Our community of Australian skiers who travelled to Silver Star ski field in Canada in 2018 consisted of about ten baby-boomers reliving their youth spent in Perisher Valley or Queenstown, N.Z. On our first day of actual skiing at Silver Star, about 6 of the group decided to join a ‘Mountain Host’ at the start of the day to be taken on a tour of some of the major ski trails around the mountain. On the map below, the trail that this group took-on over the back of the mountain is marked by the green arrows. It was just before the start of the ‘Aunt Gladys’ green level trail that Robert’s bad day began. His ski poles were giving him trouble and he stopped to adjust them. The rest of the group didn’t notice that he’d stopped and kept skiing ahead. They were quite a way down the trail when it was noticed that Robert was no longer with the group so they stopped to wait for him. When he didn’t show up after five minutes, they decided he had chosen another trail and they would catch up later at the bottom of the mountain.
Robert’s day had gone down hill .
Robert had chosen another trail but not one based on knowledge…it merely looked like the one that the others had gone down when they had left him behind. The Caliper Ridge trail was a black diamond run of some difficulty but like life, once you pick up momentum on a black diamond run, there is no going back. He reached a turn in the trails as he scrambled down the ski run that was luckily underneath the ski lift. The turnoff was called Doognog trail and to Robert’s horror, it was a double diamond black run…it might as well have had a sign on it saying “Certain Death This Way!” Facing two non-options to his path forward in life, Robert decided that stopping was the best option. He took his skis off and walked over until he was under the ski-lift where he was spotted by a passing skier, gliding over him 20 feet above. The skier called down asking him if he was okay. Robert called back and asked if the fleeting Good Samaritan could call the Ski Patrol to assist him.
Luckily the Silver Star support system is very efficient and before too long, a female patrol person arrived. When she saw Robert’s predicament (a self-described Blue/Green skier facing a black diamond run with no chance of managing it without injury) she called up a colleague to come down and assist. The Ski Patrol guy turned up, dragging behind him the mobile ski stretcher, Robert’s rescue module.
The necessity for the stretcher to transport casualties around ski-fields is illustrated by a story of Sabine’s who, in her early years ran into a misplaced tree on a downhill ski run at Perisher Valley. Two ski patrol guys arrived to assist her down the hill to the medical centre. They assisted her to her feet and attempted to escort her down the slopes, all three on skis, arms linked together, snow-ploughing down-hill. Of course disaster struck when they all fell over together and Sabine eventually arrived at the casualty department far worse for wear than she was after striking the tree.
Times have changed and so Robert was not going to be allowed to interfere with progress down the black diamond runs; he was strapped into the coffin-like stretcher, along with his skis and poles. The system for progressing the stretcher down the hill was for the Ski Patrol guy to drag the caboose from the front while his colleague was attached by a line at the back and it was her job to keep Robert’s life capsule straight and the line taut so it didn’t take off down the hill and run over the rescuer at the front.
Being strapped immobile into a mobile shallow bath tub is not the happiest place to be but when the rescuers decided it was safer to progress down the double diamond run rather than the single diamond path, his panic levels were raised. The front patrol guy had to dig his skis in sideways as they inched down the steep and icy slope; his progress was cautious but his ski action was vigorous, sending the snow flying up into Robert’s face as he tried to keep an eye on the treacherous slope ahead of him. Robert couldn’t see the other ski patrol person holding the line behind him but he couldn’t help but worry that it would only take one slip on her part and the whole finely balanced system would collapse.
The caboose would then twist sideways as she fell over and start to tumble uncontrollably down-hill, dragging Robert’s actual coffin with her as they passed the bewildered patrol guy in front, who would then be whipped off his feet and the three would then go careening down the slope in parallel formation, clearing the bush and trees like climate-change denying farmers illegally land-clearing in outback Queensland.
Robert’s situation reminded him of the story of a friend’s father who had been towing a female driver who had broken down on the side of a mountain road. The mechanic had hooked up his tow-rope onto the client’s car and instructed her to steer her vehicle and not just depend on him dragging the car along. Off they went and no time had passed when he looked out his side window to see the client’s car beside him with the puzzled driver looking over at him, clearly sensing that there was something wrong with the situation. He had forgotten to explain to his client that she should also use the brake. It was only a few seconds later after he hit the brakes and she hit the brakes that both cars were dragged around each other by the now distressed tow-rope. They were lucky not to crash through the wire barrier at the side of the road.
Robert’s nightmare vision of his limited future prospects!
Luckily Robert’s worst fears did not occur…until they were getting close to the end of the Doognog Trail and were entering the aptly named ‘Nirvana’ Ski Trail, a mere one diamond black run. The front Ski Patrolman decided he could no longer cope with the huge effort of sideways progress down the slope and, after signalling to his buddy, he turned his skis straight down hill and roared down the slope at some speed, passing Paradise Glades Ski Path and finally the ill-named ‘Bucked Off’ path before pulling to a halt beside the Powder Gulch Express ski lift. Robert’s nightmare was over.
Although a bit shaky he boarded the lift, rode to the top of Caliper Ridge where there was a small coffee house nearby where Sabine was waiting for him. After a reinvigorating coffee, they decided they would put their skis back on and continue their first morning of skiing at Silver Star; predictably, this didn’t work out as they were hoping. Sabine discovered that her ski boot would no longer fit into her ski. On close inspection, she discovered that the Ski Hire place had issued her with one boot a size larger than the other. With the freezing temperatures on the mountain, she was no longer able to get the ski to accept its boot. Being on a ski slope, it was now impossible for her to get anywhere close to the village or the ski-hire shop.
With no other option but to call the ski patrol again, they waited for their second group of rescuers on this difficult day. This time a snow-mobile turned up and they were transported back to the village in style where they were able to get the ski boot replaced, the skis fixed and they could start their Silver Star day again.
As a post script to the day, when Robert told the story of his hair-raising dash down the slopes, we were reminded of a story that we had been regaled with in our ten-seater van on the way from Sun Peaks to Silver Star. It was the story of an Australian couple and their three children who had come to ski at Silver Star some years ago. The husband was out skiing by himself and suffered a broken leg out on the ski slopes where he too was rescued by a couple from the Ski Patrol. The twist to this story was that husband felt so cared for by female Ski Patrol lady that he fell in love with her. On his return to Australia, he left his wife and children and returned to Silver Star to his caring Ski Patrol lover and, possibly, lived happily ever after. The moral of the story was apparently; ‘if you get rescued by Silver Star Ski Patrol officers, don’t fall in love with them’.
As a result, after Robert had told his story to his ski group, he was asked the obvious question, “Did you fall in love with the Ski Patrol lady who rescued you?” “No!” he said firmly. “I fell in love with the guy who was dragging me down the hill!”
Below: The Bear-Nest…Another nightmare of Canadian ski fields that Robert DID avoid!