graduate program at Georgetown University (yes, I’m going to be bandying that one about a lot. Make whatever snide pop-psychology remarks about compensation you wish). In short, I’m used to getting pretty good results with snappy turnaround times. Hence why PT has sucked more dick than a Republican Congressman in an airport bathroom for me.

I thought PT was going to be like every other challenge I’ve taken on. I was confident that I’d find the shortcuts. I read that full recovery for a broken wrist could take two to three months and sneered, “I’ll have this puppy back to normal in eight weeks at the latest.” I was encouraged by my first meeting with my physical therapist, who admired the range of motion I’d already regained on my own after a week out of the bandages. He told me my insurance company had approved seven visits, and that he’d see about squeezing another seven out of them after we’d made some progress. I nodded and smiled, all the while thinking, “Pssh. I’m only going to need the first seven.”

Needless to say, at some point this week, I will be coming up on visit ten or eleven (I’ve lost count) of the twelve the surgeon originally prescribed. My range of motion is slowly improving from where it was after that first visit, but as it turns out, you can’t push protesting muscles as far as you can apparently push your brain during a horrible semester of taking nineteen credits, six of which were for seminars. Your mind will accept caffeine as a bribe for lost sleep. Your wrist won’t accept any sort of begging, bartering, or bribery at all.

So even though it’s coming up on two months since I broke the wrist, I still have to trudge desolately to my physical therapist’s office once a week (at least I get some exercise. Also, living this close to this many hospitals is somewhat reassuring when your boyfriend cooks Paula Deen-style foods and you have a condition that leaves you prone to heart disease). I grimace my way through stretches that my hand stubbornly refuses to relax into, and I stare at the therapist’s notes on my progress, wondering why he had to go and use my dominant hand, which obviously has more flexibility to it, for comparison.

I can’t say as I’ve finally come to accept that there won’t be the celebratory air surrounding the end of PT that there was surrounding my graduation ceremonies (although I was so grouchy about having to attend commencement at both the high school and college levels that this could be a blessing). Sure, every time I go a full two minutes on the strengthening machine at the therapist’s office, there’s a little burst of pre-recorded applause. But it only seems to mock me; not so deep down, I know that there’s still more to come.

I also know that there won’t be any sense of completion when I finish PT. Either the therapist will say, “You’ve still got a ways to go, but your insurance only allows twenty PT visits a year. Since you might need some for another injury, keep working on this at home. Good luck.” Or, more likely, I’ll forget to call his office, or they won’t be able to pencil me in that week, and thus my official recovery will end not with a bang, but a whimper.

I furthermore know that even telling myself that I’ve had enough won’t give me any sense of accomplishment. Unlike the suggested message of commencement ceremonies–it’s a new start! New opportunities! More chances afforded to you than to your peers!–there’s only the promise of being solidly average once again, of being able to do dishes and take out the trash without too much creaking from the affected joint. Where’s the achievement in hearing, “Yay! You sucked before, but now you’re AVERAGE!”–especially when average seems to entail detested household chores?

But trudge away I must, because I want to enjoy the snow we are finally receiving without worrying about injuring my wrist all over again. Although I feel very badly for anyone who now has to hear me inject a completely irrelevant anecdote beginning, “When I was at Geoooorgetoooowwwn…” into conversations.