Words by Amanda MacLean
“At the end of my first season in Verbier 2002, my board buddy Jane (pictured left) and I followed two mates under the yellow and black rope to make the heavenly descent of the “backside of mont fort” (pictured top). On our chosen route to the first powder bowl at 3,300m, we hit an icy ridge that sloped towards a rocky cliff face at least 70m high. We’d all tackled similar traverses before, so with little hesitation the boys, both regulars, went ahead, dug their toes in nice and tight, and called for us to do the same when they reached the other side of the traverse. Jane, a natural goofy rider, locked on to the ridge and began the traverse on her heels. The ice was solid, almost impenetrable, and I could see she
was struggling to hold her heel edge and stay up high on the ridge. More than half way across, she froze and glanced back towards me, unsure of her next move. Now too far across to come back, I told her to dig in and stay strong. But as she pushed ahead, she slid down the traverse some more, and then, with no ridge left, she was gone.
The immediate silence was deafening but then came the hollow thuds as she bounced off one rock on to another, ricocheting down the 70m face like a rag doll. I stood helpless on the ridge, my body trembling, convinced my buddy was dead. As the face finally flattened out into a snowy bowl, silence fell once more. I could just make out the boys, who’d already made the descent around and below the cliff, and squinted hard to see one of them lunge towards her, slowing but not halting her fall. Eventually, the two came to a standstill, but I couldn’t see Jane move, I couldn’t see if she was still alive.
My hands visibly shaking, my toes dug tight into the ridge, I reached for my phone. Jane’s mobile was in her backpack. Four rings later one of the boys answered it. She was alive and conscious. After an agonizing 20-minute wait, Jane was winched into the rescue helicopter and rushed to the intensive care unit at Martigny hospital where the extent of her injuries were reeled off one by one. She’d shattered her right femur and right ankle, and broken her left arm and left ankle. Her helmet and back protector had saved her life.
Jane’s memory of the accident is thankfully pretty vague, but she’ll never forget the long road to recovery. ‘I had a seven-hour operation where my femur and ankle were pieced, then screwed or clipped back in place. The elbow was fixed a week later with two screws. Three weeks after the crash I flew home and started hydrotherapy, at first needing to be hoisted in. After three months I could put my right foot down and then I learnt to walk again in the pool. After six months I was walking everywhere, swimming and cycling. The femur took 18 months to heal and the ankle is still being monitored.
‘A year in australia delayed my return to the snow and allowed me time to lose my limp. In 2005, I skied again and on the third day put a board back on. It was icy, my ankle
felt horrible and I bottled it. At the end of last season, after more skiing and with soft snow, I snowboarded again. It was heaven that feeling of floating on air.’
Jane paid a severe price for pursuing her passion, but in hindsight what would she, or we, have done differently on the day? We’d checked the forecast was fine, the risk of
avalanche was low, and we were carrying the right equipment. What we didn’t do that morning was properly assess the conditions of the ridge and, perhaps, due to a small dose of end-of-season complacency had pressed ahead unwisely. A lesson learnt.