Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thank God for Ski Patrol

Final Curves at the bottom of "Longshot"


We spent our spring break snow skiing in Snowmass, Colorado, a tradition in our family for the last ten years. Even though my daughter, H, is 17 and most of her friends are at the beach, she still prefers skiing with her parents (horror!) because she loves it so much. In my opinion, Snowmass is the absolute best skiing in Colorado...maybe even best in the country. With over 3000 acres of terrain, 91 trails (I looked it up), mostly high speed chairlifts and access to your choice of cruisers, glades, steeps, and my favorite, bumps, it never gets boring. I love that going to different areas of the mountain usually only involves one lift or short run, and I love that even during spring break it never seems crowded, and yesterday I found out one more reason to love it here. The emergency response teams, from the 911 operators to the ski patrol, were absolutely top notch.


It was the last run of the day, a typical spring day of skiing, where the conditions up top were great, but getting down to the base involved a lot of slushy, messy, slow snow, so we usually try to get some momentum on the last part of the run so we can make it to the bottom without having to pole as much. My husband, J, was in front and we were actually moving at a pretty good pace for the bottom part of longshot, when he suddenly did a quick hockey stop and jumped out of his skis. I stopped, too, and then saw what he had seen. A teenage boy was on his hands and knees, at the edge of a ravine, vomiting up a lot of blood. Our initial thoughts were that he was just losing his lunch, but then we saw a ski at the bottom of the ravine, and one set of tracks leading up to where he was.  He had his cell phone in his hand and handed it to J, who was able to tell the 911 operator where we were.  The operator was absolutely amazing.  She told J what to say:  ask questions, comfort him, tell him he was going to be o.k., and generally just keep him calm.  The boy was obviously in an incredible amount of pain.  At first he was hanging over the edge, but was able to climb up to the level part of the hill and roll over onto his back.  I took off my coat and put it under his head, rubbed his forehead and held his hand.  He was able to tell us his name, age (16), and that he was staying with friends who owned a home in Aspen.  We couldn't find any blood on the outside of his body, but he was moaning and in tremendous pain.  J took his coat off, we covered him up, and about 10 minutes after we found him the ski patrol was there. 


They were incredible.  The first two that arrived promptly started talking to him, assessing the situation, and very soon some more came with the transport vehicle.  They were in communication with the patrol main office the entire time, and by the time they'd assessed the situation and loaded him onto the snowmobile stretcher, we heard the ambulance in the background to take him to the hospital.  After they left we stayed with the accident investigators while they tried to piece together what had happened.  The most likely scenario is that something happened at the top of the ravine (out of control jump, skis crossed, or any number of things) and he lost one ski there, then was airborne for 20-25 feet and "superman" landed on rocks at the bottom.  It's unclear whether he lost consciousness there, but he somehow made it to the top before vomiting. 




J and I were so lucky to have been there when we were.  I'm so glad we could do something to help, however little it was.  But as I was holding his hand and rubbing his head, all I could think of was that he was some mom's little boy, and this could have been my daughter.  I was wiped out when I got home and couldn't concentrate on anything.  I kept bursting into tears, imagining the worst.  I wanted to know how he was.  I remembered his name because we had asked him that at the very beginning, but I didn't want to bother his family at the hospital.  So I called Ski Patrol at Snowmass and was able to talk to the director, who had been the one on the phone with J while the rescue was taking place.  He told me because of the HIPAA laws he couldn't give me any information, but was very kind and thankful for our help, even though I couldn't even finish a sentence without crying.  I tried to suck it up, and know that we had done what we could, but I couldn't think of anything else.  I was emotionally drained and slept very little last night.   I had received an email from the Ski Patrol director, Mr. Chalmers,  after our phone call, thanking me again, and giving me his contact information.  I emailed him back, apologizing for my emotional phone call, and gave him my contact info in case the family wanted to get in contact with me.  This morning I was trying not to think about it, but not succeeding, and then I received a phone call from Mr. Chalmers to tell me that the boy was stable, didn't have to have surgery, but had very severe internal injuries and would recover although it would take a long time.  I can't describe how much that meant to me, to receive that phone call.  Even though I am still concerned and hope he will be okay, the fact that I know what happened will help me to move on.


J and I want to take some kind of emergency response course for civilians, so that we will know more of what to do when something like that happens.  But I know that I am going to need to be able to do my best and then leave it.  I don't know how paramedics and medical professionals do it...how do they avoid getting personally involved?  The fact that this boy was close to H's age might have had something to do with my response, but I can't imagine doing things like that every day, and either not knowing what happened, or knowing if the worst thing happens.


I have so much more respect for the ski patrol after seeing them in action.  They were fast, professional, organized and efficient...as well as comforting to the victim.   I'm sure ski patrols at other mountains are great, too, but this is one more reason why I love Snowmass.  I hope no one in my family ever has cause to use them, but knowing they are there gives me a great sense of comfort.