Sunday, March 19, 2006

Terminal Velocity

Saw someone get really hurt - or worse - a few days ago. Sarah and I were taking advantage of the spectacular conditions to do a classic off-piste run, the Lac Du Lou off the Cimes De Caron gondola. After a magic run we'd nearly reached the end, and stood for a while admiring the views across the frozen lake and up towards the other mega classic off-piste run off the back of La Masse in Les Menuires, which we'd done twice the day before. Gathered atop a snow covered, heavily corniced cliff we see a couple of boarders, peering down. It's seriously steep terrain, a vertical drop off the cliff of at least 10 metres onto a thin tongue of snow between rocks, gradually easing off from vertical to a 40 degree, untouched run down to the lake surface. Suddenly one of the boarders jumps. We can't believe our eyes as he fluffs the jump, picking up a slight forward rotation in the air, briefly striking the snow tongue with the tip of his board some 10 metres below and bouncing his way down the rocky terrain, coming to an improbable stop about 150 metres down, still on seriously steep ground. His mates are still stood on the cliff top unable to believe their eyes. From where we're standing we can see he's not moving, and not responding to the frantic calls - in English - from his mates. They carefully make their way down to him through different routes, but as far as we can see he's still not moving.

We have no way of knowing if the fall was terminal or not, but if he walked away unscathed, it would be a miracle. He might have been the most accomplished of snowboarding cliff jumpers in the world for whom these sort of drops are everyday feats, but from where we were standing it looked obviously suicidal even by the most casual of glances. A modicum of self preservation instinct must surely count as a valuable commodity in freeride skiing. There is nothing we can do, and we complete our run, and head for lunch, still with a sick feeling in our stomachs. We do another run along a slightly different route in the afternoon pausing briefly in the same spot a few hours later, and they've all gone, either rescued, or - hopefully - made it down by own steam.

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