In Tune With Nature

As most of the people in the resort are now desperately praying and wishing for the snow to come I cannot say that I’m overly concerned. It will come when it comes. Perhaps I can be all relaxed and casual about it since I’ve just had a great week of race training on the glacier in Sas Fee. Although I think there’s more depth to my inner peace than that. It’s much more than just slowly and pleasantly easing into winter mode…

I’m progressing through my counseling. I still relive the traumatic accident from last winter in my head, over and over again. Yet, each time I ascend the mountains to ski, I find it easier. I now also experience moments of joy and completely forgetting about it. I’m enjoying life, perhaps just a little more each day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere near being through or over it, I don’t think you can. For instance I still get really upset when I read articles and watch ski/snowboard movies with the undertone that it is cool to ignore the rules of nature. How nauseous it makes me hearing peoples slang-manifested spiels about these movies, boasting that it’s “radical” and “epic” to challenge avalanches; or the nonchalant comments in the movies down the lines of “how it could have ended a lot worse but luckily didn’t, hah, hah…” This kind of disrespect towards nature will always upset me.

Let’s just say that I’ve come to terms with the loss. I’ve reached the next stage of the process: I know I have to look at it from an appreciative angle. I’m now thankful for the lesson I was taught. Naivety and greediness in the mountains have a steep price. Always have and always will…

March 1st 2011;
I watch the snow break up in big blocks and start to accelerate down after my boyfriend Scott. “Avalaaanche!” I scream at the top of my lungs, while also understanding that it won’t change anything. The steep chute has no escape route. Nor any “island of safety”. He’s got no option but down. It’s game over. I’ve never skied here myself, but from watching previous runs on Scott’s helmet cam footage, I know there’s a narrow bottleneck straight-line in the middle of it… It is his favorite run in the world.

Scott has lived for skiing since he was little and it has allowed him to travel the world following his dream. He has never competed in big mountain skiing but he skis like he has and he’s got the scars and injuries from accidents during past exploits in the mountains to prove it.

In contrast, I’ve recently retired from competing. After seven fun and successful years I was ready to start enjoying skiing at a more relaxed level. Witnessing two fatalities in the world tour free skiing finals simply took the fun out of it for me. Scott hasn’t yet arrived at this transition. He still likes to push the limits to the extreme. His euphoria is unmistakable when he gets himself into close call-situations and pulls it off. It’s like he is in such intimate contact with nature that he loses the ultimate feeling for it. Like today during our ride back up for our second run, “The” run this time, down the steep north facing backside of Mt Bonvin in Crans Montana, Switzerland. He was bouncing off the walls in the gondola with excitement…

….I have to quickly evaluate my different options of getting down to the debris. I decide that the safest is to follow the avalanche and ski down the slide path. There is hardly any snow left at all. The bed surface consists of sharp rocks and ice. I call Rescue while side slipping down, far too aware of how precious the time is. As I keep moving down I continuously search for clues of where Scott may be. It’s still too steep, too convex, to see the bottom of the couloir.

Soon I’ve reached the bottle neck crux. There’s absolutely no snow left here at all. Just steep rock outcrops and cliffs on each side, making for an impossible passage. Miraculously I somehow manage to “billy goat” down the rocks over on the one side. As I reach snow again I can see something dark in the debris way down at the bottom. It could be a rock but I’m so hoping it is Scott. I hastily continue down and as I get closer I see the dark shape moving. In a wave of hope I race down the last bit, my skis bouncing uncontrollably in the debris which is hard as concrete.

He’s got blood all over his face. His helmet is beaten up, his clothes are torn. He’s talking to me. He’s upset. There’s blood coming out of his nose and mouth. I do the quick Rapid Body Search I’ve been taught through numerous first aid courses and conclude nothing is broken. But I hear an alarming rustling noise from his chest when he breathes. I have the Rescue on the phone again, changing my alarm from avalanche search, to helicopter “as fast as possible”. My experience from working as a ski patrol in Canada tells me the truth. We don’t have much time; if any at all. At the same time I have to keep the hope up…

Scott complains of difficulties breathing. I help him drain the blood from his mouth, trying to remain calm and steady. Focus on what needs to be done. He goes unconscious. I put my jackets on top of him to keep him warm. He stops breathing. I beg him to breath -yell at him to breath, on the verge of hysteria now. He takes one last breath as if only to please me. I proceed to do heart massage. Up until now I’ve only done it on dolls in the class room. I don’t know what an actual rib cage should feel like, but I’m certain it’s not supposed to feel as mushy, soft and shattered as Scotts.

“Un, deux, trois…” my phone is propped between my helmet and ear and a man from the Rescue team stays with me, helping to count my strokes, correcting my pace once again. I keep going too quickly. Where is the helicopter? I cannot panic, I have to stay focused. Please, please let the helicopter turn up soon…
He was so happy, so “stoked”, to use one of his favorite words. Jumping up and down at the top with excitement, like a child at Christmas. So eager to ski his favorite run with his favorite ski partner that nothing could hold him back. Not even me dragging my feet this day, unsure of how to interpret the weird, unpleasant feeling I’ve had in my gut since the evening before…

…After what seems like an eternity the helicopter finally arrives. A doctor takes over and I fall to the side, unable to stand up, unable to feel my arms or hands or anything at all. I watch them package Scott and hoist him up into the helicopter. Wondering if I’m going to panic now, get hysterical? Instead I feel mostly empty, hollow and blank. It’s too surreal to process.

“Would you like some tea?” One of the patrollers asks me. They’ve taken me to their top hut. I shake my head at first. Then, changing my mind, I get a small thermos cup of sweet tea. The patroller kneels down so his eyes get to the same level as mine. He tells me that for what it’s worth, he wants me to know that I’ve done everything right, everything by the book. I’ve optimized Scott’s chances of surviving. And no matter what happens he wants me to carry that knowledge with me. I nod, thinking of whether or not I even dare to be sad. That would be to give up, to lose hope, wouldn’t it?

They show me into a small, secluded room, behind the waiting room. I clumsily stagger in as I am still in my ski boots. I sit down to wait. My mind is racing. “Why do they take me in here, to a separate room? It can only mean the worst, no…?” I try to fight my negative thoughts for 20 minutes. One look at the doctor then entering the room tells me that fight is over. Scott is officially pronounced dead…
It’s a beautiful blue bird day. The sun glistening so brightly on the snow covered peaks it could easily be mistaken for a fun, light day of pleasure. Inside me it’s anything but light.

There’s about ten of us hiking up to a mellow peak above Verbier ski resort. Scotts home mountain. A few friends of his from North America, his sister and myself. At the top we spread his ashes, taking turns to say a few words, although they mostly get stuck at the back of our throats. The essence still gets proclaimed; what a wonderful, vivid and energetic person Scott was. That he died doing what he loved the most, in the arms of his sweetheart, with his love. That he would tell us to keep skiing, keep smiling, keep enjoying the mountains. I close my eyes and take a deep breath and instantly the image of his bloody face at the bottom of the avalanche reappears. Followed closely by the images from my farewell of him at the hospital; his pale, handsome face, with a hint of a smile on cold lips, resting in peace.
I wipe the tears off my face and put my goggles down. Time heals, they say. I try to believe it. I try to be brave. Try to believe that skiing will be fun again, someday. It will have to be enjoyable right now, as this run is for Scott.

I’m thankful for all the fantastic moments I got to share with Scott, thankful for knowing him and having embraced life to the max with him. But I cannot help but thinking still that life is far too good and the world is far too beautiful to waste through thoughtless actions and ignorance. I believe that Mother Nature will always make sure to teach us who’s in charge; teach us to stay humble, balanced and peaceful within. It is better to play with her, than against her.

Text by: Karolina Ekman

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