So what did I (Mark) get up to during the 2010/11 ski season? Bearing in mind that I had major surgery (about a 10 hour surgery) on the 16th February 2010 which resulted in me being in intensive care for a couple of days and a total hospital stay of 3 weeks (another story that is work in progress). Given that we had moved to Luxembourg during the summer and that Luxembourg is much more focused on banking and finance rather than engineering meant that come the ski season I was still without gainful employment, so Helen being the fantastic wife that she is, suggested that I go skiing for the season to get fit so that is what I did!!
So off I went to our favourite ski resort Sunday River , you might think wow "wish I could just ski for 3 1/2 months" sounds great but if you imagine that during the week most people that you would ski with are safely tucked away at work skiing by yourself gets a bit boring. So during my time at Sunday River I did a couple of things, firstly I volunteered to with the competitions and secondly I volunteered with Maine Handicap Skiing.
The most surreal part of this whole season was the day of the anniversary of my big surgery I was riding a chairlift and thinking this time last year was in intensive care on a ventilator!!
Working with Sunday River Competitions
When I was filling in the application form for competitions I was a little surprised to find that one of required skills was to be able to slide slip, I scratched my head and thought nothing more, at least nothing more until the first day that I was volunteering, the slope that the race was running on was a black run (Monday Morning) that I have skied lots of times in the past with out any problem, however this time round it had been set up for racing, the snow was packed down very hard and pretty difficult to hold an edge, especially at the start of my seasons skiing, so the only way you could get down was to side slip, I did feel better when I saw a lot of the race coaches and competition personnel side slipping down as well!! it does give you a whole new respect for the athletes and their abilities as I suspect for the racers that you see on TV these conditions would have been considered pretty tame.
I was a little nervous of working on the freestyle events as my impression of most park/freestyle skiers, especially the younger ones, was that they were generally rude and obnoxious, well I have to say nothing could have been further from the truth as all of them were polite well mannered and the spirit, camaraderie and sportsmanship shown between all of the competitors was an excellent example to us all.
All in all working with competitions was a fun (if at times cold) time, it was also very heart warming the number of competitors that took the time to say thank you to me and the other volunteers.
Working with Maine Handicap Skiing
Due to changes in legislation and the current economic climate it's virtually impossible to get an H2B seasonal worker visa meaning I can't work as an instructor but as visitor I can volunteer as long as I don't receive anything of value in return. So after some initially training including an introduction to blind guiding a somewhat unnerving experience at times it was finally time to put my teaching skills into action. All of a sudden becoming a ski instructor becomes real, fortunately with MHS very few participants go out with just one volunteer and very rarely is that volunteer a first year volunteer so it was great to go out and observe and when asked offer an opinion or suggestion.
Apparently after a few weeks it was noticed that I seemed to be quite good at assessing peoples skiing and working out how to improve it, however it was still quite a scary day when I went out as the lead volunteer and not only that it was initially only me and the participant, as it turned out and fortunately so we were joined by a second volunteer part way through the day. I say fortunately as we were just heading over for one final run crossing across the bottom of another trail as I'm part way across I look up the hill again and I see a young girl with a look of panic on her face, justifiably so as although she was in a snopw plough it wasn't very effective and she couldn't turn or stop, well at least not until she head butted me in the ribs and tripped over my skis!! Fortunately I was able to get up unaided but decided that as I'm on Warfarin/Coumadin (blood thinners) that I should call it a day and swing by ski patrol. Arriving at ski patrol they poked and prodded me, took my blood pressure (twice - seems it was a little high, probably just stress) and decided to play it safe and recommend that I go to one of the local hospitals for a check up, so off I go (thanks to Judy for driving me there and back) a couple of x-rays and a blood test and I'm all set to go, at this point most of you will be thinking now is the time I have to hand over an arm and a leg to pay the bill, it seems this hospital sends you an invoice rather than asking for payment at the time, so far the total amount I've been invoiced is $34!
So even after ending up in hospital after my first time as lead volunteer I was sent out as a lead volunteer several times more during the rest of the season, which apparently is not the norm as far as first year volunteers go. It was during the times I went out as lead instructor that I found out what a special challenge teaching people with various handicaps is, whilst the teaching model is the same and you are trying to acheive the same result you have to work out how to get somebody with limited ability to control limb or limbs to do the same thing as an able bodied person. One of the most interesting things I learned was that even a participent is using special equipment including the various diffent types of sit ski the same basic principles of skiing apply.
One of the amusing things about volunteering with MHS was the on going debate I had with several participants as to who was the more remarkable person me for going through surgery and chemo and then volunteering with MHS or the particpent for overcoming a disability and carrying on skiing.
It's worth noting at this point that a lo the participants were skiing a lot more than just green runs, in fact some of the time I had difficulty keeping up with them! During the skiathon I guided a film crew rouund the mountain to try and get some footage, we tried following a couple of thethered sit skiers and we got left for dust!
Photo's from this season and a bit of fun!