The Snow Gauge

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Ski instructor’s amazing survival tale still inspires

Posted by on Jun 26, 2015 in Australia, New Zealand | 0 comments

I frequently forget to put out the garbage. One time I took my dog for a walk down to the shops and left him tied there for three hours, absentmindedly bring a few groceries home but not poor ‘ol Rex. I couldn’t, as my father said, hammer a nail into butter.

Yet I remember eating my first pie at Jindabyne’s Sundance Bakery; almost wetting my pants watching a guy helplessly scour the steep slopes of Aspen Highlands with a metal detector looking for a set of lost keys – and my first day’s skiing at Treble Cone.

It was 1998 and I was taking a guided tour/lesson of sorts with a potato farmer turned ski instructor from Cairns. His name: Shane Toohey. Shane didn’t see snow until he was 23. A decade on he saw snow in all kinds of ways that you and I couldn’t contemplate.

In that intervening period he’d become the skier many a weekend hack dreams of. He got a season under his belt in Canada and became a man on mission, going on to take fist descents in places like Kazakhstan and Argentina; getting the wrong tooth pulled out by a barmy dentist after a trip went awry in Bolivia; getting threatened to be shot when he tried to ski in a national park in Africa.

His tales where enjoyable and his skiing was immense. We ditched the cut runs which he dismissed in a way that would make his employer hopping mad had he heard. He passed off the bumps as not particularly enjoyable and co-erced us into tackling steeper and steeper terrain with deeper and deeper snow.

He was the antithesis of what I knew a ski instructor to be. Shane was willing, more than wilful though. He took myself and the only other remaining client out of bounds and to the edge of our personal boundaries. We sampled chutes in the Motatapu Basin and offered us pointers on our still stupidly long skis about jump turns and skiing powder. It was a hell of a day and left me more endeared to the sport than I was three hours earlier. That is the greatest thing someone can give to you in this sport.

Opening day pics from Treble Cone

Well, that and good yarns. Shane also regaled a story from the season previous where he had attempted a maiden ski descent of nearby Homestead Peak with fellow skier Todd Windle. He admitted feelings of uneasiness as they had almost reached the summit – but at far too late in the day for his liking.

Almost on queue it happened – the whump of an avalanche. Toohey was spat down the mountain in a pinball ride that lasted around 30 seconds but took him almost 1,000 metres. He came to a stop about 100 metres short of an ice cliff. He had lost teeth, torn leg, stomach and groin muscles and was coughing up blood.

Still, he executed a search to find his mate Todd – who managed to ski out of trouble – and the two laboured downhill for almost another half day, eventually crossing the Matukituki River at 3am.

From being a humble mountaineer and ski instructor Shane became something of celebrity, making the front page of the paper for his exploits. After a hiatus in the sport he returned and fulfilled his dream by logging ski descents on all seven continents with a trip to Antarctica.

Shane Toohey mountaineering

Shane Toohey mountaineering in the Tetons. Pic: Shane Toohey Facebook

 

These days Shane heads up consultancy firm Peak Teams in San Francisco, an organisation that works with executives and leadership teams at major corporations. He and his colleagues use their amazing life experiences to help drive home their messages.

I haven’t seen Shane for eight years but the fact I can recall all this suggests both he and Treble Cone have left their mark on me. Obviously a lot more than Rex did anyway.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s The Snow Gauge column from AAP. It is running through numerous online publishers including MSN, The Daily Mail and Yahoo 7. Cast your eye over the great spread with pics that Travel Weekly  has done.

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