Mammoth Ski Trip 2021, Day 1: A Visit To The ER!!!

Hi guys! Welcome to my Mammoth Ski Trip 2021 blog series! For the next few days, I will be at Mammoth Mountain with my brother and some of his college friends, shredding those late-winter slopes. It’ll be my first time skiing in six years (since junior year of high school) so I’m really curious to see how I do. **Rest assured, everyone tested negative for COVID before coming on this trip.

Today is Friday, February 26, 2021. It is 8:05am as I begin today’s post. We arrived in Mammoth at around 6:10pm yesterday. The drive from Redwood City took about 7 hours total, including 3 rest stops– one at Panda Express for lunch, and two refueling/bathroom breaks. Austin’s friend, Akaash, drove with us, so the two of them alternated driving, while I dutifully sat in the back of the Lexus, working on an assignment for the startup I’m interning at (more on that, later). We’re staying at one of Austin’s friends’ cabin, which is a 5 minute walk away from the ski lifts. Apparently Austin and his college friend group make this trip to Mammoth multiple times throughout the year. It’s my first time hanging out with the “tribe”, so I’m excited to get to know Austin’s friends better. I’m also curious to observe his friendship dynamic and compare it to his interactions with me and my family. You know me, a psych major. Always intrigued by human behavior.

I wonder how much skiing my body remembers after six years away from the sport. Growing up, my brothers and I were pretty avid skiers. We would go to Reno, Tahoe, Heavenly, and Utah multiple times during the winter season. My cousin’s ex-boyfriend was a professional skier, so he’d take us off trail onto these deep powder slopes, which were probably the equivalent of a black-diamond run. It was a bit sketchy in retrospect, but at 10 years old, we had no sense of fear. Since then, I’ve fallen out of touch with my skiing roots, but I like to think that as a gymnast, my muscle memory and body awareness will make it easy to get back into skiing. One thing I need to remember, though, is to not get over-confident about my movement abilities. Whenever I venture into a new sport, like long-distance running, roller skating or long-boarding, I use that, “I was a gymnast, so I can do anything”, script to bolster my confidence. The confidence is great for fast-learning, but it can easily bleed into recklessness. You should always have a healthy dose of caution when attempting any new skill, especially dangerous ones. So I gotta keep that in mind when I ski today. I bought a beginner’s day pass for today, so I’ll be limited to the green and blue slopes, just to get my feet wet. Tomorrow I’ll buy a day pass for the entire mountain and go HAM– maybe even hit a double black if I’m feeling strong! It’s time to eat breakfast now– scrambled eggs, bacon and Captain Crunch cereal. Afterwards, I’m gonna pick up my rental skis. And then, it’s off to the races!


4:48pm

Hey guys. I’m back at the cabin right now, and let’s just say, today didn’t go quite as planned.

TLDR: On the first ski run of the day, one of my skis fell off and cut my right leg. I had to go to the ER and get 11 stitches, and will definitely not be able to ski tomorrow. Sad reax.

Now, stick around if you want the gory details. After breakfast, I stopped by this ski rental shop called ASO to rent a pair of boots, skis, and ski poles. A nice older man helped out. He fitted me into my boot, grabbed me a pair of skis and poles, and the whole process took no more than 10 minutes. I paid at the counter for two days of rental– $96. After that business was done, we headed back to the cabin, changed into ski attire, strapped on our boots, put on our goggles and helmets, squished our homemade sandwiches into our ski jacket pockets, and then stomped out the door!

As we were walking the 5 minute trek to the ski lifts, I noticed that my boots were feeling a bit too loose for comfort. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice it back at the ski rental place. I worried this would negatively affect my ski performance, but I didn’t want to cause a hassle by having to get my boots refitted at the rental shop, which was a ways’ away. So I told myself I’d just tighten the boot buckles and all would be fine.

We got on the ski lift without a hitch. The mountains were truly a sight. Picturesque. Majestic. Regal. Gazing at the scenic view before me, I forgot how much I missed the snow, and vowed to myself that I would make skiing an annual tradition– no more six year hiatuses! The ride up the mountain took about 8 minutes, and my lift-mates and I engaged in some light-hearted banter to pass time. I felt a familiar tingle of anticipation as the end of the ski lift loomed in sight. Getting off the lift has always been the most intimidating part of a ski run for me. Not really sure why. Thankfully I didn’t fall down while getting off the lift, as that would have been mildly embarrassing.

The first slope we hit was a green one called “Pumpkin”. One of the longer runs, but super straightforward. All of us, even the more advanced skiers in the group, started here. As we readied ourselves at the top of the hill, I could hardly contain my excitement. I’m gonna f***ing murder this, I thought to myself. I was a bit nervous, as one would be after a lengthy hiatus. But I wasn’t afraid. Austin predicted I’d ski well, and I wanted to prove him right. Before taking off, I did a quick mental check of what I remembered about skiing technique: point skis parallel and straight down the slope to pick up speed (aka “french fry”); point skis inward towards each other in a triangular shape to slow down (aka “pizza”); “carve”– aka, turn skis diagonally down the mountain while keeping them parallel– as the more advanced way to slow down; look uphill to avoid collision with other skiers/snowboarders; and most importantly, HAVE FUN!

One by one, people in our group blitzed down the hill. I took a deep breath, then followed in suit. I started out with french fry to pick up speed. As it was a green run, the slope was not too steep. To gain more speed, I bent my knees, hinged my body forward and tucked my ski poles under me, the way you see cross-country skiers do. Then I started carving. On my very first carve, something unusual happened. I completely lost my balance and fell onto my right side. Both my skis came flying off. After I had stopped skidding, I sat up, stunned. What just happened? Another skier in our group, Stephen, came up to me and asked me the same question. “I have no idea,” I replied shakily. I got up, scraped the snow off the bottom of my boots, and snapped my skis back on. Maybe just a fluke, I thought. I was a bit disappointed that I had fallen so early on, not even a minute into the run. It had been six years since I last skied, but I was confident that I’d pick it back up in a heartbeat. Now, I wasn’t so sure. We continued down the slope a little bit longer, and then I tried carving again. The exact same thing happened as before. I landed on my butt, and my skis were strewn several feet away. My boots, though a bit loose, didn’t seem to be the culprit. It definitely was not normal for my skis to be falling off so easily. Austin came over to check on me. “I think there’s something wrong with my skis,” I told him. He took a look at them. “The binding is set at a six,” he said, “which is the normal setting for an intermediate skier. So I’m not sure why your skis are coming off like this.” At this point, I knew my falling was not due to poor technique, but rather a malfunctioning of the ski binding, which determines how tightly your boots are attached to the skis. I was pretty salty about the situation, as this was not at all how I envisioned my first run to be. I got back up, popped the skis back on, and cautiously continued down the mountain, trying to troubleshoot what was going on. Why was I falling every time I carved? Was my body weight too far forward or back? Maybe I accidentally crossed my skis, and they got caught together. I tested my hypothesis and tried another carve, this time making sure to keep my skis tight and parallel. But it happened again. For the third time on that run, I fell. And I wasn’t even halfway down the mountain. My skis had come off again, and as I rolled down the hill, I felt a sharp pain in my right leg. I ended up sprawled on the snow. I stayed on the ground, gripping my leg, and waited for the initial wave of pain to subside. Austin stopped and looked up at me. “Are you okay?” he asked. When the pain had dulled to a throb, I stood up shakily and tried putting weight on my right leg. My leg didn’t give out, so I knew it wasn’t a broken bone or torn ligament. The pain was searing, but bearable. I thought maybe I had scraped or bruised it during the fall. “I think I hurt my leg,” I replied. “But I can still ski down.” It took me while to get my skis back on. Meanwhile, Austin waited patiently for me. He remarked, “I don’t remember you being this bad.” I laughed. Yeah, I definitely wasn’t a bad skier in my heyday. In fact, once upon a time, I was quite good. Probably better than my two brothers, given my gymnastics background. The thought of having peaked at age 10 added to my mounting frustration. I had spent the morning watching YouTube videos of ski tricks and jumps, ready to try them out. And now here I was, unable to make it down a bunny slope. I also felt immensely guilty about slowing down the other members of the group, who were waiting for me at the next checkpoint. Finally, after some fumbling around, I got the skis back on and proceeded onward. This time, I avoided any kind of carving or turning. To slow down, I resorted to the elementary “pizza” method that I’d been taught as a six-year-old in ski school. As we neared the end of the run, there were two evergreen trees positioned 10 feet apart, and between the trees was a mini hill on which you could jump off of. Despite the falls, the rogue skis and my now-injured leg, I had half a mind to attempt the jump. I told Austin that I might do it. “Yeah, you’re definitely not jumping,” he replied. So I watched on as he sped towards the trees, gathering momentum while approaching the ramp, and snapping his knees straight as he cleared the peak. He soared into the air like Eddie The Eagle. I skied right around the trees, envious that I couldn’t do the same. On the final stretch of the run, I decided to try carving one last time, perhaps as a last-ditch attempt to redeem myself. And wouldn’t you know it– I fell. My fourth and final fall. At least my skis had stayed on, this time. Sitting on my ass, with skiers and snowboarders and little kids whizzing past me, my heart sank. I was overcome with a wave of negative emotions. Frustration and embarrassment at having fallen four times on the easiest run on the mountain. Anger at the ski rental company for renting out faulty equipment. Worry about the pain in my leg that was intensifying by the minute. Disappointment that I likely could not ski the rest of the day, or possibly the rest of the trip. Guilt for slowing down the people in our group, who were all patiently waiting at the bottom of the mountain. I started crying. I sat there for what must have been 5 minutes, just crying and pitying myself. I took out my phone and texted Austin, “Sorry, I fell. Just chillin. You guys can keep going.” Of course, he and the others stayed put. They wouldn’t leave one of their own behind. Finally, I hoisted myself back up and pizza’d all the way down to the bottom.

Upon reuniting with the group, I popped off my skis and sat on the ground to examine my leg. My right foot had grown numb and my calf muscle was burning. I noticed a tear in my ski pants, right below the knee. Peering closer, I saw there was blood all over the surrounding area, camouflaged by the black color of my pants. I grew frightened. With shaking hands, I pulled back my pants further. I removed my fingers and saw they were covered with blood. Then I noticed a piece of fatty tissue– yellow and round, like a tapioca pearl– spilling out of the wound. That’s when I completely lost it. Like the baby I was, I started bawling. Both from physical pain and emotional frustration. My brother and another friend in the group, Chris, helped me up. They carried my skis and supported my weight as I hobbled over to the medical center. I collapsed on a wooden bench as the medic on duty, a young blonde lady with pigtail braids, checked out my leg. I rolled up my ski pants to reveal blood-soaked leggings. My rental boot was also covered in blood. The lady had to cut off my drenched leggings. I grabbed Austin’s hand, who was standing next to me. “Wait,” I told the lady, as she started uncovering the wound. “Can I just, like, have a minute? I can’t do this. I can’t look at it.” I buried my head in my hands and cried a fresh round of tears. The lady replied gently, “It’s okay, sweetheart. You don’t have to look.” I felt a sharp pain as she peeled off the remainder of the leggings to reveal the open wound. There was silence. Then Austin remarked, “Dang…that’s pretty deep.” I opened my eyes and glanced down at my leg. Staring back at me was a raw, angry gash. 4 inches straight across, but deep enough to expose fatty tissue and muscle. Blood trickled down my leg and stained the wooden bench on which it rested. At least it didn’t reach my bone, I thought. I was terrified of what was to come. The one kind of pain I can’t do is skin pain– burns, blisters, cuts, the like. I shudder at childhood memories of my father cleaning my gymnastics blisters with rubbing alcohol. I wonder what kind of other-worldly pain I’ll experience today, when they pour rubbing alcohol into this wound. I called my parents and told them what happened. As expected, my dad responded cooly and logically, asking me questions about the injury and giving me instructions about insurance coverage. My mom, ever the drama queen, was in hysterics. She kept asking if I was okay, and even suggested that I sue the ski rental company.

The lady bandaged me up and asked me some basic questions, like “where are you right now” and “what date is it”, to make sure I didn’t have a concussion. She patted down the rest of my body to make sure I wasn’t injured anywhere else. I had the option of taking an ambulance to the hospital, but that would cost a lot of money, and I wasn’t in any immediate mortal danger, so Chris decided to drive me to the ER in his car. They placed me in a wheelchair and wheeled me out of the lodge. I was met with wayward glances and lingering stares, and felt a bit like an animal at the zoo. I got loaded up in the car and thanked the kind blonde lady who helped me out and dealt with my histrionics. The hospital was close by. My brother and his friends were regulars at Mammoth Hospital. Every ski trip they’ve taken together, there has been at least one visit to the ER. Concussions, dislocated shoulders, broken bones and lacerations… they’ve seen it all. All but two people in the group— my brother and a guy named Daniel— have sustained a skiing injury. And now it was my turn. Talk about bad luck.

We arrived at the hospital. As per COVID policy, no one was allowed to accompany me into the ER, so I said goodbye to Austin and Chris and was wheeled inside by a nurse named Kyle. I bypassed the waiting room and was placed in a hospital bed, where Kyle checked my vitals and asked some more standard questions. I gave him my insurance information, then waited for the doctor to see me. I asked Kyle if they would numb me up before cleaning the cut. He assured me that they would. You couldn’t imagine my relief. All the way to the hospital I had been mentally steeling myself for the excruciating pain I’d face while they irrigated the wound with cleaning solution. I assumed they would numb me up for the stitching process, but I didn’t know they would do it for cleaning, as well. I texted my family and friends, updating them on the situation. I didn’t have to wait long– 20 minutes, tops– before they wheeled me into a different room with better lighting. The doctor, a middle-aged white man with a “let’s get down to business” personality, greeted me. He injected the area around my cut with a local anesthetic. The numbing process was slightly uncomfortable because of the needle entering open flesh and the burning sensation of anesthesia spreading through the muscle tissue. It really wasn’t that bad, though. After the anesthesia had kicked in, an EMT named Nick came into the room and cleaned my wound with saline water and soap. I didn’t feel any pain– just cold from the cleaning solution trickling down my leg. After the cleaning was over, the doctor came back in and closed up my wound. The cut was about 4 cm deep and required 11 stitches. The stitching process was painless. The doctor noticed that Nick had not removed all the threads from my ski pants that had gotten into the cut, and called Nick back in to point out the mistake. I’m all for education, and thought it was really cool of the doctor to turn the procedure into a teaching opportunity. He bandaged me up, then went over post-procedure instructions. Keep the stitches in for 10 days. No water on the wound for 48 hours. Change the bandaging once a day. Go to the hospital if there’s any unusual redness or itchiness. To my surprise, he cleared me to go skiing tomorrow, if I really wanted to. I just needed to “be careful” and “listen to my body”. And here I was, thinking I’d need to be on crutches! Of course, I do not plan on skiing tomorrow, as I don’t trust myself enough to be safe, and don’t want to risk popping open my brand new sutures if I fall down.

After the doctor left, a blue-eyed nurse named Debbie, whom everyone called “Deb Deb”, came in and went over the discharge paperwork. Soon after, I was freed to go. The whole process from start to finish took less than an hour. I applaud Mammoth Hospital for their professionalism and efficiency, especially amidst COVID times. Akaash picked me up and drove me back to the cabin. Austin and Chris had gone back to the slopes after dropping me off at the hospital, so I was really happy that I didn’t completely spoil their ski day. Once back at the cabin, I ate my lunch, which was a homemade sandwich with ham, lettuce, mayo and mustard on wheat bread, made lovingly by Stephen and Audrey. I did some online clothing shopping with Audrey, which turned into a full-on shopping spree. I figured I’d splurge a bit, to compensate for a rather disappointing ski trip. I was definitely upset that I wouldn’t be able to ski the next day. But now I have a cool story to tell and a scar to prove it! I’m also more determined than ever to heal up and take a redemption ski trip, where I (hopefully) will not injure myself again.

At around 5:30pm, Chris and. I drove back to the ski rental place to return my equipment and demand a refund on my rental gear. I was ready to go full-on Karen mode if the owners refused to reimburse me for renting me faulty equipment. I even was ready to show them a gory picture of my fully-exposed laceration. Thankfully, I didn’t need to resort to such measures. Chris did all the talking and explained that I had sustained an injury because the skis kept coming off, and that I had to go to the hospital. The ski rental people were super nice and apologetic about the situation, especially when I asked where I should place my bloody boot. Two girls standing nearby listened in on the story and stared at me, mouths gaping, probably worried that the same would happen to them. Thankfully, I was reimbursed the full $96 and left the ski rental shop satisfied.

The rest of the night was super low-key. I socialized a bit and hit a quick ab workout in the living room. For dinner, we had taco night, and the soft-shelled tacos filled with ground beef, lettuce, onions, salsa and guacamole were perfectly delectable. For dessert, I had four chocolate chip cookies. Definitely threw all caution to the wind with my diet, during this trip. But hey, it’s vacation, and I’ll have plenty of time once I return home to get back my COVID bod.

After dinner, the numbing medication for my leg started to wear off, so I popped a couple Tylenol pills, went downstairs to my room, and laid down on my bed. I have to admit, I was in a bit of a sulky mood for not being able to ski with the rest of the gang, and between my bummed leg and physically/emotionally draining day, I felt better being left alone to relax, reflect, and decompress. I got some writing done, called up a couple friends from home, and did some light reading. It wasn’t a perfect day, but I felt grateful for my brother and his friends, who took great care of me during my time of need. So that’s a wrap on Day 1 of my Mammoth trip! Stay tuned for Day 2 tomorrow. I won’t be skiing, but hopefully I can enjoy the snow, take some pictures, and maybe build a snowman!

XOXO,

Bel

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