Well, I really did it this time. Call me irresponsible, wanna-be ski-god, inconsiderate of those around me, grandeur-delusional, or just a simple knucklehead. I deserve it.
It was all going fantastic too. Our son, 6-year-old Michael and a tough little kindergarten friend of his both made it to the top of Waterhouse Peak! Really, in ski boots, two kiddos scaled the true summit of Waterhouse at the southern end of Luther Pass. Both dads engineered some creative tow systems for adult-to-kid backcountry skinning. We left one vehicle at the base of the descent to Hope Valley and did it. Between the aforementioned tow system, intensive chocolate bribery, Raffi song distractions, silly hiking contests, and occasional Herculean shoulder-carrying, all 6 of us (2 moms, 2 dads, and 2 kids) made it to the top.
We stood astride the zenith rock outcropping of Waterhouse and I opened up the summit geocache box. Michael and his buddy proudly wrote their names and then I added in big letters: On this, the 26th day of March, 2016 Waterhouse Peak was conquered by two 6-year-old backcountry skiers.
“How many exclamation marks should I put?” I ask.
“Three,” says Michael’s friend.
We ate lunch, laughed about the grueling ascent, and enjoyed the view. Then, for some asinine reason, warped no doubt by my inane desire to show off for my child, I decided to build a little jump. What could go wrong? Well, frankly, a lot.
It should have been enough: summiting and backcountry skiing with family and friends. I should have been sated. No need to cram more fun and memories into an already awesome day. Awesome, besides a little snow-pit diarrhea detour for Michael on the ascent.
“Feel better now, Buddy?” I ask.
“Oh yeah, lots. Thanks for wiping my butt.”
“It’s been awhile since I’ve done that, hasn’t it?” I laugh.
But even that experience, albeit stinky, paled in comparison to what was about to happen.
I guess part of me wanted to prove to my offspring that I’m not over the hill just yet, that I’m still a great skier. Honestly, I’m not sure what went wrong. Maybe it was the angle of the jump. I was hoping to pull off some bigger and even more stupid tricks and built the jump with that in mind. Maybe it was the lack of adequate practice jumps, as we were rushing back to relieve the babysitter staying with Jane, our 4-year-old. Maybe I should have placed the jump differently in the natural terrain. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Maybe instead of all those lame hypotheticals, my age just finally caught up to my athletic ambition.
I knew as soon as my skis made contact with the snow.
“Dad, are you hurt?” Michael asks.
“A little bit, Buddy.”
“Are you gonna die?”
I manage a laugh and say, “I don’t think it’s fatal.”
“Are you gonna do the flip?”
“Not today, Little Man. Not after that last landing.”
“Oh.” Michael looks only temporarily disappointed, like he does when Wifey tells him to stop playing legos in the toilet.
Somehow I managed to negotiate my way through the increasingly thick slush down to Hope Valley. You’d have a hard time calling my descent actual skiing, as it was mostly on my left leg, but we all did make it out and a small shred of my pride was left intact, not having to be carried or doted-over too badly.
“I’m just a decrepit, geriatric, invalid old man now.” I lament in the car to Wifey and Michael after we drop off our friends at their car at the top of Luther Pass.
“Michael, you know your Dad can do back flips on skis, right?” Wifey attempts to make me feel better.
“Dad, do you need a wheelchair, like a candy-happed person?”
“Thanks, Buddy.” I answer sarcastically.
“Now, Michael. How do you think that makes Dad feel?”
“Why, didn’t you do a backflip?” Michael continues to innocently rub salt.
“Michael!” Wifey defends me.
“It’s OK.” I interject.
“You’re sure you’re not gonna die, Dad?”
“Seriously, Buddy? What’s with the morbid fascination? I promise, I’ll pull through this one.”
“I’m glad that’s settled.”
The next day I hobbled into Barton and had my first MRI. I remember thinking that the pain wasn’t bad and hopefully it was just a severe sprain. The report came back with the irrevocable words: “TOTAL RUPTURE.”
“Well, at least you live in the right place for ACL work,” Wifey consoles me over a beer that night.
Boy, was she right. Now that I’ve had the surgery and I’m sitting with a leg propped up in my bed, I guess the overwhelming feeling I have is less of remorse or frustration at my short-sightedness and more simple gratitude.
Tahoe Emergency Physicians, the nurses and staff at Barton, and Tahoe Orthopedics and Sports Medicine have all been astounding in their responsiveness, flexibility, and attention to my specific goals and concerns. This was honestly the first time I’ve had surgery and the medical teams at Barton and Tahoe Orthopedics are more than worthy of the accolades which have been lauded on them over the years. I feel confident that I’ll make a full recovery aided by the best in the business.
I also feel an overwhelming gratitude for just being able to live here, surrounded by all of Tahoe’s natural sublimity: to be able to ski, or at least stumble, down perfect backcountry corn snow with my 6-year-old and to have the support of family and friends while I recover.
It could just be the healthy dosage of oxycodone and acetaminophen altering my emotional state as I lay here in bed typing, but I really love this place, the adventure and misadventure that it affords, and the wonderful people in it.
Backcountry Skiing with Kiddos, Do:
- Use bribery, long tow straps, ducted taped old skins, any and all means necessary.
- Bring toilet paper; I’m certainly glad I did.
Backcountry Skiing with Kiddos, Don’t:
- Blow up your ACL trying to show off for children.
- Try to cram too much into an amazing day in the backcountry.