Opinion » Alta States

Alta states: Getting back to basics

Re-evaluating the 21st century ski experience



"We've shrunk the mountains..."

- Paul Mathews, president of Ecosign


As you read this, I'm sitting in my room at Vancouver General waiting for the surgeon to replace my flesh-and-bone knee with a new plastic and titanium one. Being somewhat of an old-school guy I can't say I'm excited about the exchange. Trepidatious would be more accurate. But I have no choice. The original joint is way past its "sell-by" date.

You know that old adage "pain is pleasure"? Well that pretty much defined my ski experience for the last few years. And I was able to fake it for a surprisingly long time (being a lapsed Catholic, I felt right at home with the pain=pleasure concept). Besides, I had one good leg to work with plus five decades of on-snow experience to fall back upon. I figured that was enough. I mean, if Phil Chew could do it, so could I.

There was still the matter of that dragging left leg however. A less-than-functional outrigger with the annoying habit of getting deflected by anything in its path, my sinister ski was nothing but a nuisance now. Funny right? Yeah, like a three-legged chamois on a narrow alpen ledge. Aw-aw-awkward.

My mountain friends tried not to wince (or giggle) when they rode with me. Sometimes they couldn't help themselves though. "Dang," blurted an old-time ski buddy one particularly flat-lit day, "you're making me hurt the way you're charging those turns. It looks so bloody painful. Why the hell are you still up here anyway?" I just grinned and grit my teeth even more. How could I tell him that this was the one place on the planet where I felt safe right now? How could I explain to him my raging need for downhill bliss? So what if it hurt physically. It was soothing my battered soul.

But it couldn't last. My angst-fuelled mountain frenzy this past winter pushed the pain factor way over the edge. Pleasure had disappeared. The moment had come. Banzai...

So here I sit in VGH, a reluctant patient at best. Contemplating my future. Wondering what the heck the next chapter will bring. Is this the end of my skiing vocation? Am I embarking on a completely different journey now? And what about Whistler? Would I still want to live in the mountains if I couldn't slide on snow anymore?

I know. I know. Everyone tells me I'll be back on skis in no time. That my life will be better and more enjoyable and fun again once I start living without pain. I'm getting testimonials from all sorts of Alta States readers. "It's the best decision I ever made," says one hip-replacement survivor. "I'm skiing better now than I ever have."