In late February of last winter, Christian Mason joined a group of friends for a bc yurt trip in northern Idaho’s Payette National Forest. To shorten the 10-mile approach to Payette Powder Guides’ Lick Creek Summit Yurts, the team utilized snowmobiles for shuttling gear and people. After six days at the yurts, the group loaded up the sleds with excess food and beer, and Christian stepped behind a sled to be pulled out. Then things went wrong.
Forest, the guy driving the sled that I was being towed behind, hit the gas ever so slightly, and I skied past all the tension in the rope. But the line was so long that it hitched over, and the rope literally lassoed my binding. Then, I just started getting towed by my ski, and no longer by my hand. So we get going, and I’m screaming, “STOP!” But Forest couldn’t hear me. At one point, I think he looked back, and I had my hands in the air, but because we didn’t [discuss] signals, he might have took that to mean that everything was OK.
Then Forest made a hard left onto this road. The line remained hitched to my binding, but went under my ski. I had no control—like dodging trees and stumps. I was screaming, yelling for what seemed like hours, but it could have been seconds. And all I remember was my right ski popping off. My right leg, without the ski, went out and perfectly straight.
It happened so fast. I got dragged for what could have been 10 yards…could have been 100. I think the guys told me it was like 100 yards.
To be honest, when I was lying there, I thought, “Whoa, I blew my knee out,” ’cause that’s how it looked and felt. My right leg look like it was eight inches shorter than my left leg. I was gagging just looking at it. My instinct was to grab my foot, ’cause I couldn’t look at it. I just threw my leg forward and absolutely screamed in pain.I remember Forest came around on the snowmobile, and without even thinking I was like, “I broke my leg. I think I broke my leg.” I had Forest go get Tor and Jeff. Jeff is an anesthesiologist, so he had pain meds. And Tor is from McCall and a very accomplished backcountry skier, first responder guy. He’s got every certification under the sun. Those guys quickly came back, and Jeff went right to me.
He reached into my boot to get a pulse. He ended up finding it somewhere in front of my knee. He was trying to determine if I had cut the major artery down there.
He grabbed me by the jacket, almost throwing my goggles off my head, and looked me right in the eye, like six inches from my face, and said, “Look man. We’re goin’ to do this together. We’re goin’ to make it. You have stay with me. We’re a team.” I just remember thinking, for a minute there, “This is it, and I’m going to die.” I thought I was going to bleed out.
So Jeff says, “Look man, I’m going to reach down into your pants and determine if this thing pierced the skin, ’cause you broke your femur.” I started freaking out. I remember just kind of calming down, and reaching into my pant, and pulling my hand out, and it was clean of blood. Jeff was like, “Good, it hasn’t broken your skin.”
From what I’m told, first responders are taught to put femurs in traction. And for what seemed like hours, Jeff and Tor had this conversation about putting my leg in traction. Weighing the options. Jeff made the call. They decided not to do it.
Tor started delegating to the guys. They had a ski patrol sled at the hut. They got a bunch of Thermarest pads and warm water, and I remember drinking a lot of water, and Jeff give me Percocets. I remember Jeff being downhill of me and talking to me and being like, “Everything’s going to be alright.” And I started saying that.
Jeff dug this huge pit below me. Then he took one of the Thermarests and overinflated it. Then he slowly pulled the snow away from underneath me, and ever so gently, lowered me onto the pad. Then all the guys picked me up and set me in the toboggan, which was already layered with two or three Thermarest pads. And I remember being, like, finally able to breath effectively and chill. And then they packed the sled full of snow, and I think I had a sleeping bag for my core. But I just remember relaxing, and maybe it was that shock set in, but the pain all went away. There was like a mile of bliss.
And it was nuking snow, like an inch-plus per hour, and I remember thinking, “Oh man. This is so cool.” I think it was the pain meds—I think I was comfortable.
We finally got to an area that flattened out, where there had been more snowmobile traffic. So the trail had all these whoopdies, and every time we hit one, I’d scream in pain. Then I’d yell, “I’m going to be OK!” And then boom, we’d hit another one.
Gradually it just got worse and worse, and they couldn’t handle the screaming. With one guy in front of the sled, one guy behind, they lifted me off the ground like four feet for multiple miles, and took turns carrying me.
Forest shot ahead on his snowmobile—he had called 911—to meet the ambulance. I think it took four to six hours from when I broke my femur to when I made it to the emergency room. The pain was so bad I could taste it. Literally. Imagine that for six hours.
After Christian arrived in the ER at St. Luke’s Hospital in McCall, a series of x-rays revealed a spiral fracture of his right femur. Doctors set his leg, and he went into surgery around 2 a.m. When Christian told this story almost nine months later, he said his leg looked like a toothpick, but he still skied this past winter. “I don’t want your readers to think that getting towed behind a sled is a bad thing,” he said then, “but it’s bad when you don’t use signals and communicate.”
This story first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Backcountry Magazine.