Powder comes second when a life’s on the line
A disturbing incident brought out the best of punters and staff at Heavenly.
It’s easy to judge a place like Heavenly, California in a great season like this one. After all, the cliches of powder snow, incredible views and glorious sunshine all ring true in the state’s best snow year since 2010/11.
But there’s another way I will judge it first: by how people reacted to what looked to be a man dying before our very eyes.
Coming out of Mott Canyon, the resort’s famed area of steeps, our group was all toothy smiles and jelly legs on a day you’d be happy to bottle and repeat 365 times.
But from the corner of my eye I saw someone in real trouble. At first I thought he’d been taken out by another rider but my brother in law quickly cottoned on to the fact he was convulsing uncontrollably.
We got to him lying face down, frothing at the mouth and having a fit.
The reaction was swift and commendable – a number of people gathered to turn him on his side, ensure that he was breathing properly and didn’t swallow his tongue. The nearby lift operator was notified, and he in turn contacted ski patrol – six of whom arrived in a little over five minutes after the incident was reported.
They ascertained what had happened, got the man comfortable and talking (he’d stopped convulsing just as they arrived), contacted his wife and arranged for medical support all within a short period of time.
What someone was doing skiing alone who was by his own admission on medication for having seizures is probably a topic for another time but I left heartened that so many people were prepared to help and that ski patrol here were so efficient. It’s nice to know should the worst eventuate.
The incident was something a a jolt after a couple of glorious days in the Sierras.
Our first venture to the slopes was classic California. Fresh snow over night and a sunny day.
Joined by another Aussie Richard Jameson we got some edited highlights of the resort and sneaky pow turns.
This guy can ski. Richard is the Australian Professional Snowsport Instructors technical director and a level four trainer. He’d comfortably sit in the top half dozen technical skiers down under and gets to ride around 250 days a year in a job that takes him around the world.
While the gondola was initially closed due to winds, it turned out to be something of a god send as getting the bus to Stage Coach on the Nevada side of the resort ensured the crowds were thinner.
Richard’s local knowledge sure helped. After a warm up we ducked into some powdery trees in East Peak and another dose of some creamy goodness off the Comet chair.
Back over to the California side after lunch we got some more fresh turns at an unmarked locals’ spot above Maggies Canyon, the boot top amongst the trees probably the highlight of the day.
Heavenly’s quintessential run “Gunbarrel” made famous by Glenn Plake was something of a disappointment, a long run of moguls that had obviously copped a bit of rain before the snow came through in the lower elevations. I’ll leave that for the mo-hawked one next time.
After returning to Nevada we pinched a line through the steeps of Killerbrew which were still in good nick before making our way back to the gondola.
We’d have our own adventures back here on our next day at Heavenly under even sunnier skies in more spring-like conditions.
Winding down with Jameson, who is based in Dinner Plain and rides Mt Hotham in Victoria during the southern hemisphere winter, he recalled a conference some year back he we went to in St Anton, Austria where the topic was the “desocialisation of skiing”.
The conclusion was that many resorts were attempting to replicate the home environment with big screen televisions and play stations and that the spirit of club lodging and its associated benefits was being lost.
“We want to get back to that community experience with skiing – it’s actually something we do well in Australia,” he said.
I can’t speak for the people who joined us to help the man having a seizure – they could have been locals or from anywhere in the US. But if there’s still that overriding desire to do the right thing then it’s hard to conclude that the sense of community has been completely lost.
From time to time we just need to switch our phones off and enjoy it for what it is. And in a season like the one unfolding in California, you shouldn’t require much prompting.