Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Come take a nightmare run with me on Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen and I don’t mean the gondola but rather the run commonly referred to by some locals as “The Bitch.” Personally, I’m a Summit man, at least two or three laps a day down that chute, but there’s nothing like the end-of-the-day freedom and lightness of ripping down International, culminating in either the Queen or Corkscrew Gully.
Famous last words always bite or they wouldn’t be famous, I guess, something along the lines of, “Yeah, let’s just take it easy,” as I turned ’em down the Queen, loving the texture of the snow, the size of the bumps and the angle of the sun.
It was too good, I’m telling you, and I felt tremendous, sucking up some humongous bumps in the middle before deciding to take a chance on the right. I always stop on the flat above Elevator Shaft to wait for my compadres and as I came across from the right, flying like a midnight bat out of hell, one of those sideways moguls the devil surely creates jumped into view. There was no choice, I knew it was going to hurt, but you know, I’ve absorbed worse, but then!
The crack of my helmet was deafening as it hit the snow, and I remember thinking it probably saved my ass as I gave myself up to the fall and tried to relax. Quietly and quickly, I flipped into the air and landed on my chest like a wet towel dropped from a second-story window.
Face buried in the snow, I couldn’t breathe, and as my buddy Bob Snyder said, all it would have taken to denote a dead body was a chalk line around my lifeless form. It was impossible to help myself – I couldn’t get any air, couldn’t move my head, and most noticeably, couldn’t move my arms or legs.
Paralyzed. That’s a scary proposition, but I took it with a certain amount of equanimity, along the line of “You really f-ed up this time.” Hurry up, Bob, and dig my airway out of this damned snow and then I’ll think about this predicament I’m in. A buddy like that is worth a million bucks, for damned sure.
Bob was great – he removed my skis, and then at my request, unfolded my arms from the awkward positions they were in. I was thinking it was going to be a little rough getting down the steeps in my condition, but then ever so gradually, feeling and movement began returning to my arms and legs. Hallelujah! With that I was back in the groove, but still functionally unable to help myself.
I’m an Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol alumnus from the ’70s and can only hope we performed with the same level of professionalism that greeted me on the mountain last Saturday. I love those guys and girls in a way that those of us in dire need quickly come to appreciate.
Aspen Valley Hospital staff hovered over me like the injured pup I was and got me through an MRI, a CT scan and fed me a delicious IV. No doubt tired of my sense of humor, they let me go home a few hours later. Those folks, too, are the epitome of professional.
This column is almost over, but my travails are not. I have two prolapsed cervical discs choking my spinal chord and a beat up vertebrae between the two, all requiring surgical removal, but first I have to allow the swelling to subside for six weeks. In the meantime, there’s not much to do what with the constant pain, a cervical collar that seems elephant-sized and strict orders to stay home.
Six weeks of recovery after surgery, and I’m back in the game. Just so you know.
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Some days, I miss being back in the saddle. I miss making memories.