He was barely conscious and soaked with water from the creek that runs between Sugar Plum and Crystal. The toboggan rolled through the barn door and into the brightly lit patrol room, where we quickly started an assessment. I had been inside finishing some paperwork before final sweep, just thinking about how nice it would feel to take my boots off, when I was thrust into the chaos of managing a serious trauma patient. 

The first patroller on a scene is called the “finder,” and they typically run the call from start to finish, but in this case, there was a delay in their arrival from the scene, and I just happened to be the one who took in-line stabilization of our patient’s neck. The person holding the head calls the shots, which put me, a rookie patroller, in charge. 

Despite the intensity of the moment, and the whispers of self-doubt, I somehow felt perfectly calm. Have you ever been in a situation where you felt divinely placed? Like you were exactly where you were supposed to be, doing something that you were uniquely prepared to do? That’s how I felt, at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, in a town that you may never visit—with my stethoscope around my neck, gloves on my hands, and ski boots on my feet. 

I called for trauma shears so that we could cut his soaking clothes off, helped to situate an oxygen mask over his face, and affirmed the urgent need for ALS. Fifteen minutes later, our patient had been evaluated by our local paramedic and packaged for the helicopter ride to Buffalo. Still barely conscious, we would learn later that he had suffered a collapsed lung and severe concussion. I was intensely proud of our team for handling a critical situation so seamlessly, and was honored to have played even a small part. 

The path to becoming a ski patroller is arduous, requiring EMT-level medical training and the ability to transport patients from any part of the mountain using only skis and a sled. I came very close to dropping out of training, exhausted by the hours of training on top of my more than full time work schedule. I am thankful every day that I didn’t, as it has been a true lesson in the gifts of sticking with it. For two glorious years I got to live the gift of the red jacket: joyfully hosting people in my favorite place on earth. 

And then of course I got sick. I didn’t ski much, and I began to doubt my place on that mountain. I’ve written about this a bit before, but have been surprised by the stories of alienation I make up without any help or evidence. Over time, I began to tell myself that I wasn’t a real patroller anymore, that my training had been squandered, that people didn’t see me as committed to the patrol, and that my love for skiing was invalid. We make life so hard for ourselves, and we limit joy where it is already scarce. Henri Nouwen writes:

We tend to stay away from mourning and dancing. Too afraid to cry, too shy to dance… we become narrow-minded complainers, avoiding pain and also true human joy.

I have learned to mourn, and continue to plumb the depths of grief, but I am also finding the courage to boldly claim my space to dance. I am bolstered by the love of people who keep inviting me back to the space that they have held with sacred patience and grace. Just last night I got a voice message from our Monday night crew telling me that they hope to see me back on the mountain soon. Last week another friend boldly told me that it was time to get back to this thing I love. And on Friday, my kind-eyed hill chief told me just to come, and that they would work around the limits imposed by my body. 

So I did. I put on my jacket, and tucked a radio in my chest pocket, and donned my pack. I trusted my training, and my legs, and my team, and my god-given sense of how to help people. Back to the mountain, back to my first love, back to the sacred space that was carved out by god and held by my friends. If you need me on the mountain, I’ll be there. See you on the slopes!

5 Comments

  1. Geneva Langeland

    Glad to hear you’re back on the mountain!

    Reply
    • Louise Kelly

      Enc.ouraged to learn you are feeling better and doing the things you love.

      Reply
    • Vickie Wheeler

      Sounds like you very much needed and very helpful.

      Reply
  2. Joe Mineo

    I am sure that the mountain has missed you as much as you have missed the mountain. Welcome back >3

    Reply
    • Vickie Wheeler

      That is such a cute picture of you with your friends on the mountain. I pray that you become stronger and continue going to work on the mountain.

      Reply

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