A study in human and non-human equipment limitations

Limitations/failures, depending on your mood for euphemisms…

I have been struggling. This trip, or at least the last week, seems to have been a study in human and non-human equipment limitations and failures (in very cold weather) :( After the debacle around my outriggers, and to a much lesser extent my stiffer, narrower (96mm) ski, I thought I was ready to move forward with the primary objective of this trip: fuckin’ SKIING, eh??!

Sun on the other side of the parking lot. It was shaping up to be a very cold but clear day.

Sun on the other side of the parking lot. It was shaping up to be a very cold but clear day.


The non-human part

I knew it was going to be very cold today (I did not realize it was not going to get above 0 degF (-18 degC), and it was mostly around -6 degF (-21 degF) when I was out, before the slight wind chill).  I thought I had gotten use to dealing with these cold conditions and I had suited up my usual Himalaya-winter style, and was ready to enjoy skiing in Alta for the first time in many many years. But I did not anticipate the effect all this prolonged exposure to very cold conditions has had, except on my car key battery.

After my usual routine of suiting up like a clown, I inserted my cargo box key into the core to open it. It was not entering/turning. I try the other side/core. No luck. Now my cargo box has been a total champ on this trip. It has withstood very very high winds, and I purchased it based on its ease of operation, opening/closing.

I know the cargo box has been exposed to really really frigid temperatures, especially when you’re driving 80-90 mph on the freeway in ambient air temperatures around 0 degF. I have had the experience of having difficulty inserting and turning car keys in older cars in cold weather. But this was still surprising me. I keep fiddling around, jamming the cargo box key as hard as I can without breaking it (I worried that if I was too rough, the cargo box key would snap and be stuck in the core. I try the following things without success:

  • Breathing into the core, but I knew this was likely going to be totally useless
  • Pour my hot coffee over the car key to try and warm it up and thaw any frozen water that might have entered the core
  • Heat the car key with a borrowed lighter
  • Heat the core lock with the same borrowed lighter
  • Start the car, turn the heater to full blast, heat the car key in the vent, and quickly insert the key into the lock

As I mentioned before, a few days ago, I had my first minor accident where I steered my car into a snow bank. I knew that a ton of snow had gotten into the passenger side rear wheel and that the weather had not been warm enough for this to thaw. So I had been driving around with a bunch of frozen ice jammed up there, possibly affecting how the wheel and brakes work. Thus, I was heavily incentivized to get rid of this snow. I should have known the car washes would not be operational in negative Fahrenheit temperatures, but I still looked for one in Hailey, ID. No luck. I tried self-cleaning with one of those spray wands, but even with very hot water coming out, the temperatures and pressure were not high enough. So I was keen to look for a place to get a car wash in the relatively warmer Salt Lake City area. Before my road trip, as an experiment and also to get rid of Vermont mud/filth, I had taken my cargo box through a car wash in Somerville, MA, to see if the car wash would damage the box and if water would enter the box. The cargo box and its contents were unaffected. So I did not think twice about bringing my cargo box through a car wash here. Well, it turns out that temperatures even in the low teens are enough to possibly affect the functioning of the box. Water must have gotten into the core lock and frozen.

Last resort: Go to the cafeteria, get a cup of scalding hot water, hope it doesn’t get much colder by the time I get to the car, pour hot water over the core. Yes, I knew this water was just going to fuckin’ re-freeze but I had to get my cargo box open. The cargo box opened to my relief, and I took out both skis (my fat ski and my harder pack snow ski and outriggers). As a precautionary measure, I will now keep my skis and outriggers, as well as a thermos with hot water inside the car when I am going to a ski area.

So that made for a very fraught start to the morning :(

This was when temperatures were WARMER.

This was when temperatures were WARMER.

The human part

Well hands were very cold from dealing with wet, but I was ready to ski. I thought that the snow from previous days called for my fatter, softer 109mm underfoot ski. The snow was actually rock solid chunks, although the groomed runs would have been super fun on my stiffer Aura. I wasn’t feeling stellar but thought I just needed to get a few warm up runs in me. I also made the decision that I would give my 109mm ski another few goes but if the snow remained hard and chunky, I would head back to my car to get my 96mm Aura, which ended up being the decision I made.

There are many things about skiing on one leg that a lot of people who don’t ski the way I do don’t think about. Heck, I don’t even think about these things until they rear their ugly, highly inconvenient, heads. Today, three things came together to make me have to cut my day short:

  1. I ski on one leg, but I am not missing my other leg, so I still carry all its weight and my entire body weight pushes against my right shin when I ski. My outside (pinky-toe) edge is the more difficult side for me and I really need to bear down on that outer shin to make good turns on that side. I’ve had some right shin aches and pains before but never a huge deal. I was experiencing some soreness last night but thought it would be fine by the morning.
  2. I ski on a pretty/very stiff ski boot, especially for someone by size/weight.
  3. I have been skiing in very cold temperatures

So while I have not had that many ski days given how long my trip has been, the fact that I have been pushing myself/skiing hard, in a stiff boot whose stiffness has been exacerbated by the very cold temperatures, on one leg has caused my outer right shin to hurt so much that I was openly weeping as I skied today. I am a big, emotional cry-baby, but it takes a lot of physical pain to make me cry. I just wanted to make it back to the car without getting into an accident, which was challenging because I couldn’t exert that pressure on my shin to be in total control.

I know the cargo box thing could have happened to anyone in these weather conditions, and who had to get the snow off around the wheels. But I am particularly upset because yet another ski day was cut short by something related to my spinal cord injury. I am applying heat, external analgesics, will take anti-inflammatories, and was using a compression wrap to try and get the pain and inflammation down. But I am feeling very down and thwarted. I am not even sure there is a solution to this; just “management.” Maybe it is about limiting number of skiing days in very cold weather; skiing in milder temps. Portable battery or car-battery powered hair-dryers. Or staying at home, sitting on the couch all day, and eating bonbons.

2 thoughts on “A study in human and non-human equipment limitations

  1. Been great to follow your reports. Sounds like quite the adventure. Be careful the frustrating parts don’t set the awesome parts in the shadow. Thanks for sharing. Best to you with the remainder and beyond.


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