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  Comments (0) Total Friday Apr. 18, 2014
Inside a Deep Freeze
Lurching from one near disaster to another...
When we arrived in mid-December, after our semi-annual migration, we had to unload the big trailer and I had to start taking my altitude medicine so I can breathe my way through the winter.

But no skiing today. The wind is screaming and howling and the snow is driving horizontally. And unfortunately, I won’t be carving turns in the wind-blown powder snow tomorrow. When I broke my back three years ago I tried to get started again, but because of the fear factor that hovered in my brain, it was just not any fun for me. I crashed badly three or four times. One crash was an out-of-control, near-miss with a lift tower before hitting a snow fence.

It was then that I realized that during 73 years of skiing, I hadn’t fallen very often. Probably because most of the time I was making transportation turns with 30 pounds of camera gear in my rucksack. I took lots of long climbing traverses to get to that special place for the right camera angles. When I first started making ski movies, my small leather rucksack held a simple, hand-wind Bell and Howell 16mm camera with three lenses and that rucksack could only hold an additional six rolls of color film and my passport.

Twenty years later a much bigger canvas rucksack contained an Arriflex with a heavy 24 to 240mm lens, 20 rolls of film and a battery belt. This rucksack approached 40 pounds and that did not include my tripod.

When I fell and broke my back, my sense of balance abandoned me. When I took the lift up to the top for lunch I pondered what would happen if I had another major spill while skiing and Laurie had to push me around in a wheelchair for all of the years I have left. That last spill cost me 17 days in the hospital and more than a month of using a walker. I don’t want to repeat any of that.

I know that I have a 15 or 20 years left at the keyboard of a computer in order to finish all of the stuff I still have stacked up on my desk, both here in Montana and on Orcas Island. And that doesn’t include my autobiography, which is nearly finished except for sorting through all of the photographs of those years of making movies. While sorting through them the other day I discovered the first ski photograph that I had ever taken on Jan. 24, 1940. I used a 39-cent Bakelite (plastic) Univex camera. It was on a small windblown patch of snow high above Hemet, Calif., in the San Jacinto Mountains.

The skier was in my Boy Scout troop and wearing knee-high leather hiking boots with a small pocket on the side of one of them for a knife in case of a rattlesnake bite. He also wore Levi Strauss pants and was riding on my Spalding, non-laminated pine skis without edges and semi-adjustable leather toe strap bindings.

Three hours after the ski photo was taken we were all in a jumbled heap upside down when the car we were riding in flipped over and landed upside down in a ditch. I broke my arm and dislocated my wrist. We got home very late from that Boy Scout trip to a day in the snow.

But the enjoyment of any experience is hard to reduce to the printed page. In twelve hours it will be 2014. This winter has been brutal. There is a ship is stuck during in Antarctic ice pack during the height of summer there. That ice is so thick and hard that that an ice breaker has temporarily given up and the passengers are being evacuated by helicopter.

When 16-foot thick sea ice is buckling and bobbing around in 20- to 30-foot ground swells, I certainly don’t want to be anywhere around that kind of brutal summer weather.
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