Most people work a ski season for one reason, to ski as much as possible and it was no different for me. Unlike most though, my last time on the mountain had not been a successful one, quite the opposite in fact. I lasted only two days before being stretchered off the mountain and going into my ski season, that was my complete experience as a skier.
Being a non-skier wasn’t a problem in Zell am See though. Days after arriving into resort we had a meeting with the local ski school who offered free lessons to those of us working as reps, I immediately signed up.
I was expecting to be a mess during the first lesson, an emotional wreck with no confidence given what had happened to me on skis previously. There must have been something in the water in Austria though as none of it was a problem. I certainly wasn’t the best in my beginners group but I was progressing well considering how many years it had been and full of confidence for the season ahead.
Start of season optimism
Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived. On the third day, I skied over an icy patch that sent my ski out in completely the wrong direction and I twisted my knee. It hurt – really, really hurt. One of the others in my group said they had never heard a scream like it. I knew I had done something serious but at the same time I was able to walk away and get on a gondola down the mountain. Surely it would only be a couple of days rest and I would be back on the mountain?
Three weeks later and the swelling hadn’t really gone down, I couldn’t kneel or crouch down and my knee was in constant pain. More frustratingly I hadn’t been able to continue skiing since. If you’ve been to a ski resort then you’ll know that there isn’t much to do during the day if you’re not actually skiing. After much cajoling, I headed off to Zell am See’s very efficient hospital where I was x-rayed within minutes. Thankfully I was told I didn’t have any broken bones but, they thought I might have some ligament damage in my knee. I was booked in for an MRI scan for 4 weeks time and told to go to a physiotherapist in the meantime.
My physiotherapist turned out to be a star. Maria an Austrian/American who worked absolute wonders and within a week of seeing her I felt 100% better. She encouraged me to get back on the slopes, all be it the nursery runs and start building the muscles back.
Time to ski again.
For the first couple of days I stayed on the nursery slope until Poi persuaded me to get back on the mountain, he said he would help me down – 45 minutes later I think he was regretting his decision. I had zero confidence, and both of us were just getting pissed off. We were over a month into our season and ability wise I was going backwards.
One of the ski instructors suggested a private lesson to build up my confidence – the exact same thing we often suggested to our customers as reps. The very next day I was back on the mountain, the lesson started off slow but within an hour I was loving it and felt as though I was putting my problems behind me.
The instructor had me skiing with my eyes closed, on one leg (all confidence building) and most importantly actually down the mountain. Poi was over the moon at how much I had progressed and said I could spend as much money as I wanted on private lessons if they were working. I had a further 6 hours of private lessons and was really progressing. I was actually skiing properly for the first time in my life and loving every minute of it.
At the top of the Schmittenhohe mountain in Zell am See
I was tempted not to go back to the hospital to have the MRI scan – why do I need it? I’m glad I did – it found that I had ruptured my ACL – the ligament that keeps your knee stable. The doctor was surprised I was even walking so you can imagine his face when I told him I’d been skiing the previous couple of weeks.
Three days later I was in another private lesson when the unthinkable happened. I lost my balance, fell over and was in agonising pain. This time the other knee, I had fallen against the grain of the mountain and over extended it.
This time it was much worse, I couldn’t straighten my leg, I couldn’t put any weight on my leg, I was halfway down a red run with absolutely no way of getting back down. Mountain rescue was called and I was stretchered off the mountain for the second time in my life. I realised there and then that this could be the end of my season, if I can’t walk I can’t do my job.
The only thing I could think about was Poi – he was somewhere else on the mountain, I knew I’d need to go to the hospital and I would need him with me. I rang him (what I later found out was) 17 times with no answer, when I finally got through I just broke down – I was screaming and couldn’t articulate what had actually happened. He later said he thought ‘I was lost in the middle of the woods with a broken leg’ – to me it was just as bad, and it actually turned out that recovery time wise it was even worse than breaking my leg.
Back in Zell am See hospital
I was back at Zell am See hospital (the 3rd time in 4 weeks). They again took an x-ray and again told me that I hadn’t broken any bones, but they were worried I may have damaged ligaments in my knee. Can you see a pattern forming here? I still couldn’t straighten my leg and I certainly couldn’t put any weight on it. This time they put me in for an emergency MRI scan 10 days later.
Now, I had a massive decision to make – do I go home? Can I still do my job? What will Poi want? We decided to wait 24 hours before properly considering any options to see how I improved. That night was hell – I was in agony and I am sure I teared up at least 10 times, if I was by myself I would have probably cried myself to sleep. This really was the end to my skiing career and I had never got any better than most people achieve in their first week.
24 hours later I was able to hobble around the flat and made it out to our favourite place to eat for some lunch. We sat down with our resort manager to discuss whether or not I should be sent home. I had decided that if possible I would try and stay and carry on with the job. I really didn’t want to drag Poi away – he was still enjoying himself and in love with skiing. And maybe I could use the time to explore the surrounding area and go to the places I was recommending for all our guests. We only ever planned to work one season and I didn’t want it to end like this.
The problem was my injury had fallen on the busiest week of the season. I needed the busiest day of the winter off to rest. Obviously this caused a lot of pressure for everyone else in our team but it was amazing how everyone pulled together to let me recuperate. I had the target of being able to do my usual duties on the following day. It took me 45 minutes longer than usual to do my rounds but I got them done.
The next few weeks were incredibly hard, Poi would go off skiing and I could hardly get out of bed. I was unable to stand for a long periods which meant I didn’t go out with the other reps as much. I can honestly say I wasn’t particularly happy but I was determined not to drag Poi away with me.
Back at the hospital and back under the MRI scanner, this time I had a triple whammy. I had no ACL (supposedly this is rare and I still don’t know if it is true) I have fractured my cartilage and I have torn my memesicus – basically my knees were fucked!
February was hard and I was pretty much counting down the days until I could return home. I was in constant pain and in a place where I was constantly reminded about my accident. I was able to do some amazing things and enjoy being around our friends more as time went on but I still felt pretty shitty about not being able to ski, while in a ski resort, working a ski season.
At least I could get up the mountain with this bunch
In the last couple of weeks in particular I started to do more as my mobility improved and in some ways I was even sad to leave Zell in the end despite previously wishing the weeks away.
But the story doesn’t end there…
Since being back in the UK I have been to a range of medical practitioners – physiotherapist, doctors and now a knee specialist to discuss my knee injury, all of them were very intrigued by the fact I supposedly don’t have an ACL. I am still in constant pain 4 months after the injury and still can’t crouch, kneel or even properly bend my knee. I sometimes find it difficult to sit down and walking up and down hills are incredibly hard.
I’m now booked in for key-hole surgery this month which will hopefully improve my situation, but as we pack for the move to Romania I constantly come across reminders like my barely used ski boots and am reminded just how painful the whole winter was.