Monday, April 8, 2013

Did You Lose a Bet, or Did You Just Get in a Fight with a Pair of Skis?

“Are you Mr. Stockdale? We need you to come with us.” These probably weren’t the first words that my stepfather wanted to hear, especially from a ski patrol official, whose job it is to drag injured snow-sporters off of the ski hill. I was a half-hour late in meeting him to go home, so it couldn’t be good.

At the time, I was on my high school’s ski team, an eager freshman. After practice, I decided to take a couple of extra runs with my teammate, Luke Dickow. The first and second runs were uneventful, but rather fun. However, with five minutes to go, we crammed in one more. Unfortunately, when things go wrong, it always seems to be on the last one of the day.

We zipped down the hill, and for whatever reason thought it was a fantastic idea to take a closed area for the last stretch. The minds of teenage boys are infallible. Even better, my equipment was bought heavily used. My bindings, which held my boots to the skis, had seen better days. The trail itself would have been doable, though, had they been in decent shape.

As we continued onto the trail, there were a myriad of ice chunks strewn across the hill, for it had not yet been groomed. For the invincible teens that we were, nothing could go wrong. How could it? It was just one run. Roughly halfway down the hill, a rather large chunk of ice escaped my attention, and, as I hit it, there was that oddly serene lucidity that occurs as you can only stare at the quickly approaching ground.

As I fell, I noticed that my skis had separated themselves from my feet, which meant a solid tumble was ahead. I hit the ground soon thereafter, and regained my senses a short distance from the fall. Oddly enough, the first thing I noticed was my season pass plus its strap, which was previously wound around my leg, a few feet up the hill. Luke grabbed it and brought it down to see if I was okay.

I grabbed the pass from him, and found that the pass card itself was sheared cleanly in two. It was an oddity to be sure. I stuffed it into my pocket in preparation to continue down the hill. Luke then pointed to my leg, and drew my attention to the dark, wet spot around my knee. I couldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary, so it was quite the surprise. Upon closer inspection, there was a clean slice through my snow pants, right around where my pass had been sitting. It at least explained that mystery.

Luke then declared that he was going to get ski patrol and raced down the remainder of the hill, telling me to wait for him. He did not return within a few minutes, and in the meantime, I sat and checked the damage. I couldn’t properly see anything with shredded snow pants in the way, but I did notice a glint of red upon the edge of my right ski. It turns out that sharpening them that afternoon, which gives the advantage on the race course, did not play out in my favor that day.

I at least had a pretty good idea of what had happened, but I also noticed that the patch of red upon my pants had grown much larger. Luke had still not yet returned, and so I stood up in preparation to go myself. Had I not ended up having nerve damage, I probably would have quickly sat down soon thereafter. It is truly a wonder what the absence of pain will do.

Once my things, which were scattered around the area, were gathered, I popped my ski back in to coast down the hill. I was again in marvel at the fact that I was able to do it without any pain whatsoever. At the bottom of the hill I spotted a ski patrol officer, which led me to wonder where on earth Luke had gone. I limped over to him, and asked him to take a look at my knee, because I thought that it was hurt.

He sat me down upon the nearest bench, took one look at it up close, and quickly declared that he needed to bring me to the ski patrol hut immediately. I was then dragged via sled to the hut, where they sat me on a bench. It seemed that the bleeding had gotten worse. They slapped a tourniquet on my leg after cutting the leg of my pants off just above the knee. I was quite upset about that. It was odd to fixate particularly on that, but I thought little of it at the time.

It was also at this time that the aforementioned ski patroller had gone to fetch my stepfather, after I provided him with the description and license plate of his car. As he arrived, I almost felt guilty for the look on his face. Who wants to find their child on a bench covered in blood? I still am sorry for that particular bit of stress. Otherwise, I was in quite good humor. It could have been the blood loss, but I wasn’t worried about it. That probably was from the blood loss.

I was brought to the hospital soon after, for the ski patrol had little to stop the bleeding. It was a particularly uneventful night after that, funnily enough.  It took 17 stitches to get my knee sewn back together, which I unfortunately did feel. I vividly remember yelling at the doctor for missing the area of my knee that did need anesthetic as he stitched it back up.

Looking back at it all, there really was nothing to learn from it, minus the fact that I now know a surefire way to give my parents the closest thing to a heart attack I can think of. It was a freak accident, and while it was one that I was lucky to ski away from, it never stopped me from going back on the hill. Within two months, I was back at it, albeit with new bindings. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of doing the thing that I loved most.


  1. The intended publication for this would be the Times "Lives" section. It's a little long, but I am planning on hashing it down for the final draft.

  2. Jon,

    I really enjoyed the story line of your essay. There was a lot of action and it was easy to follow. I think my favorite part was how you described your fall: “there was that oddly serene lucidity that occurs as you can only stare at the quickly approaching ground.” I thought that was great. I also liked the little detail about how the first thing you noticed post-fall was that you lost your ski pass up hill.

    I like that you opened with dialogue, and I think you should try to incorporate more throughout the essay. For instance, instead of stating “Luke then declared that he was going to get ski patrol...” you could replace that with the actual words he spoke rather than a summary. I’m also interested in what your encounter with the ski patrol was like. I think rather than summarize the experience, it would be effective to replace it with the actual conversation you had.

    After Luke left to find the ski patrol, you’re alone, examining the damage of your fall. This section could be an opportunity to delve in to what exactly was going through your mind. You talk about “a wonder what the absence of pain will do” but besides not being in pain, how were you feeling? Were you scared? As I mentioned before, I like that there is a lot of action throughout the piece. However, I think that you can make the action more compelling by adding more physical and descriptive details. For instance, when you limped to the ski patrol officer -- how far did you drag yourself? Were you exhausted when you got there? Did your body feel heavy? I think additional physical descriptions will help to strengthen the essay and add a little more excitement.

  3. I’m a fan of blood and guts, so I liked the action of your story. My favorite part is that the first thing you noticed was the absence of your season pass. It’s incredible what moments of stress and pain can do to a person’s thought process—you didn’t even seem fazed by the blood coming from your leg, yet the pass being sliced in two struck you as odd.

    You incorporated enough detail so that I could picture the fall and the subsequent actions leading to you finally getting help, but I thought your tone seemed a bit formal at times. I think if you add more dialogue between you and Luke or between you and the ski patrol guy it would loosen the formality and make the reader feel more involved in the action of the story.

    Upon reading the ending, I was left with a few questions. Where did Luke go? Why did he not return with help? Was your friendship different after this incident? Have you fallen again since the accident? If so, were you more fearful?

    I think if you ended with a brief mentioning of how you may or may not be more cautious when you ski would tie things up nicely.

    1. Thanks for the comments! Yeah, it's mostly unfinished. I was hoping to work it down to 800 words, and so when I noticed I was at 1100, I would try and edit it down a bit if I could. The unanswered questions will hopefully be worked in during the actual editing process.

  4. Great job! I really enjoyed this piece for a multitude of reasons. The biggest reason was that the piece really clipped along when I read it. You provided yourself with moments for asides (I really got a kick out of: “The minds of teenage boys are infallible”) that were quick and didn’t detract from the story. Additionally, another reason why you are able to tell this story effectively is because of your concise use of language. “As I fell, I noticed that my skis had separated themselves from my feet, which meant a solid tumble was ahead.” This sentence does a good job of illustrating the action in a way that doesn’t run-on, but you still do it in a way that allows for you to provide your own, distinct voice, when calmly speaking about the skis separating from your feet. For your next draft, I’d like to see more set-up at the beginning of the story, during the story, or both. I’d like to hear more about what you were like as a freshman, your friendship with Luke Dickow, and your relationship with your stepfather, as all of these things can help add depth to the story. These might help you make something more out of the story at the end, as well. Finally, hearing some of the dialogue between you and Luke after you fell might be interesting.

  5. What I found most interesting was that your typically drab monotone prevailed throughout the whole piece--if that sounded like an insult, please don't take it as one. Just consider yourself as classy as dry British cologne. Though cliche, I enjoyed lines like "the minds of teenage boys are infallible" and "it is amazing what the absence of pain can allow one to do." Sure they have been played out many times before, but I felt like you had a particular manner of putting them in a blunt fashion.

    That bluntness doesn't mean you can't make them a little more sharp, however. I think a combination of this sober voice in the present with the serene idiocy of someone who is slowly bleeding out on a hill would be hilarious--more or less I want to hear the voice of you at the time (as difficult to recall as that may be). Your introduced characters of the step-father and Luke could deal with a bit more development as well.

    Anywho, comment power--engage!

  6. I agree with Paula in that I would like to see more dialogue in the story to break up "telling" with some "showing." I think that it's interesting how calm you seemed throughout this whole ordeal. I would have figured that someone on the ski team who sustained a major injury would have been freaking out a bit more - but that could say something about your character, too.

  7. What happened to Luke?! I think developing him (if he made it out alive) and your stepfather is something you could explore as you edit. Learning more about them can even add depth to your “I” character as well. Your details overall were great. Concise, but enough to set the scene. I felt I was able to visualize the fall well. I think you could even flesh out this scene more and describe more of the surrounding trees or fenced-off area. One of my favorite parts was the focus on them cutting your pant leg off. I thought that allowed a further understanding of your character, while also reinforcing the idea that you really weren’t feeling pain. I also enjoyed the beginning with the quote. I found it to be a nice introduction to the story. Great job overall.

  8. I've always wondered what types of injuries call for people to ride on those ski things. I think your opening with dialogue was very strong—starting out of order always pulls me into a piece. I agree with what other commenters are saying, that it would benefit from having more of that strong dialogue. But I think your telling of the story chronologically was very well done. I think more description of the injury itself and maybe some heightened tension right before the fall would make the incident seem more visceral. I didn't feel the pain you were feeling during the event. If the numbness that you seemed to have, not realizing how hurt you were, playing that up more could benefit the piece as well.

  9. Jon,

    This is horrific. I thought it was actually pretty humorous though how calm and subdued you were, given how concerned everyone was around you.

    You say that there was nothing to learn from it really, and that's probably why it dragged on a bit for me. Right now, it feels a bit like a summary and analysis of an event, so in the revision, try for a more symbolic ending so it doesn't feel preachy at the end.