Pete skis again
In fact, there wasn’t much I hadn’t done already, including the toughest and most demanding kind of physical labor at high altitudes throughout the fall. Nevertheless I had not skied since the first mortar shell hit me on Mount Terminale 19 months before.
Throughout November we built and equipped patrol headquarters next to the Sundeck restaurant at the top of Aspen Mountain. We set up a primitive phone system using army-surplus phones. We also stowed toboggans and first-aid material up and down the hill and, at the same time, packed down the early snow on the trails.
Accomplishing the latter required day after day of sidestepping up and down the full 3,200 vertical feet of the mountain through deepening November snow that rose to three feet in places. Often we would pack snow from the summit to the base in the morning, have lunch at the bottom, change mitten liners (I would rewrap the bandage brace on my right leg), and then go back to the top in a rattling truck for the afternoon trip down-a total of 6,400 vertical feet of sidestepping. Even the patrolmen with two good legs were pretty beat by the end of the day.
I did all of this with a right knee that had no kneecap and a warped and numb left hand that froze easily. At first, all the sidestepping pulled my leg apart, and the pain was harsh. But gradually I began to feel my upper leg getting stronger, and I knew I would be able to handle ski patrol duties.
But I wanted more – I wanted to race again. I wanted to ski at 70 mph and make perfect turns. To anyone else it may have been a pipe dream, but I thought I could make it happen by improving my homemade leg brace. The brace I had put together for normal skiing was pretty simple: a 6-foot-long, 6-inch-wide elastic bandage crisscrossed over my knee, with another elastic support pulled over the whole joint. It offered all I needed for packing, sidestepping, handling a toboggan and skiing at normal speeds. But it would never be strong enough to resist the forces of a left turn at downhill racing speeds.
My next step was to find a block that I could put behind my knee to keep it from bending beyond 45 degrees. Bent beyond that point, the ligaments would tear. I pondered this medical puzzle for a while, then ended up putting a full roll of elastic bandage behind my knee, strapping it in place with another bandage and a heavy-duty elastic brace.
At first my left turns were either a series of choppy little step turns or long sweeping curves with about 70 percent of my weight on my good leg and my left ski trailing behind like an outrigger. Still, improvement didn’t seem impossible.
This is the 26th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter Five, entitled “Colorado Days.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.