Wilderness Adventures with a Broken Ski
by Paul Richins, Jr.
(updated 8/3/98)

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The following examples illustrate the need to be prepared for the unexpected while skiing in the backcountry. Even in good weather, unexpected problems can arise. Here are two examples of the importance of self-reliance in the mountains.

On the second day of a four day backcountry ski tour from Mammoth Lakes to Rock Creek, my Fischer Europa 99 ski broke in half. It broke in the middle, right under my foot, rendering the ski totally useless. The ski was only being held together by the metal edge and the P-tex base. When I took the ski off and lifted it to inspect the damage, it flapped in the breeze. The ski could be folded in half. I was in a big time bind as I was two days from civilization in rugged terrain with only one useable ski!!!

I was unsure what to do about my perdictment. That evening in the tent, with the help of Bob Carlson, we figured a way to fix the ski so I could "limp out" over the next two days. I only had a pocket knife, a screw driver, two extra screws and some wire. To make the fix, I decided to cut the tail off the ski and used the tail section to splint over the top of the break. I used the leather punch on my pocket knife to "drill" or more appropriately, "worry", a line of holes across the ski where I wanted to make the cut. I then cut the metal edges with my knife and then neatly broke the ski across the line of closely-spaced holes. I used this 18 inch tail section to splint the break fastening it to the top of the ski with the two extra screws and the wire. I remounted the binding nine inches forward. I now had a 150cm ski. For the next two days I skied in complete freedom with the my newly redesigned short skinny ski. Since then I have been sold on the benefits of short skis.

On another four day trip into the Mount Whitney area with Dr. Colin Fuller, all five of the screws holding the super loop binding to my Fischer Mountain Vision skis unexpectedly pulled out as I was climbing Mount Irvine. As I slid the ski across the snow, the ski stayed put with the super loop binding still attached to my boot. What a strange sensation. I looked down to see the front throw of the super loop binding and the cable in place around the heel of my boot but no ski. At first I thought the trip would have to be aborted but from past experience I felt that I could remount the binding and make the ski work for the remainder of the trip. I took off both skis and hiked up and over the Irvine/Mallory pass, down to Arc Pass and to Sky Blue Lakes where we planned to camp that night.

At camp, I examined the ski and assessed the damage. The internal integrity of the ski seemed to be weakened considerably but I was able to remount the binding 4-5 inches forward of the original placement. I drilled/worried five holes with the leather punch on my pocket knife and tightly screwed in place the five screws. The binding seemed firmly attached to the ski but the skis rigidity was seriously weakened at the point of the original mounting. The ski would be skiable but was more like a wet noodle than a stiff flexing ski that it once was.

The next two days we climbed and skied four peaks (Mount Pickering, Newcomb, Chamberlin and Joe Devel). The ski held up but was becoming weaker and weaker with each turn. I had to be very careful with the ski particularly through the turns. There was no edge control at all which was especially disconcerting on steep terrain. On the fourth day we skied up and over Tuttle Creek Pass and out on excellent spring snow. The ski survived and the trip, which could have been easily aborted on the first day, was turned into a huge success.

Backcountry_Resource_Center--Paul Richins, Jr.

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