4 Days in August

A tale of ski-ing, gliding, adventure, and knee ligaments

Timeline: August 1990
Location: Thredbo, Jindabyne, Cooma, all in New South Wales Australia.
Event: A 3 day ski-trip (well that is what I thought).

Day 1:
Arrived with my friend Leo Sandy, for a 3 day ski trip, on the cheap, camping out in my Mitsubishi van. Temperatures inside the van at night were about -3 degrees celsius. Although in our winter sleeping bags it was quite fine. This van features significantly on Day 3.

The weather was good and the snow was deep, with a big dump the night before. See how high the pile is in the carpark. We enjoyed a great morning of ski-ing, and skied many runs that we had always wanted to . One in particular is a run called "The Shuss' which runs straight down the lift line that has been cleared through the trees. It is moguls from top to bottom and very steep. We got down without any major incident by taking it really slowly. However, our legs certainly got a workout with turn, turn, turn, and turn again.


Our home away from home Our home away from home
Just after the section seen in the picture on the right, we hit some deep powder on an area between runs that we were trying to take a short cut through. This was to be my undoing as far as ski-ing was concerned. With legs weakened from the previous run, I went over a small drop-off in the snow and did the splits. Well one ski-binding broke open, and the other one didn't. On that side my knee ligament tore instead. Ouch, and ouch.
Into deep powder Just before the accident
Steep and narrow The Shuss
Not realising the damage I had done, I actually skied off the mountain going via one of my favourite short runs "Lovers' Leap". After a very careful and slow descent, we reached the village. We called it a day and Leo drove back to our campsite for the night. We visited the local heated swimming pool so I could give my legs some movement and also to use their showers. I must say that I was in quite a bit of pain and it was a rather restless night.
Day 2:
It was thought wise to visit the medical centre at Perisher the next morning before deciding on whether ski-ing was feasible. I was at this stage still keen to ski. The diagnosis was torn, or severely strained cruciate ligaments and further ski-ing was strongly cautioned against.

We then went up to Mt Blue Cow and Leo had a great day of ski-ing. It was one of those dream days on the snow. The night before had had another dump of snow, there was very little wind, and brilliant sunshine. On the best day of the season, at a great resort, I was not allowed to ski. The absolute pits.

Day 3:
After the frustration of yesterday, I said to Leo that I would drop him up at Perisher, and then head out to Cooma to do some gliding. I mean if you can't ski, you can at least have some fun. So that was the plan, and that is what we proceeded to do. I got to airfield just outside of Cooma and waited my turn for a glider joy flight. I had flown previously including several solo flights, so the pilot was happy to let me fly it for most of the time in the air, what a buzz.

So I sat on the sun-deck, drank hot chocolate, took some photos, and read a book. Oh yes, and to add to my knee pain I also got nicely sunburnt. This was turning into a horror ski trip, but more was to come.

We headed back to town, visited the Caravan Park to use their showers and then settled for the night.

Brilliant Blue Cow weather The brilliant day 2 weather
On aerotow climbing to 3000 feet

It was a glorious day with good lift. I really enjoy the aero tow part of the flight. Having to formation fly with another aircraft that you are physically attached to, while avoiding their prop-wash is good fun.

The snow capped mountains were on the horizon, and everything else was green. It was painful getting into and out of the glider cockpit with my knee, but it was soon forgotten once we took off. This is one of the reasons that gliding is such a great recreation. You are so focussed on what you are doing that other concerns are pushed out of the mind.

Soon to land, airstrip in sight
In the picture on the right, we are at an altitude of just over 1000 feet, flying at 55 knots airspeed, with a low sink rate. We landed about 3 minutes after the photo was taken. So far it had been a great day.
The road we coasted down

I headed back to Perisher, and while on the road noticed that the van was not performing properly. It was as if I had no power, the engine could be rev'ed but the power wasn't getting to wheels. I managed to nurse the van into the Pershiser carpark, and met up with Leo.

We started, on our way back to Jindabyne, with the van getting progressively worse. About a third of the way there the clutch gave up completely and we were without driving power. Since it was a long downhill stretch coming down out of the mountains we decided to coast as far as possible, to make it easier to get back to town.

We coasted all the way from Dead Horse Gap down to the Paddy Pallin shop at the Threadbo road junction. This was as far as the van was going to go. Leo had to be back in Sydney the next day so after hitching a ride in Jindabyne, we organised a one way bus ticket for him back to the big smoke.

Providently, I had met some people I knew from another church, who were down for a snow trip and I was able to stay with them for the night.

Day 4:
I caught the morning bus into Cooma, and purchased a replacement clutch and pressue plate. Since the next bus back was in the afternoon, I hitched and got a lift all the way back to my van. Then began a 5 hour ordeal as I lay under a van, in 0 degree temperatures, replacing a clutch on my own, with torn knee ligaments.

By late afternoon the job was finished, with one major problem. I was not able to properly adjust the clutch and now instead of being permanently disconnected from the engine as it had been, the clutch was now permanently engaged to the engine. Not having a workshop manual with me, it was a problem that was just going to have to wait. What this meant was that when the engine was started it would "kangaroo hop" (bunny hop), until the torque and speed settled down. It also meant that gear changes would require double shuffling (something I had never done before), and that the engine would stall as soon as I stopped at traffic or lights.

Well, I decided it would be better to travel through the evening when there was less traffic. It was quite challenging driving and I was making reasonably good progress until held up by traffic near Canberra and stalled. I pick up a hitch-hiker there-a-bouts (one good turn deserves another I figured), and we continued on towards Sydney. I dropped him off on the outskirts of Sydney and then came the most challenging part. At every traffic light I would stall, and then kangaroo hop off from the lights as I started. Since I lived about 15kms into the city from the outskirts this was no fun. It was a little easier though because of the lateness of the night now, and the fact that I could travel most of the way on highways and main roads.

I arrived home at about 2 or 3 am, in an exhausted, pained, and very relieved state.

What followed these 4 days, was 3 weeks off work and 6 weeks of physiotherapy, to get things back close to normal. It was a ski-trip that will never be forgotten.

Kerry Slavin.