Being raised in South-East Asia, I was only introduced to snowsports relatively late in my life; when I was studying in in Melbourne. I learnt to ski there and it was love at first descent. However, two years ago I decided to switch to snowboarding for no real reason other than I wanted to try something new and it looked like fun (a lot of things are fun to me!).
Although I learn very quickly (I’m one of those annoying people who’s ‘good at everything’), up to last month I was a pretty novice snowboarder, having only had about six days of experience.
One evening, my friends Shah and Fay said, “Hey, we’re going to Chamonix in two-and-a-half weeks and there’s a spare spot, wanna come?”
I hadn’t been to Chamonix before and I was super excited. I was thrilled about being able to get on the snow again. We were going to Les Grands Montets, which I knew nothing about so I thought I’d do some Googling. My research led me to reading things like:
“..the home of professional extreme skiing”
“..notoriously steep and not very beginner-friendly”
“..the blues are pretty much reds and reds are pretty much blacks”
“..has a reputation for offering some of the steepest slopes in Europe”
I started to get bit nervous. So I went ahead and bought a good pair of Dainese padded shorts, made sure to include a helmet in my equipment hire, and paid for winter sports insurance. I was set!
I never knew getting to Chamonix was so easy. London to Geneva in about 1.5 hours, and then a ground transfer for about €30 – also about 1.5 hours long. Boring info: I used AlpyBus going and Mountain Dropoffs returning – both were good.
I got there earlier than my friends, so I chilled out at our Airbnb apartment while I waited. Well, actually I was getting some work done. Contrary to popular belief, I DO work. The bonus is that I can work remotely so this is how I get ‘soooo much time off”, for those wondering. I’m also not bound to annual leave allowance.
Anyway! Our accommodation was situated at the foot of Les Grands Montets (super easy access to the lifts), in Argentière. It was a magical scene from the balcony:
If you thought that was good, this is what it looks like on a sunny day:
On our first day out, we decided that we should take the shuttle to the next resort, Domaine De Balme, so we could get accustomed to our hired boards/boots/skis. This resort was meant to have ‘kinder’ slopes.
We arrived quite early in the morning, when the pistes were freshly groomed. It was really slippery and with the new board that I wasn’t quite used to, I caught an edge and had a mighty fall quite early on. I landed on my front like a rag doll, banging my head (or rather, helmet – see, good decision!) onto the hard snow. I was in a daze for a minute and the pain was a shock, but naturally I picked myself up and continued snowboarding the rest of the day.
The rest of the beautiful day!
I loved Domaine de Balme. It wasn’t too challenging and had offered some peaceful yet fun runs surrounded by pine trees.
And at the top of the mountain.. it was stunning. Ignore the skiers :p
Below the clouds, the scene was magic in its own way..
There’s a certain excitement in snowboarding or skiing in low visibility. It’s scary = it’s fun! See what I said about my finding a LOT of things fun..
The next morning..
I woke up with the right side of my ribs feeling soooo bruised from the fall I had the previous day. So I just popped an Ibuprofen and off to the slopes I went!
I had a three-hour private lesson that I booked through ESF (€180) so I could improve more quickly. It was excellent. I requested ‘an instructor who’s cool and funny’. Freddie was cool and funny. I was happy.
By the afternoon, I was having so much fun coming down the difficult slopes at Les Grands Montets. And the VIEW! Descending through the clouds.. it was freaking awesome.
I fell a few more times.. but they were fun falls! It was more painful doing up my bindings because being in that position squished my bruised ribs. Sometimes I had to pathetically ask Shah to do them up for me. Luckily, he’s such a patient guy that he always obliged.
I am aware that I look like a boy child on a ski trip with his parents.
We stayed on the slopes until it closed and I had to be rushed down by one of the staff through the fog at the bottom. I looooooved it!
Oh here are some snaps of food: confit de canard, rillettes de canard (our daily staple), and french onion soup. It was great to be in France.
Anyhow, I am so grateful for that day because, turns out it was my last day of snowboarding for the season. That evening, I was beginning to have trouble breathing – it started to hurt each time I inhaled deeply.
WHAT IS THIS PAIN
After a terrible night’s sleep STILL with pain around my rib area, I awoke in the morning thinking ok MAYBE.. something is wrong.. maybe it’s not just a bruise after all because, there is in fact, no visible bruising.
So instead of putting on my gear as usual, I sadly had to stay back and wait for an appointment at the clinic nearby. And waited I did. It took bloody three hours in the waiting room before it was my turn! Eventually, this was the situation:
“You’ve cracked two of your ribs”
“So what do I do now?”
“I’ll give you some painkillers”
“If I take enough painkillers can I go snowboarding tomorrow?”
“Are you sure”
“Well you can but it will be painful”
“Aha! But you said I CAN.”
“Just stay at home and read a book”
So yeah that was that. Turned out I cracked some bones with that fall on the first day. But hey at least I did enjoy two fantastic days of snowboarding (with fractured ribs yes but ah.. ignorance really is bliss isn’t it??).
I proceeded to the pharmacy, picked up my meds, and went back to the apartment. I guess I was pretty excited to take the meds because the pain was getting pretty sharp and awful, and I couldn’t breathe comfortably.
ALMOST-DEATH BY TRAMADOL
I was prescribed a combination of Dafalgan (1g Paracetamol) and something called Tramadol. I’ve lived pretty much a medication-free life, so I’d never even heard of Tramadol. Little did I know that it was about to make my life HELL.
It was too strong for me! I barely even weigh 50kg and I was given 50mg tablets.. Obviously at the time I didn’t even consider that it might have been too much so I took one, got high off it, then went to bed.
By early morning, I was DYING. I was so nauseated I could barely even move. Also added one more item to my Life CV – projectile vomiting. That was interesting. But try vomiting with TWO CRACKED RIBS.. it’s fucked up man. I pretty much spent the entire day crawling between sofa and toilet and feeling like death. I couldn’t even hold down two sips of water. I was drowsy. Being horizontal so much of the time made me lethargic and left me feeling like absolute shit.
Eventually I recovered from the sickness, but I never touched another tablet of Tramadol since.. I’d rather put up with the pain than to go through THAT again.
Fortunately, the next day I was on a flight to my favourite Porto for some recovery-time in the sunshine 🙂
BONUS STORY – GENEVA AIRPORT NIGHTMARE
If you like hearing about bad things happening to other people, here’s one for you:
So I got to Geneva Airport to catch my flight to Porto, still feeling weak and unable to carry anything heavy (y’know, it’s a bit difficult when you’ve cracked your ribs). I could only take very shallow breaths, too, and without any strong pain meds this was a real challenge.
I get to the check-in desk and inform the lady at the counter of my situation and asked if I could get any assistance should I need it. She says ‘no’. No big deal, I thought.. I’ll just go really slow.
I approached the security check like an old lady, dragging my heavy backpack along the floor since I couldn’t really carry it with the straps. Sometimes, I could carry it in front like a baby, but for brief amounts of time. By the time it got close to my turn, I was feeling awful and out of breath; face pale. The staff could see me clearly struggling, but no one so much as asked me if I was okay or if I needed any help.
No matter, I thought. I’ll manage. Then I got told to hurry up. Other passengers, instead of helping me, started to cut in front of me. I stayed patient and didn’t let it bother me.
Once I got through, I looked for my gate and saw that it was a 20 minute walk. And that mean 20 minutes or normal walking, not 20 minutes of my old-lady-walking. I saw an information counter just ahead, so I thought I’d better ask for some help. Breathing was getting really difficult and painful.
“Hi, do you think I could get some help with my bag? I’ve had a snowboarding injury so I can’t really lift it and I have trouble breathing. I’ve cracked my ribs.”
“Sorry, no. You should’ve asked earlier at check-in.”
“I did tell the lady but she said she couldn’t help me there, and I did think I could manage.”
“I can’t do anything, sorry.”
“Is there a trolley I can use at least?”
“No, no trolleys are allowed here.”
“Please, I only need some help with my bag. I can still walk, I just can’t lift my bag.”
“Exactly, I can’t call for assistance for you. It’s not like you broke your leg! You can still walk!.”
I was looking so pale and pitiful at this point that the best this mean lady could do was tell me ‘the fastest route’ to my gate. I could barely even understand what she was saying because I’d started to feel lightheaded. Actually I felt bullied. And helpless. I hated this lack of independence.
I nodded my head and walked a few steps away and hid behind a pillar. In a moment of weakness, I started to cry. BAD DECISION. The sobbing made it even more painful, and my breaths even more shallow. I tried to slow down and compose myself, but I couldn’t. I felt SO BAD.
Eventually, a French family saw me and came to ask if I was alright. In my amateur French I managed to tell them about my injuries and how I couldn’t get help. I’m still grateful for them because they then went over to the mean lady at the desk and demanded that she request assistance for me.
I did get help in the end, but not before the mean lady came over to me to say, “I’ll call for someone, but there’s no guarantee, so if you miss your flight don’t blame me.”
THANK YOUUUUU mean people of Geneva Airport.. I’m now a much stronger person. But bigger thanks to the kind family who cared enough to check on me.