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Skiing Saas Fe
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The Ski Vacation

     It was a great ski vacation.  First their was the miracle of perfect sight.  Then, well, the apartment was a huge disappointment, with no view from the living/dining/kitchen.  It surprised me that such a small thing could throw me “out of the band” so thoroughly.  I was surprised again to remark how quickly I got back into a good mood, cheerful and resigned, more than that, accepting by noon the next day.  The weather was God-given: blue skies, sunshine.  There was enough snow.  After two days sliding on ice patches, Hubert and I left our skies at the Intersport shop.  The next morning just before noon, we picked them up: CHF 39 for mine and 55 for his.  I insisted, and Hubert complied, that I approach the 3000 meter altitude gingerly.  We ate lunch at the restaurant on top the third day.  The fourth day, he drove us to Saas Fe.  The middle station was already at 3000 meters.  He wanted to ride the train to 3.5.  I sensed his frustration when I didn’t want to, so I changed and said, “o.k.”  I breathed heavily climbing the stairs to the exit.  I moved very slowly and sustained walking around a snow field with him, looking at the view.  He was cheerful and supportive.  Clearly visible pistes all looked exceedingly easy.  We had to walk/scoot for a couple hundred yards before the descent began.  I took it nice and slooow.  Hubert wanted to ski over to a t-lift which went even higher than 3.5.  “I don’t want to go any higher,”  I said.  When I noticed that, from the top of another lift it would be possible to reach the lift he had wanted to take, he refused to return (as though punishing me?)

     When it was time to eat lunch, I questioned a woman standing against the wall sunning herself, eyes closed, at the middle station.  Yes there was a self-serve restaurant on top, with normal prices.  We went back up and sat on the terrace.  I felt absolutely wonderful:  no trace of atmospheric problems. 

     The first three days, I was extremely self-conscious of every little irregular heartbeat.  I insisted on eating lunch, even ordering a full meal of sausages and pomme frites the first day because I believed it would be good for my heart.  After lunch, the sinus rhythm was always good and solid.  I believe that the little arrythmias happen all the time at home and are completely normal for me, and that my obsession with them on the ski slopes is a mental problem.  Somehow, this meal at 3.5 was the cure for that illness.  I felt divine.  I had great confidence.  Never again would I worry on a ski vacation about altitude. (I was so scared last year when Hubert took me to 3000 on the first day at Crans).  I was cured.  It was glorious.  “Let’s take the highest t-lift,” I suggested, and we did, reaching right to the foot of a glacier.  Unbelievable how the glaciers are all around.  I wanted to ski to a lower lift shown on the map.  The piste turned out to be an interminable, extremely easy, nearly flat slope.  The bad news was that the t-lift back up took much longer than skiing down, and ran parallel and close to a glacier.  The sun had set behind the peaks on this side of the valley.  It was nearly 16.00h.  I estimate the temperature was between minus 12 and minus 20 celcius.  My fingers froze.  I huddled my gloves in front of my chest and buried my chin.  My legs were defenseless and beginning to freeze through Micha’s old snowboard pants.  When, at long last, we reached the top, I skied stiffly to the next t-lift across a flat of snow.  A hundred meters higher, we entered sunshine.  What a difference!  Yellow sunlight warmed us as soon as we passed from shadow to light. 

     “Where would you like to go next?”  Hubert asked.

     “I don’t care, as long as we stay in the sunshine.  I want sunshine!”

     My legs thawed slowly, and I felt stiff.  The wide easy pistes were crowded with skiers heading to the valley befor the end of the day.  Hubert waited for me, as always, a couple of hundred yards before the middle station.  I skied up to him as fast as I could and shouted,  “What time is it?”

     Four twenty-five.”

     “Go!  Without me you can still make it.  Go up again!” 

     “Where will I find you?”

     “In the restaurant.  Inside!”  He took off.  I skied after him.  I considered trying to ride a gondola, but maybe he would leave before I reached him, since he didn’t know I would be coming.  That would not be wise, and I couldn’t bare the thought of being cold again.  The end station of the gondola was already in shadow.  I had reached the trail underneath the cables when the gondola sailed over my head, Hubert’s back pressed against the window.  I waved and waved, but he didn’t turn around. 

     Inside the restaurant, they were stacking benches onto the tables, but there were still a couple of tables, one with a crowd of young men, one with a mother and young daughter.  I didn’t want to spend any money.  I didn’t have any money!  Maybe the young people who worked there wouldn’t notice.  They were so much younger than me!  At the back of the room, I stood pressing my thighs against the heater watching skiers ski past the window and disappear over the slope, direction Saas Fe far below.  I noticed that the gondolas going down were full.  I stayed as long as I could.  A girl started sweeping under the tables nearby.  I moved to the center of the room – the young men had departed – and sat at a table behind the mother and child.  I wouldn’t leave until they did.  A young man began mopping.  When the mother and child stood up, I exited.  I had reached my skies and was putting them on when I saw Hubert in the distance.  Perfect timing! 

     “They closed the restaurant,”  I announced when he arrived.

     “They closed it?!”

     Innocently, we skied after the departing skiers.  There were still quite a few, though it was thinning out.  The piste was not very wide, quite steep, and somewhat icey in patches.  At one point, I noticed a family disappear over the edge.  Skiing up to see where they had gone, I spied them on a road switchbacking down the mountainside already far below.  I kept skiing.  Hubert called to me from the edge.  I skied over to him.  It was another of those road pistes.  The sign was blue. 

     “Let’s take this,”  he suggested.  I followed.  Now here was an awkward situation.  My fear of heights caused me to stay to the cliff side of the road.  It was quite steep and narrow than these road-pistes usually are.  It was extremely cold.  I think it was built over the glacier itself.  It was somewhat icey, and there were many little rocks pocking out from the ice and snow.  All-in-all, this was not my idea of a good time.  We had gone around several curves when I reached a particularly rocky patch.  “I was thinking how can I avoid all these stones?” worried, of course, as is my nature, about the 95 franks we had paid just yesterday to get brand new surfaces on the bottoms of our skies.  Hubert had reached the next curve, a very sharp one with, I saw, no place for me.  It was so steep, how could I control my speed and miss the stones.  I was standing on the outside edge – don’t ask me how or why I got onto that side – and he was shouting at me, “Watch out for the stones,” when my skies began to slip out from under me.  I saw them, the left tip heading right, the right heading left and there was not a thing on earth I could do to stop them.  At the same time, I lost my balance and fell backwards, fortunately not over the edge.  I heard and felt a crack and let out a yelp.  “Ohhh!  I think it’s broken.  Oh, that hurts that hurts!”  Chin to chest, I could see the right ski pinning the left, crossed and laying flat on the ski slope, my knees torqued in a way which was not good at all, and I couldn’t do a thing about it.  Within five seconds, I would estimate, Hubert had reached me.  Somehow, he must have instantaneously discarded his skies.  He arrived running and carrying them.  He threw them up the piste and knelt, gently but efficiently lifting the left ski high enough that he could turn the right ski so my knee was pointing in a humanly possible direction – oh, that felt better!  “I think it’s broken.  O.k.  O.k.”  ‘O.k.’ had just become my new favorite word.  I must have repeated it about thirty times.  “Hmm.  I don’t know.  I don’t think.  Ok ok ok.” He removed my skies and lifted under my arm pits while I tried to stand.  “No!  That’s no good.”  My leg seemed to want to collapse outward at the left knee with an excruciating pain we won’t even think about.  “I can’t stand without the skies.  You’ll have to put them back on.” 

     Two young women had arrived and stood looking down on me with pity and concern in their eyes.  I smiled up at them in a motherly fashion and reassured them, “I don’t think it’s broken.  It’s o.k.  You can go.  But that’s very dear and sweet to,” … to have stopped by, so to speak.  I must say, I amazed myself.  I go through life a hypochondriac, an angst hase and a whimp, but when push comes to shove, I’m right their shovin’. 

     Hubert replaced my skies and helped me to stand.  I found that I was able to snowplow.  I learned my lesson long ago on that snowball hill with Cheryl: NEVER remove your skies.  I learned Tuesday once again when I did, and had to abandon them to make my way, on my bottom, down the steep snow trail just above our vacation home.

     So I snowplowed.  As long as I faithfully kept the knee in one and one only position, knee cap directly over my toes and pointed straight ahead, it could stand some pressure.  After two more turns, the road-piste rejoined the main piste.  There was nobody coming down this anymore, and by the way, although the signs said, ‘Last Piste control 16.00’ nobody ever came by.  Thank goodness I was able to … ski. 

     Hubert was wonderful, patient, slow as I.  He stood and waited while I carefully and ever-so-slowly made my way down this stretch of relatively flat and easy piste, snowplowing or putting all the weight on my right leg.  Once more, I felt the excruciating pain when putting some pressure angled left on the left leg.  I was learning quickly.  Won’t do that again!  Hubert had reached a rim and called, “Take the other way,” but it was too late.  I started to head back, but it would be too far, and I would have to go uphill.  “Alright, come this way.”  I reached the rim and looked down.  Pretty steep!  Hmmn, how are we going to do this one?  “Try scooting backwards,”  he suggested.  I found I could do that.  Standing on the right ski, I scooted, then slid a bit forward, then scooted backwards.  I couldn’t see where I was going or how far the edge of the piste was from the backs of my skies.

     “Am I all right?  Is there enough room?”

     “A little forward,”  he warned.  So I skied frontwards, then backwards, and like this, we made it to the bottom of the steeper slope.  After that, it was a very easy, wide, level piste.  I learned that I could make wide, gentle, even circles standing on the injured leg as long as I held the knee in that one, perfect position.  I could make normal turns with the right leg, so, slow, fast, slow, fast, we progressed.  Then, the piste flattened out altogether in one of those roads, normal width, a road a car could drive sloping only very slightly downhill.  I placed my skies parallel, stood on both, and let her glide.  Like this, we reached the first, gondola.  But this wasn’t the one we wanted.  I had to side step side step up a meter, then follow a road piste to the lower gondola.  Here, the weight training from the gym stood me in good stead.  Hubert bragged later to the boys how Mommy was really strong, using her arms to push herself across the snow.  

     The next challenge was, would I be able to walk.  Hubert removed my skies.  I stepped onto the pavement of the road.  Yes.  I could.  He carried the skies, staying with me for awhile, slow as I was.  “Shall I get an electro taxi?”  he asked.

     “No, thank you, Dear.  I’m so cheap, as long as it’s not broken, I’m walking.”  He grinned, approvingly.  “It would be better if you would go on ahead to the car and come back with my hiking boots.”  Off he strode.  Only once, just passing the tourist information office, I took a wrong step and felt that pain again.  Don’t do that again!  A little farther, I saw Zeno approaching carrying my boots.  Mark showed up soon after. 

     “Where’s Daddy?”

     “Loading the car.”

     He could have driven to meet me, I thought.  We drove home, stopping in Saas Grund because we might not reach the Coop in Graechen before 18.30.  “I’ll wait in the car,” I said.  I saw them cross the street in the rear view mirror, then they were standing at my window.  I opened the door and they handed me a small box of Lindt pralinés.  “Oh Thank you!”  How delightful.  Being injured has its priviledges. 

     “We thought you would be doubly glad because they were half price,”  Hubert said, climbing into the driver’s seat.

     “Oh, I am.”

     That night, I had trouble sleeping because of the pain.  But this was to be expected.  I insisted that Hubert ski in Zermatt.  “Are you sure?”  He asked.
     “Absolutely.”  You must!  (This is my mother in me).

     I had to chase the boys out of the house or they would have spent the day flabbing out in front of the TV.  “Shall I stay with you?”  Mark offered.

     “How sweet of you!  Don’t be silly.  Ski!  Go on, scoot!  Off with you!”  I spent the day in bed reading the notebook with a purple binder and a transparent flap Mom had prepared for each of us.  In it, I found the answers to my questions, “How did she deal with her own mother’s death,” and “What were her religious beliefs.”  It was a wonderful day.  The sun shined into bedroom all the afternoon, warming my covers.  The only real problem was going to the toilet.  It seemed I had to go far more often than usual.  However, I learned that I could place both palms on the toilet seat between my legs and slide down onto it.  To get up again, thank goodness there was a hand hold.  Also, I remembered what Grossmami had taught me when she spent a month with us, leaving just two weeks before, after breaking her little finger. 

     “This is how you stand up,” she said.  You lean forward until your center of gravity is directly above your legs; then and only then do you raise up your body.  It isn’t even all that hard when you know how.  But without that little tip, I think I’d be sitting on that toilet still!

     Every day since then has been better.  Saturday I went to Dr. Streich.  I let out a yell even before he touched me.  “I can’t examin it like this,” he said, sending me to the Lindenhof hospital for x-rays.  They did four.  On Wednesday, I went to the Brunnhof Röntgin Institute for an MRI.  The hardest thing in the world is holding still for twenty minutes.  Oh, how my toes longed to wiggle!  (Say that out loud and you can hear Mom’s voice).  (That’s a Mom, Debbie and I used to say, but about somebody else.)  This morning I visited Dr. Lehmann. 

     “Didn’t they give you crutches?”  he asked.

     “They did.”

     “Where are they?”

     “At home.”

      50% chance, we won’t have to operate, and if we do, then maybe only the meniscus, which, he says, is a very simple procedure.  “We’ll have to see if the knee is stable after 3 weeks of physiotherapy.”  (Frau Ducummon). 

     “I will do anything you tell me, so that we don’t have to operate.  I will follow like an angel!”

     “I don’t believe that, 

     “Ah!  You know me already.”

     “Not yet, but I will soon,”  he smiled.  I liked him.  I guess I would trust him to operate, if it comes to that.  “You walk so badly.”

     “Badly?!  I thought I walk good.  Every day a little better.”

     “Well, that, of course, but…”    

     I have a torn Kreuzband, a torn meniscus, and, unimportant, a small bit of knee bone split off.  It is so lovely to have a sympathy-inducing diagnosis.  “Move, move, move,” he told me.  “Bewegung, Bewegung, Bewegung.  You can do anything you want.  You see what you can do.”

     “Can I drive?”

     “If you can walk without crutches.”

     I dressed and scuffled along to the reception to make an appointment and get my excuse for the fitness center (until further notice), then noticed I had forgotten to put on my shoes.  The receptionist walked toward me down the hall carrying them, a silhouette.  “Happens all the time?”  I asked, hopefully.

     “Never before,”  she smiled.

     “You’ve never seen that before?!!!”


     I guess they won’t be forgetting me.

     This afternoon, I even did a bit of dancing.  Dancing.  Ah, that sounds good.


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