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Piste Pain - part one
Skiing is my thing, my passion and going skiing is always a highlight for me each year. I introduced my husband to the sport and subsequently our two children. I have always been at my happiest in the mountains – there’s never been any doubt what I’d spend my millions on if I won the lottery!
But in April 2011 my skiing world collapsed. On the second day of our two-week family skiing holiday I ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in my right knee. It provides lateral inside your knee, stopping your leg from buckling beneath you.
I was taken off the mountain by snowmobile and ambulance, treated in the resort medical centre and spent the rest of the holiday confined to the chalet.
I have never felt so low. The pain when the ACL snapped has been nothing compared to the subsequent emotional pain I have felt as I began the long rehabilitation from the injury. With this season – possibly the best in living memory – in full swing, I still don’t really know if I will ever be able to enjoy my passion again.
Rewinding to April last year, it was a perfectly normal day. Yes the Easter holidays were later than normal, yes the season’s snowfall had been awful and yes we had to drive each day to Avoriaz as our resort had closed due to lack of snow, but everyone was looking forward to a fantastic holiday.
My husband and I had gone up with our two sons and two other children from our party for a couple of warm-up runs before their ESF lessons started. It was about half past nine and although the pistes were hard packed, the six of us were only on a blue run.
On one short steep section, the early morning icy conditions were proving a little testing for some of the children though. I was skiing down in snowplough with my six year old between my legs. As we neared some flatter terrain, I told him he could ski off himself. But my left ski caught his binding, then my right ski caught an edge. My knees twisted outwards as I fell on my front and slid facedown to the bottom of the piste.
I felt the pain immediately. Clearly it was serious. I wanted to see if I could put any weight on my right leg. It was impossible. Then the tears came.
As I waited by a piste marker, my husband rang to alert the mountain rescue team. Then he skied off with the four children to get them to the bottom – neither of us wanted our boys to see their mummy in pain. After they had gone I sat on the snow and although there were people skiing all around me, I felt very alone.
I’m an accomplished and advanced skier so how could this have happened to me on an ordinary run – the type I could ski in my sleep? I was devastated. If only we hadn’t gone up for a quick pre-lesson run.
It was hard to stay positive and lift my spirits as the holiday continued. We decided not to return home immediately after the diagnosis. I wanted to try and have some sort of mountain holiday, despite hobbling round on crutches with my leg in a brace.
I felt so low each day, but knowing the boys were working towards another badge and improving gave me something positive to cling on to.
Thank goodness for travel insurance, which covered the medical evacuation off the hill, the French doctors’ fees, pharmacy charges and the nurse who came each day to the chalet to inject my knee with anti-inflammatories. It’s never worth the risk of skiing without insurance.
On our return to the UK, the NHS system kicked in. My GP referred me to a consultant orthopaedic surgeon who specialised in knees – so an MRI scan could be arranged to get a clearer picture of the damage (I had only been x-rayed in France). After I made it clear to my GP that I wanted to avoid surgery if at all possible, a course of physio started while I waited for a consultant appointment.
When my physio saw me walk and change direction in a zigzag pattern, she couldn’t quite believe I had done my ACL. She pointed out I had very strong leg muscles – this gave me something to cling on to. I really didn’t want surgery to remove part of my hamstring as a replacement knee ligament, so was focused on developing my leg muscles to compensate for the ligament loss and provide lateral support for my knee.
In the back of my mind I think I was hoping that perhaps I hadn’t actually snapped my ACL, so when the MRI results came back and the consultant confirmed it had completely gone I was devastated all over again. I burst into tears in his consulting room. Whatever outside chance existed had gone.
So now I’m in a new year and a new ski season. I am focusing on strengthening my leg muscles with gym exercises and counting down to another family skiing holiday. But this one feels different already. I haven’t put on a pair of skis since the accident, so I don’t really know quite how I will feel or the knee will feel.
The best family ski holidays are the ones enjoyed by everyone – an exhilarating mountain experience shared by all. But injury on the slopes can ruin the best planned ski trip, leaving the injured skier depressed and the holiday in tatters. This is exactly what happened to Parallel Trails co-founder Gayle Turner-Moore last Easter, when she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament. In the first part of a series of features, here is her story.