Ultra Running. Ultra Hiking. Ultra Beautiful.

Skiing, Outdoors

Cat Skiing in Ayleska AK – Dec 28, 2008

Turnagain Arm from Ayleska

Turnagain Arm from Ayleska

After a day skiing at the Alyeska resort on the 27th, which has some pretty amazing lighting to make winter skiing viable, my mom surprised me with a day of cat skiing in the backcountry. It was my first cat skiing trip, and it was amazing.

It was also 20 below without wind chill, so the snow was amazingly dry and the powder was incomparable to anything I experienced in the lower 48. At some point I skied a run with the exact consistency of butter cream. I couldn’t quite believe it. A at the bottom, the guide and I just laughed. It was crazy.

On the downside, I wore my overly-tight boots and my feet went numb as always. Did I mention it was 20 below? Yeah, so, when I took my boots off the ends of all my toes were frozen solid white. Some guy walking by in the lodge did a double take and nearly fell into his girlfriend.

I’d never had frostbite before, and wasn’t sure how bad this was, so I figured I’d just put my hiking boots on and let those puppies defrost over dinner with mom. At some point she notice me cringing and wincing, and asked what was wrong. I said my toes were a bit cold. She looked at me. How cold? You know, cold.

The stabbing pain grew worse and more unpredictable, so it looked like I was having seizures. She decided it was time to drive an hour or so back to the cabin and take care of the footsies in a warm water bath. Good stuff.

Got to the cabin and I took my boots off. She just looked at me. Put your boots back on, she said, we’re going to the hospital.

At the hospital in Seward, the doctor just looked and nodded. Tight boots, he asked? I nodded. He sighed at my dumbass California stupidity and said basically the following:

“So, your toes are going to turn black. You’ll need to keep them bandaged and moist. Don’t bump them. Don’t compress them. Don’t wear shoes. Don’t take hot or cold showers. In five or six weeks, take off the bandages. The frostbitten parts will now be rock solid and jet black. Peel that part off. If you see pink skin, congratulations. If you see bone, go back to the hospital and get some skin grafts.”

He was oddly reluctant to give me odds. I wore Tevas and flip-flops for the next six weeks, with socks. It was sassy. Somewhere in here my nurse girlfriend, a burn specialist, asked to take a look. She looked positively unimpressed by my half-black toes. Nurses.

When it seemed time, I took off my bandages and poked at my toes. I had nine black tips and one pinky toe that seemed fine. I peeled cut the black caps off with scissors one at a time, peeling back the tip of teach toe and waiting for bone. But all nine toes were pink and happy underneath.

I’m still a bit sensitive to the cold, but all in all, it worked out. Did I mention the butter cream powder?

No idea why I didn’t take pictures of my toes. They were pretty awesome.

Leave a Reply