January 29, 2021

On January 25, a group of skiers was descending the John Sherburne Ski Trail. Around 2:40 pm, just above crossover #7, one skier lost control due to a waterbar and dislocated their left shoulder during the fall. The individual had reportedly dislocated the same shoulder multiple times before and had a prior surgery as a result.

Fortunately, the individual was skiing with a well-prepared group. The group sat the skier down on a foam pad and provided extra puffy jackets and pants to retain warmth. Unable to reduce the shoulder in the field, the group tracked details of patient history and vitals while calling for help. The temperature hovered between 15-20F at their location and the trees provided the party with shelter from wind.

Snow rangers arrived on scene at 3:30 pm, finding the individual shivering but in good spirits surrounded by their group. The individual was helped onto a snowmobile and the injured arm was slung. The individual was then transported down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and reconvened with their group in the parking lot at 4 pm.

A normal or even mild day in the Presidential Range is still a bitterly cold day, particularly in the afternoon when the sun disappears behind the ridge. Perceived warmth while climbing and making turns in the sunshine becomes a distant memory when sitting in the snow and the shade, in discomfort or pain. If this incident had occurred in a more remote area or if snow rangers had not been standing next to snowmobiles upon receiving word of the incident, this relatively brief waiting game easily could have turned into a more serious situation.

Stack the odds in your favor. Recreate with extra gear for a worst-case scenario, and choose friends that do the same. Stay within view of one another, particularly in steep terrain. Remember that backcountry conditions are highly variable and a powdery waterbar can easily be followed by a rock-solid, wind-scoured waterbar. Keep your tips down and your head up.