Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dave's Wave Ski - 5.6.2009

Looking back, this is a day that I will always remember, not so much for the skiing, but for the serious scare Jeff had. It all started off normally enough, I was in finals of my senior year of undergrad, and Jeff and I both wanted to get out for the morning. We started off on the north side of the pass with a car lap and found 6 inches of soft May powder. We hitched back up to the pass summit and immediately started the mellow hike east towards Cupid's almost indistinguishable summit.
The Route
The hike is a quick one as you can stay on grass most of the way, then click in and traverse south to the saddle before a short walk across a little more grass towards the top of Dave's Wave. As we were greeted by strong winds as we followed the ridge south. This is a fun introductory Loveland Pass line because you get high enough to get great looks at many of the areas prominent lines including the Mine Dumps, Golden Bear, Hagar, the Citadel, Bethel, Sniktau, Torreys, Grays, Grizzley, and Marjorie.

Jeffry, Loveland Basin, Hagar, Trelease, The Citadel, Pettingell...
Windy as usual
The Tuning Forks of Torreys & Grays
Yep, still want to ski this
Grizzly's north face
The south bowl of Sniktau
Dave's Wave is a very unique and fun line because it is essentially a cornice that runs down a mountain. It can be skied safely in most snow conditions by skiing near the root of the cornice and not dropping into the gully on the skier's left of the wave, which is a classic terrain trap. But, if avalanche danger is low, its even more fun because you can air in and out of the wave an uncountable number of times as you descend.
Top of The Wave
Daves Wave + Arapahoe Basin
Jeff and I stayed on top of the cornice for the first 500 vertical feet of the line before dropping into the adjacent gully. As usual for Front Range alpine snow, we found heavily wind affected sastrugi on the upper part. In retrospect immediately dropping into the gully probably would have provided some better snow. Soon we were low enough that the wind was not so strong and we skied smooth corn down to treeline.
Jeff w/ the top of the wave in background
Suddenly we had the opposite problem of wind effect, now the snow was getting too warm and it was STICKY. Even on my alpine skis I was having a hard time. Jeff was doing an amazing job of ripping it up on his tele skis.

The farther we dropped, the worse the sticky snow got. I was skiing a little in front of Jeff when I heard a loud thump. Surprised, I turned around to see where the noise came from. I was immediately concerned that Jeff was no where to be seen. Knowing that he had only been a bit behind me, I was beginning to panic. I took off my skis as started running uphill. After going about 10 meters I saw something about 50 meters up the hill that looked like an animal moving behind a tree, after a second I realized that it was Jeff. I ran up to Jeff as fast as I could, an found him jammed head first into the tree, unconscious, and convulsing. It was immediately clear that Jeff had gotten hung up in the tree and had fallen headfirst into the tree.

At this point several minutes had already passed since the accident had occurred and Jeff was still unconscious, seizing, and snowing no signs of improvement. As Jeff was still breathing and had a strong pulse my biggest concern was a possible spine injury or a further injury from his severe convulsions. I removed his skis and poles, checked his spine and head as best I could, then tried to provide some minimal stabilization while I waited for the convulsions to end. Obviously its hard to tell how long something like this actually lasts, but based on all the things that occurred after the accident I think the convulsions lasted between 5 and 10 minutes. The scariest moment was when Jeff suddenly stopped convulsing, closed his eyes, and went completely limp. Thank god, after about 30 seconds he started to regain consciousness.

However, we weren't out yet. I waited a bit for Jeff to come to enough that he could respond to me. Then I was able to do a more thorough examination of his neck, back, and head. Remarkably he was experiencing no spine pain, but just the classic signs of a severe concussion. After sitting for a while we carefully skied down to the ski patrol shack at Arapahoe Basin and from there to the hospital. Remarkably Jeff survived a direct impact with a large old growth tree with just a severe concussion.

This day was a learning experience for me. First off, what would I have done if Jeff had a spine injury? With as severe of a concussion as Jeff had, it was an hour before he could remember anything I told him seconds before. Even with our close proximity to Arapahoe Basin I had no cell phone, leaving him by himself with a back injury that he couldn't remember to go for help would have been far from ideal.

Its virtually impossible to prevent freak accidents like these, but I think there are things that you can do to help   minimize the damage if they do occur. Many of these things I need to work on myself, hopefully by writing them down it will remind me to do it!  1) Encourage everyone in your group to take at least a basic wilderness first aid class 2) Carry a first aid kit that would actually be useful for a serious injury. 3) Make sure somebody knows when you are going and when you should be back by. 4) Personally, I'm done telemarkinging in the BC. I would just rather have my full skiing ability available for all snow and avalanche conditions. 5) Carry a personal locator beacon. This day was a scary, but relatively low consequence reminder, that even for short, easy, and seemingly harmless pass laps its worth taking easy upfront precautions .


  1. Wow, didn't see this until now. Thanks for posting Mike.

    Definitely good points on BC safety. I really believe that the majority of skiers do not carry adequate first aid kits. Mine is more complete than most, but still needs work. I should do that ASAP.

    As far as telemarkering goes... I don't really feel that it had any real impact on this accident. It would have happened either way. A much bigger factor IMO was the fact that I was on brand new skis, with the factory wax (or lack thereof) on them. They were sticky as hell and I feel the same thing would have happened if I was on alpine. I personally am a stronger skier and more comfortable on tele at this point anyway. So for me, the lesson is more about making sure my equipment is in good shape (very important in no fall zones).

  2. Thanks for the comments Jeff.

    Just like you, my first aid kit is inadequate and I NEED to address this ASAP.

    The decision not to telemark in the BC is a personal decision for me. You are a super strong telemarker and spend many many more days each year freeheeling than I do. I know that you are much more accustomed to and practiced in telemark skiing in the variable snow inevitably encountered in the BC than I am.