Occasional postings about Maz and Si's big adventures

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Dr Curly's Guide to Power Screaming

Recently discovered from the Dr Curly archives.  An article dating all the way back to October 2012.

Everyone loves a screamer, right?  Well this appears to be the craze now sweeping the sport climbing world.  Accompanying the world-renowed Gosforth Punters on their recent triumphant tour of Kalymnos, Dr Curly, (best selling author of Dr Curly's Big Wall Weight Loss Programme), has been investigating this new phenomenon:

The crags of Kalymnos reverberated with screams

The Power Scream has a dual function - both as a climbing aid (a bit like your rock shoes), and as a auditory reminder to all that you are more than a mere climbing punter.  It also crosses language barriers, perfect in a place such as Kalymnos where the climbing is a multicultural affair.

Gone are the days of the silent ascent, the stylish, quiet, effortless way of scending that redpoint or on-sight in a way which may be missed by your fellow climbers, because the Power Scream is here.  How will anyone else realise your success if you are not broadcasting it to the whole crag, and often beyond?  How will complete strangers be able to complement you on your clearly ground-breaking ascent?  Well, they won't.  Not unless you let them know about it with your Power Screaming.  As Team Jones (Dr Curly and the Mazter) were recovering poolside in Kalymnos, screaming could clearly be heard from the cliffs above.  This helped us psyche for the next days climbing and appreciate the efforts other fellow climbers were making that day.

Power screaming helps you climb harder.  It doesn't matter how hard you climb, a power scream is what you need to get you through that next move.  These screams can range from loud grunts to seemingly orgasmic squeals.  On one occasion these could be clearly be heard from beside the pool, emanating from the cliffs high above.  And I'm not just talking the crux move either.  It can be every move which requires more than the usual level of effort.  8a or 6a these screams can get you through moves you would normally be failing on.  Old or young, man or woman, everyone is able to share in this technique for improving climbing performance.

The celebratory scream is an off shoot of the Power Scream, and just as popular it would seem.  This involves a loud whoop, "fuck yeah", "yessss" etc on completing the route.  Some are taking it to the next level with celebrations continuing on the lower back down and when on the ground.  Perfect to help other climbers focus on their routes and belay attentively.

Don't worry if you don't want to Power Scream yourself - others will help you develop this vital technique.  I had the experience of approaching the well known crux of a climb only to hear shouts of "allez" coming loudly from twenty metres below.  It was only as I threw for the vital hold, silently, that I realised that the shouts were for me.  I honestly don't think I would have managed without them.

Like all things there is an opposite of the Power Scream, the Whimper of Weakness.  At first this may sound like a power scream, but closer inspection reveals a static climber,  apart from the wobble of at least one limb and probably a lip.  If you watch just a little longer gravity wins and the climber falls.  This fall may be accompanied by the "Fuck!" of Failure.  This "Fuck!" of Failure, may be repeated many times and very loudly, usually in proportion to how good the climber in question thinks they are compared to the route they have just failed on.

Not everyone is taking this craze to heart.  Dr Curly interviewed Canadian climbing supremo Tim who had this to say: "Climbing must be silent, no screaming, one comment is acceptable on the quality of the route whilst lowering, and by the time you are back on the ground its all over."  Fine sentiments perhaps, but clearly not that off the general sport climbing community.


Thursday, 17 November 2011

Marian Learns to Ski

Earlier this year, Simon and I secured work on the skifields in Queenstown.  With the minimum wage came a free season pass and lessons - a perfect opportunity to become a world class skier.  My aim was SMART: Specific - learn to ski well enough to take it back country; Measured - I had a Spike the Kiwi Ski School report card to gauge my progress; Achievable - Why Aye, Man; Realistic - maybe not so much; Timed - yes 12 - 14 weeks if the snow ever arrives!

Here's how I went from ATGANI to ATGASNI (All the gear and no idea to all the gear and still no idea) in a matter of mere weeks.

Level 0: I have never thought about skiing before.
En route to Queenstown, Simon and I stop in Christchurch to visit our good friends, Sven and Suesanne, and amass our secondhand ski equipment.
Simon tries to persuade me to purchase a brown leather Rossignol helmet.  It has black lace on the side panels, metal studs on the chin straps and fake fur ear pads.  Suesanne looks horrified.  I express my concern that RWC fans will mistake this helmet for an S&M rugby ball and will try to engage my head in some sort of kinky ruck whenever I appear on the slopes.  This could seriously hinder my ski ambitions, not to mention make me look like a tit!  Several hours later, I'm fully kitted out with skis, boots, poles, (tasteful) helmet and goggles.  Si and I practice skiing around Sven and Suesanne's living room.  Then we all wear our ski helmets to watch Masterchef.  It looks like an Evel Knievel convention.

Level 1: I have never skied before.
This is it: my first lesson.  I hit the bunny slopes with a motley crew of Aussies and a couple of Brits.  They are mostly kitted out in bright colours and massive Oakley goggles.  I'm the only one wearing a helmet!  We slide around the snow on one ski then two, before practicing our snowploughs and mastering easy turns.  Simon, our ski instructor, tells us to just turn uphill if we start to go too fast or get into trouble.  Easy stuff this.  I'm pleased that I chose to ski and not snowboard - I'd still be stuck on my arse at this stage.

Level 2: I can stop in a wedge and make basic wedge turns.
I persuade Si to take me up the novice ski lift and onto the green run.  Dismount the lift without mishap (legend), then whimper in horror as the slope drops steeply away before me. I'm a BOOTLE (see Maz's Winter Sports Glossary below) and rapidly develop into a SPOOC.  The run gets narrower and there's nowhere to turn - I rocket down to the base-building with someone else's snowboard attached to my heel.  Simon cringes in embarrassment.  Hmm - need to refer back to Spike's Snow Responsibility Code: thou shalt stay in control at all times!

Level 3a: I can make linked wedge turns with comfortable speed.
I try to join a level 2 lesson, but am persuaded to join level 3a because of numbers.  We arrive at the green run, and I'm relieved that it doesn't look so bad this time.  The lesson, in fact, goes really well.  I'm not the one who constantly falls over and crashes into the line of learners.  We finish at 4pm and I race to the bottom to catch the last lift back up.  Good fun this skiing lark!

Level 3b: I can match my skis to parallel from the middle of my turns.  I can ski with confidence on all green and some blue trails.
I rope Si in to escort me onto the bottom section of the blue run.  This area of the ski field is known by Ski Patrol as Manuka Gorge - a notorious black spot on the road to Dunedin.  Crashes and casualties are common here.  I dismount the ski lift (legend) then whimper in horror as the slope drops steeply away before me.  I'm never going to make it to the bottom alive.  I tack gingerly from one side of the run to the other, too petrified to point my skis downhill.  Simon waits patiently at the end then answers a radio call in relief and hurries off to First Aid.  It's 2pm, so I join in a 3b lesson.

Level 4: I ski blue trails with confidence and ski parallel very early in and throughout the turn.
I ask the instructor whether I should repeat level 3b, but she smiles encouragingly and tells me that I'm ready for level 4!  I join the group and head to the lift which will take us to the top of the mountain.  I couldn't cajole Simon to take me on a dummy run so tell the instructor that I've never been on this trail before.  There's a first time for everything, he laughs.  Perhaps this isn't the time.  The weather has closed in and the lift chair is rocking wildly from side to side.  When we get off the lift, I don't whimper in horror, I've no idea whether the slope drops away steeply - I don't know where it is. It's snowing so heavily I can't even see my skis!

Mike the instructor gathers us together and suggests that we get down as quickly as possible.  He and the rest of the group bomb off into the blizzard. I attempt to follow but instantly drop off the edge of the piste and disappear head first into a powder drift.  No time to faff, I kick my skis back on, spit the snow out of my mouth, shake it off my jacket and hurry to catch up with the waiting group.  On the way, I dimly make out crouched figures miserably huddled in their hoodies.  I'm so scared.  At one point I stop to hyperventilate, but then realise I'm at the top of Manuka Gorge.  Yeay, I can do this bit!!  With relief, I join the rest of the group.  They look a bit cold and bored, while I have the appearance of a crazed yeti: I'm covered in snow, my hair is sticking out in frozen spikes from under my helmet, I have big goggly eyes and there's snot streaming from my nose.  The lifts have shut and the lesson is abandoned.  Riding my adrenaline high, I go off to tell Simon about my amazing survival.

After this experience I realise that most people probably practice a bit in between lessons. So I spend the next few days consolidating my linked parallel turns (whatever they are), and attacking the blue runs.  In the queues I smirk at the TOTS and on the chair-lifts I try and make space for all the TROTSKIs.  I'm concerned that my skis need re-sharpening and that's why I can't edge properly, but then I fall over and my ski slices through the bottom of my trousers.  Hmm, I guess they're OK then!

With snow goddess, Suesanne at Coronet Peak

Sven and Suesanne come to visit, and we have an awesome time exploring the local skifields.  At Coronet Peak, we head to Rocky Gully, an area serviced by a small T-bar.  You hold onto a cable and it tows you up the hill.  It's important to keep your skis parallel especially as there's two people to a T-bar.  Suesanne insists on riding up with me and Sven struggles to contain his schadenfreude.  We manage to catch the bar and wedge it under our backsides, then, with a jerk, we're off.  As I begin to wonder what happens when we get to the top, Suesanne starts shrieking.  I look down and realise with dismay that she has one ski crossed over the other.  She tumbles, fails to let go of the bar, and I fall with her.  We're spread-eagled on the snow and I'm trying to stop myself and one of Suesanne's skis from slipping down the slope with my pole.  The lifty hasn't noticed and the lift continues to run.  There isn't time to get out of the way, and there's soon two or three pissed off people piled on top of us.  I manage to get to the side with my gear and one of Suesanne's skis.  She's on the other side of the lift run with her remaining ski.  She attempts to swim across to me, her arms and legs are moving everywhere but she's floundering. The next people coming up on the lift are staring in horror at this squawking Palestinian making snow angels right in their path.  She gets across in the nick of time,  but then realises that she's left a ski behind.  I start pulling myself together, while Suesanne commando rolls between t-bars trying to collect all her equipment.

Level 5: I make strong parallel turns on all steep blue trails with confidence and speed control and use a pole plant.
Things improve dramatically when I realise that the edge of the piste is not (in most cases) a sudden precipice leading to imminent death.  I gain confidence and feel ready for another lesson.  Michel, my instructor, is a tanned, glamourous Swiss who's been skiing for 40 years - probably since birth!  He attempts to teach me to ski "like a laydee . . . to dance down ze slope, light, heavee, light, heavee . . ."  It doesn't work.  I fall on my face, accelerate past Michel's feet and punch my cheekbone with the handle of my ski pole.  I rise, looking less like a laydee and more like Mike Tyson.

Off, by myself, I attempt to learn to pole plant - to flick the point of my pole into snow and use it for balance and position as I swish from side to side.  Unfortunately, I keep skiing into my pole (how is this possible?!) and ending up in the now familiar position of sliding headfirst down the mountain.  I think my helmet has saved quite a few braincells this season.  I abandon all aspirations of incorporating pole plants into my skiing and revert to using the poles in defence against SPOOCs and BOOTLEs.

Homeward Bound, The Remarkables

Level 6: I make dynamic carving turns on black trails: I ski with control off-piste and in easy bumps.
One of the lifts runs above a mogul field, an area of once-soft snow sculpted into round hard bumps by hundreds of skiers.  I assess it from the lift, it looks like enormous bubblewrap and difficult to ski, but I'm ready!  I get there to find a large pack of skiers has assembled at the head of the field.  I wont let this deter me.  One by one, they ski down through the moguls.  Each one does it with ease, whipping their skis in a tight zigzag between the bumps.  They regroup at the bottom, so I wait for the last skier to finish before I start.  I expect them to head off to their next challenge, but they don't.  They stay and watch as I struggle to control my legs.  Sometimes they go either side of a bump, or one goes over a bump as the other slides through the dip.  I'm often just on one leg as each mogul flicks me up in the air and into the next bump or ditch.  I'm all over the place and I look like an hyperactive child on an over-inflated bouncy castle - I bounce and skid down the slope, waving my arms and legs wildly and Iisting badly as I desperately try and retain my balance.  I reach the group in one piece and they just stare at me in stunned silence, I shrug my shoulders and ski off with as much dignity as I can muster!

I don't think I ever truly reached Level 6.  But I did get it together enough for Si and I to head back country.  We tackled sheet ice, deep powder, steep narrow gullies and spring slush.  When I next go skiing, however, I'll probably have forgotten everything and I'll be back on the green runs with my skis in a firm wedge.  But as my ski instructor mate, Martin told me, I just need to remember that "speed is my friend".  Which means that next time you're on the slopes and you see a BOOTLE SPOOC hurtle past, it'll probably be me!

Heading back to Remarkables after Skiing in the Wye Valley

Maz's Winter Sports Glossary
(developed from close observation of ski resort patrons)

BOOTLE - Blatantly Out Of Their LEague
Anyone on a run graded above their ability.  They may think it's within their ability, but their stance and/or trajectory will disprove this.

SPOOC - SnowPlough Out Of Control
Learner skier, unable to turn and therefore straight-lining full speed down the slope.  Kids are often SPOOCs, but seem to enjoy it.

TOTS - Too Old To Snowboard
Middle aged man dressed in trendy baggy SB pants, lurid jacket hiding his beer belly and florescent beanie on his grey, middle-management, head.  Snowboarders out there, know that once you've passed thirty you should start acting your age and take up skiing (that goes for skateboarders and dirt-jumpers too)!

You never see that many really overweight skiers, but there's plenty of fat snow-boarders - further proof that it isn't a 'proper' sport!

FOMO - Fear of Missing Out
Are you in the right place at the right time?  Is someone else in a better place having a better time?  FOMO is what propels you out of bed and up the hill in all weather conditions!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A day in the life of a Ski Patrol Doctor

The Office

It's 7am Sunday morning and I'm sat on the "fishy bus" on the way to Coronet Peak.  Forty minutes ago I dragged myself out from under several layers of duvets and blankets in our freezing cold Queenstown home. I could see my breath as I drank the first of the day's mugs of coffee. I still can't quite remember how I decided to apply for this job.  It seemed like a good idea in the heat of a Hawkes Bay summer. I couldn't even ski before I got here...

I stumble into the first aid room and look out through the window.  The clouds are clearing and the sun is begining to peek out.  Sweet.

Jess, the Ski Patrol Nurse, isn't here yet.  She went out first yesterday so that means I get to ski first today.  Skiing is why we're all here and so takes priority over all else.  Except over the patients, sorry, customers, of course. As long as either the doc or the nurse is in first aid then the other is free to ski.  I have to see virtually all the patients that come in the door, but usually the nurse can hold the fort with analgesia as I make my way back down the hill.

The best thing about skiing whilst "working" is that you don't have to queue.  Straight to the front and on to the lift whilst the masses scowl at you.  For this reason our uniforms are bright and the radio prominent and turned up loud.   It's a good talking point whilst riding the lifts with locals or tourists. I do my bit promoting the use of wrist guards and helmets with tales of serious injuries.

Most of the time I see the patients after they are brought to first aid by the patrollers.  The patrollers can really ski, and arrive pulling the "blood bath" with the patient wrapped in a tarp inside. Occasionally  I get to go out to the scene of the accident, sometimes on the back of a skidoo, or if I'm on the hill and above the injury I go directly there.  There always plenty of "walk-in patients" who have found their own way to the first aid room.  Sometimes they have pretty impressive injuries - completely munted wrists, or dislocations, even spinal injuries.

The snow is soft and fresh off piste and I feel indestructable as I cut some turns on the fresh snow.  Awesome. Back on the lift for another run.  This run I go a little faster and the off piste I had as fresh tracks has already been ridden by more people leaving me with fewer options for "freshies".  I run into a buried tussock as I go under the lift line.... double eject.... both skis are are off and I've face planted in the snow.  My poles are to the sides and my skis 40 metres back up the hill. Damn.  I hope no one saw that.  I'm thankful that the part of my uniform that says doctor is in small lettering on the front of my jacket, not emblazened on the back in huge writing.  I pick myself up, check that my radio is still working and somewhat more tentatively make my way back for another run. All good. A couple of runs later and I'm back at First Aid to tag Jess who is sitting with her boots on ready to go.  A quick handover of where the snow is best and she is out of the door. 

The patients always comment about "the office". The office is pretty sweet:

View from Coronet Peak First Aid Room towards The Remarkables.
I take off my boots, make a cup of coffee and fire up the computer. The door slams and boots can be heard behind me.  The first customer of the day is holding his arm and not looking happy.  Snowboard boots give it away.  I've learnt the patterns pretty quickly:  Snowboarders without wrist gaurds break their wrists, especially when it's icey and they are learning. Skiers tear ligaments in their knees, especially when the snow is soft, or when the ski binding doesn't release. Everybody breaks collarbones or sprains their AC joints.  The unlucky dislocate their shoulder or considerably worse.  The worst of the injuries we fly off in a helicopter - the unconscious or the truly munted, for example femoral fractures. Our main clinical activities are triage for helicopter or ambulance, triage for x-ray, and analgesia.  I've become a lot more familiar with injecting local anaesthetic into fractures and I've learnt the joys of nitrous (gas and air). Now I can even put a sling on a patient - previously a mysterious skill kept closely guarded by the nurses.

The day is going well.  It's mid afternoon, I've had a couple of hours of awesome skiing and it looks like I might be able to get another hour in before the end of the day.  I'm on the lift and I hear over the radio that there is a skier out wide and off piste with a shoulder injury.  As I get off the lift one of the patrollers is at the lift station and points me in the right direction.  I find the chap with JB, lifelong patroller from the States, already packaging the patient for the blood bath.  His shoulder is clearly out.  Its going to be an epic tow-out for JB as we are far away from the main runs, the snow is rotten, and the patient is in too much pain to be walking anywhere.  I put his shoulder back in.  No need for lots of analgesia when they are so freshly injured. Its all good now as he's in a sling and without screaming pain in his shoulder he can now walk out to a good place to be loaded in the sled.
"Working" during a night ski session.


The patrollers are an ecletic mix, but mostly ski guides, mountaineers, heli-ski guides and endless winter types.  All are good fun and red hot skiers.  Tonight is one of the infamous "Patrol Parties", with the theme being the circus.  Its a great opportunity to cut loose with patrol and catch up with the rest of the medical team.

Lion-tamer and the bloke who gets shot out of a cannon.

Ryan and Simon

Tomorrow I get to do it all again....  although I may not be ready to ski at 9am.