Most skiers tear their ACL during the winter and only miss a month or two on the slopes. Not me. I blew out my knee in a June backcountry ski accident (#justgo #neversummer #turnsallyear) and I won't be cleared to ski until next season. To live in an outdoor playground and not be able to play is devastating—especially during February, the snowiest month on record.
Skiing is inescapable here in Jackson Hole; that's a blessing when you're well and a curse when you're not. "Congrats," people told me when they heard the news of my injury. "You're officially a local now!" (As if moving six times in two years wasn't enough.) Living 10 minutes from the Tetons with a bum knee looks something like this:
7 a.m.: Wake up. Scroll through Instagram. Start muting everyone who posts pictures of their face shots and first tracks. Realize that's basically my entire newsfeed and reconsider.
9 a.m.: Go to the physical therapy clinic, my new home away from home. Try not to eavesdrop on the patients who are further ahead of me in their recovery and made it to opening day. Hey, at least I can shower by myself now!
12 p.m.: Coworkers start frothing at the mouth about their weekend adventures and the upcoming storm cycle. Plug in my headphones and turn up the tunes to drown them out. Thanks, open office plan.
2 p.m.: Ding! Receive an email reminder to sign up for discounted ski passes through my employer. Immediately delete the message and stew for a few minutes. Instead of replying with something I'd regret, order Yaktrax to prevent slipping, falling on parking lot ice and starting this hellacious process all over again.
5 p.m.: Smile externally while screaming internally when someone at the bar kindly suggests taking up knitting or some other indoor activity this winter. I've already painted enough misshapen mountains to fill all my empty walls.
5:15 p.m.: "Wow," the same person says earnestly. "It's going to be a really long winter for you, huh?" If looks could kill, they'd be dead by now.
7 p.m.: Get the nightly avalanche report in my inbox. Gleefully note the lack of fresh snow and then feel guilty for being a Grinch. 9 p.m.: Start planning a trip to Mexico, where no one will utter the words "powder day" or "dawn patrol."
Lather, rinse, repeat.
I knew this winter would be hard. I steeled myself for it as friends eagerly discussed their ski fit classes this fall while I struggled to walk down stairs without limping. When the first snowflakes started to fall, I'll be honest; I blubbered like a baby. I grumbled about defrosting my car, shoveling snow, and navigating icy sidewalks like a crotchety old man.
I'm not the first skier with a knee injury and I certainly won't be the last. We all get through it, one way or another, but recovery is a grind. Day in, day out, month after month (after month, after month). On the plus side, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and my time on the sidelines is reminding me what I love about the sport.
I love how skiing gives me the closest sensation I'll ever get to flying. I love the frigid air turning my cheeks bright pink. I love the sound of skins ripping apart. I love the stillness of snowy forests on an approach and the awe I feel at the top. I love gnawing at my pocket snack of choice, nearly frozen gummy bears. I love ski lodge hot chocolate, straight out of a machine and sometimes a little gritty at the bottom.
But what I love the most is the skiing community. I miss the little rippers, swaddled in down, and their parents, patiently teaching them to enjoy sliding down a hill with two planks strapped to their feet. I miss the old timers with their tight turns and their retro onesies. I miss the camaraderie on the lift, in the parking lot and at the trailhead.
There's really nothing better, purple toenails be damned.