Best Powder Day of My Life

English: Powder in HKM

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The best powder day I ever skied was almost the last day of my life.  The year was 1990, I was twenty years old and living the ski bum/semi-college student lifestyle in Gunnison, Colorado.  I say semi-student, because to tell the truth we never attended class very often, there was just too much other stuff to do.  Did you know they gave you a student ski pass to Crested Butte back then for like $120?  They were just asking you to skip and go ski.  Well ski we did.  It had been snowing for a week straight and there was so much snow that it was literally piled half way up my door in Gunnison.  What would it be like in Crested Butte?  The mountain was not open yet, because it was before Thanksgiving, but that did not deter a few die-hard powder junkies like myself.  We hiked the mountain to about the half way spot, trudging through the deep snow ever so slowly.  After walking for a few hours we finally decided it was time to ski.  I had never skied powder this deep before, it was waist to chest deep.  There was no base, so you would go even deeper down.  Floating in a dream of white fluff this deep is like swimming in a sea of clouds.  We were in powder heaven and since it was still snowing it just kept getting better and better, so we kept doing lap after lap, never seeming to tire.  At the end of the day we made our way to the bottom of the mountain.  They had recently cut a new run on the front side and we wanted to check it out.  Grass was starting to stick out of the snow, but it had been so good that we figured we were safe.  Well, apparently they had not cleared all the tree stumps off the new run yet.  I looked on the final slope and decided to go.  I made three turns, caught an edge and went down hard on my side, right into one of the previous mentioned stumps.  Wow, what just hit me?  The wind was knocked out of me and I could not breathe.  I finally got my breath back and realized I was hurt, really bad.  It felt like a knife was piercing my side with each breath.  I had to get out of there, it was getting dark.  My friend Dan Sidani and I slowly skied down the rest of the slope and I collapsed at the base of Crested Butte Village.  Dan went to get the car, and I laid there in agony.  I was feeling very weak and nauseous and felt like nodding off to sleep.  Luckily, in that moment, Dan appeared and said get up, you have to walk to the clinic.  He had old school Sorrel snowboard boots and luckily could not climb to where the car was located.  If he had I would have probably laid there and gone to sleep forever.  We walked to the on-mountain clinic.  Right as we knocked on the door, a man appeared who was the doctor.  He was literally going to the store in that same moment.  If we were a minute later, we would have missed him.  They took me in the clinic, and did x-rays.  I had two broken ribs, and I was getting paler and weaker by the minute.  A call to the ambulance was next, and they put me in for the thirty minute trip to the hospital in Gunnison.  It took ten minutes for them to get a saline line in me, and I have good veins.  This IV it turns out was what saved my life.  I got to the hospital in Gunnison and they put a catheter in me.  All blood.  This situation was not good.  The doctor there did an exploratory surgery the next morning and said the ribs punctured my kidney and I had a small tear.  He thought it would heal on its own, and so I sat in the hospital for a week as my kidney unfortunately was still leaking minute traces of blood.  I then went to have an MRI with contrast in Montrose, three hours away by ambulance.  I had to drink four bottles of the most foul-tasting liquid you can imagine on the way there, that was the contrast liquid.  Well, the doctor there said I needed emergency surgery.  I then drove eight hours by ambulance to Denver General and had surgery the next morning with a kidney specialist.  All good right?  Well, two days later, the stitches broke and they had to go in again.  The weeks passed and things were looking better.  I was finally healing, albeit very slowly.  I remember the first week having a morphine drip that I could control.  The first day I pushed the button twenty times, but then the nurse laughed at me and said I could only push it twice an hour.  It was still nice.  I remember reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that week, it was the only decent book in the hospital store.  It seemed to make sense that week, who knows?  They made me breath into this gauge that measured my breath.  The evil nurse would make me breath as hard as I could to keep my lungs from collapsing.  All I can say is broken ribs, coupled with surgery scars on your lower abdomen hurt worse than any pain you can imagine.  Every breath feels like a knife is tearing your insides out.  I also remember one of my walks around the ward with my dad, IV in tow, saying to him that God really seemed to be trying to tell me something with this one. I was lucky to be alive and I had more to do in my life.  Well, a few weeks later they let me out.  I grew a beard in the hospital, and so looked much older than my real age.  I just turned twenty-one and decided it was time to have a beer, legally.  When I went to the bar, I was so excited to show them a real ID.  I guess the beard threw them off, because needless to say, I was not carded.  Oh well.  I was now rehabing, and two months later I went skiing again.  It was a big powder day.  I was too afraid to go now if there was not soft snow to land on.  Later, I went to talk with the doctor in the clinic at Crested Butte.  He said I was the luckiest patient he had ever seen.  I should have bled to death on the mountain.  It was just not my time to go.  I had things to do with my life and people to help.  In the end, the entire experience humbled me and made me think of moderation in all things.  When you are young, you feel like nothing can ever happen to you.  But it can, believe me.  Remember the stats on 18-25 year old males?  Now I still ride hard, climb hard and ski hard, but with a newfound respect for nature and life.  Cherish each day you are here and remember to be thankful for the breath of life.  Take care.  Chris Coney

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2 thoughts on “Best Powder Day of My Life

  1. I just wanted to say thank you for your time spent writing the reviews that even newbies\ unprofessionals can read and understand. Keep on sharing your thoughts!

    • Thanks Cialis for commenting and supporting my writing. As long as you are out there enjoying yourself, that is all that matters. Keep adventuring, even if you are still learning. Take care. Chris

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