Saddle Sore: Tony Vagneur

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

It was one of those glorious, cloudless days with about 6 inches of crystalline fluff over hard pack – an unserious powder day, with the cold, fresh air seemingly full of diamonds and the effortless turns, sublime.

I let ’em run a bit, and as I cranked a wide, arcing turn to the left, my downhill ski snapped off as though swallowed by the world’s largest snow snake. In anticipation of the crash, my last conscious thought was, “This’ll be a slider.”

Bright in my eyes, the sun made it difficult to see, but it seemed there was a stranger astraddle my chest, bleeding all over me and then I went out again. The thing about head injuries, at least the ones I’ve had, is that upon regaining consciousness, you know things aren’t right, but have no clue how to fix them and as you reach through the thick miasma of milling uncertainty that fogs your perception, there’s a faint recognition of serious trouble and your own blood.

Again, I came out of the darkness, this time looking at a stand of aspen trees in the distance, wondering if maybe I hadn’t been thrown off a horse in Woody Creek. But then, why would these people in ski clothes be kneeling all around me? In reality, I was just off Naked Lady in Snowmass, the ski run that sends spasms of pique down the spines of those who have never before heard that name.

The third time’s a charm, it’s said, and once again I awoke, this time to the questions of a ski patrolman, wanting me to move my toes, my fingers, curious about a lot of things. Being an ex-patroller, I figured I must be the volunteer victim in a training program and felt safe. Until I slowly realized I was the involuntary victim in a real-life drama. Oh, hell.

Larry Rameil, ski patrolman extraordinaire, was on his way to the Snowmass Clinic with another casualty when he’d come across my wreck. Based on the nature of my injuries and the shakiness with which I answered his questions, Larry wanted to put me in the toboggan and get me to the clinic post haste, but relying on professional trust of long-standing, finally accepted my plea to let me sit on the back of the snowmobile while he delivered both the lady in the sled and me to medical care.

This might be the appropriate place to put in a plug about helmets and their value, but when this all took place 18 years ago, such a notion didn’t carry much credence, unless you were on a downhill course.

It took a while, but I finally remembered my main mission that day was to pick up my daughter after Ski Club and Larry, good man that he is, wandered around the Fanny Hill meeting place until he found her. I was diagnosed with a brain concussion and a couple of cracked ribs and was told to take it easy. My cousin John Wayne Vagneur drove my daughter and me home and then the fog rolled in again for a day or two.

The next weekend was my daughter’s season-ending ski race at the Spider Sabich Race Arena and although it was ill-advised, I strapped on my skis and headed that way. Skiing down from the top of the lift, the pain in my ribs became intense, but after an uncomfortable, slow descent, I made it to the race area.

At the conclusion of the festivities I spied the prior week’s savior, Larry Rameil, in the crowd and thought maybe I could bum a ride off the mountain. My pained countenance no doubt registered with Rameil as I gimped across the deck, and he wondered aloud if I should be on my skis again so soon.

After giving me a rousing handshake that resonated through every rib I owned, he looked me square in the eye and said, as only a good friend could, “If you want a ride down, forget it.”