Thursday, March 05, 2009

Thumbs Down!

This past weekend I went out to the Canaan Valley (pronounced ka-nayne, for some inexplicable reason) for three days of telemarking and snowshoeing at the fabulous White Grass nordic resort.  Or at least I hoped that's what it would involve.  In reality the snow coverage was so minimal that we had to resort to making do with snowshoeing where any other sane person would have been perfectly fine with regular hiking boots, and cross-country skiing over ice, leaves, rocks, and whatever else lay before us in the spring-like temperatures that greeted us.  To our credit ("our" being a reference to me and my friend Kevin, who similarly scoffed at alpine skiing in such conditions) we accepted these obstacles cheerily and did not let the less-than-ideal conditions keep us off the mountain.

The real reason I'm posting this account, though, is to relate the story of how I went home at the end of the second day with my hand in a splint and several hundred mgs of ibu in my stomach.  On this day, Saturday, Kevin and I signed up for a two-hour tour of the upper ranges of White Grass with the owner/proprietor of the resort, a wild, zany, fun, and certifiably cookoo dude named Chip.  Because we would start the trip with a chair-lift ride at the Canaan Valley alpine resort and finish with an alpine descent, we were outfitted with cross-country gear that included a steel edge along the length of the foot (normal nordic skis do not have such an edge - however, these were still not telemark skis, with complete edges to better assist with turns).  After the two-hour tour through the trees -- which was its own sort of scary, exhausting challenge -- we returned to the top of the lift and began the laborious process of skiing down the alpine slope.  To say Kevin and I struggled with this would be a gross understatement; quite simply, it was torture.  I can't even begin to describe the level of frustration we felt as experienced alpine skiers, suddenly reduced to the very lowest level of ability by our equipment, so ill-suited for the environment.  With the exception of a few times we attempted to telemark, we primarily stuck to scooting down the hill in a snow-plow.  But without the edges provided by alpine or telemark skis, and with the warm temperatures turning the snow into slush, it was desperately difficult to remain in control.  Like I said: a fall every minute.  Perhaps you can see, then, how injury was just a matter of time.  Indeed, one of my falls turned out to be slightly more violent than the others, and as I fell, my thumb jammed into the ice/hardpack at high velocity.  The first minutes afterwards were excruciating.  I was in hysterics until someone offered to get Ski Patrol to pick me up in a stretcher, at which point my pride forced me to dry my tears, pick myself off the ground, throw my skis over my shoulder with my good hand, and hike down the hill to the lodge (with Kevin accompanying me, like the gentleman he is).  Eventually I found Ski Patrol, who conducted a bunch of tests to make sure it wasn't a bad break and then splinted me up and gave me a bag of dirty snow to keep the swelling down.

Fast-forwarding to the current day, I can happily report that the thumb is not fractured, but the interior tendon has torn.  I did some research and was delighted to discover that this is commonly referred to as "skier's thumb," although how I got the injury is not typical (my pole was not a factor - it was just the speed involved in "jamming" the thumb into the ice).  According to Ski Patrol, this is one of the longest-lasting injuries to the hand; it will take many months for the tendon to heal.  Right now at least the splint is gone, but my thumb feels stiff and arthritic.  

Otherwise a fun weekend, but man, what a pain!