“Let’s have a look at the map, Mark.”
Wiseman pulled the map out of his pocket, unfolded it and spread it out on the table. Two days into a skiing holiday this should have been a piste map, but instead it was a street map of Chambéry. Mark had acquired it earlier in the day, approaching the desk in the Office de Tourisme with no little confidence and a pre-learned French phrase ready to go. The nice lady behind the desk smiled and enquired if he would prefer to continue in English.
“But I wanted to improve my Freeeench…” wailed Mark. She smiled again, and started pointing out landmarks on the map in French. A blank expression descended upon Mark’s face, but he persisted manfully.
The day before was our first day skiing, and dawned bright and sunny. After a few, icy lower runs Lynne, Mandy, DC and I headed higher and skied the red Venturons run down towards Mottaret. It was a good run, with better snow than we’d encountered so far, so we went straight back up and did it again. DC remarked that the Venturons was a good run to Venture On. This is the standard of joke we’ve come to expect from him. At the end of the second run Lynne, Mandy and I waited for the big man to appear. He was bringing up the rear. After a couple of minutes, we started to get concerned, but remained confident that all was in order. Waiting for the last skier’s arrival at a lift station is not unusual. Frequently something happens that causes a hold-up – often a wipeout, with the accompanying delay retrieving skis and getting them back on. It’s common, too, for a skier to take the wrong turn at a junction, and end up somewhere else on the mountain (Filipideedoodaa is especially good at this last one). A quick text message or phonecall usually sorts this out. We called DC’s mobile, but it went straight to answerphone.
We agreed I would go back up on the chairlift and ski down. Halfway up on the lift I saw a prone figure just off the side of the piste, with four skiers clustered around him. It was DC, no doubt. Fingers beginning to shake, I tapped out a quick text to let the girls know. I skied off the lift and back down the run, without stopping, thighs burning, panic rising. He was surrounded by five or six members of the piste patrol, and had taken a serious knock to the head.
In due course a helicopter arrived, landing on a flattish area between pistes. The medics took some time to sedate him, and then it took off. One of the piste patrollers with pretty good English kept us updated throughout with what was happening. He was headed for Moutiers, and then on to Grenoble. This later changed to the Centre Hospitalier in Chambéry.
We have been receiving a steady stream of text messages and phone calls from home ever since. Under normal circumstances, this would become wearing, but under these abnormal and distressing circumstances, they have been an immense source of strength and encouragement. Except that the text message alert on Lynne’s phone makes a noise like a distressed budgie complaining in your ear. Helpfully, it makes this noise on both sending and receiving text messages.
We made our way to the bus station in Les Menuires, passing après ski bars, viewing the revellers with a curious sense of detachment. The world just keeps spinning.
A bus and taxi ride later, we arrived in Chambéry and found DC in the Réanimation unit (ICU). Scans had revealed bleeding in his head. He was in an induced coma, and was lying, with his lower shins and feet protruding beyond the bed, wired up to a multitude of monitors. His face was swollen. They had shaved his head.
We stayed a couple of days in Chambéry, sleeping at a hotel within walking distance from the hospital, found via some sharp Google work by my sister back in London.
Jo, Paul and Derek, relatives and friends of DC from Edinburgh, arrived on Monday, and joined us in our hotel. They stayed on while we returned to resort.
Now back in the mountains, to ski or not to ski? Numbness, confusion and grief make this a difficult one to answer, and we haven’t answered it yet. Having considered packing up and coming home early, I think we are decided on sticking together here in resort. Crystal Ski have been extremely helpful and kind to us. Further, we are grateful to all the folks who have called, emailed and texted, and are praying back home – mainly for DC, obviously, but also for us as we try to come to terms with what has happened. Your support is greatly valued.