If you are into pain and looking to be beaten up, I advise you to use an old soviet drag lift. For this to work, you need be prone to dumbness and having a snowboard helps, too, but is not mandatory.
Like in a bad horror movie it all starts with sunshine: snow in late March, at least 20 centimeters powder – weather conditions, that have not occured for 86 years, says the radio. Of course, my Bishkek friends want to go skiing. Nevertheless, I have a queasy feeling in my guts in the morning. Two days later, the photographer would arrive for our freeride project. If anything happens to me or the splitboard, the trip to Kyrgyzstan was in vain. My head says: “Yes, but fresh snow!!! Sun!!!” and finally wins. I’m joining my friends on the trip.
Once we reach the mountains, I do not regret my decision. The view and the snow conditions are fantastic. Ak Tash is the name of the region, that lies past the ski resort Kashka Suu, about 30 minutes from Bishkek. In Kashka Suu there are chair lifts, but insiders go to Ak Tash which has several spread out drag lift stations.
At the first lift station, no one is there besides us, the drag lift is still standing. We go to the lift station attendant’s cabin to sign in and buy tickets. The old man is talking to my friends in Russian. I do not understand much, but realize that there are problems.
Two of us brought ski, the other two snowboards. The attendant would not let us use the lift with the boards, too dangerous, he says. I, accustomed to European drag lifts, am thinking: “What is the problem? Worst case you get kicked out.” But there is nothing we can do to convince him. Either we rent skis or go somewhere else, says the Kyrgyz. We opt for the latter.
As life goes, the only drag lift, they let us use with snowboards is the most dangerous one. While all the other lifts in the area are common plate- or T–bars, this one works by an ancient system: When you purchase the lift tickets you get a rope. At one end it has tied wooden stick for sitting on, at the other end it has a hook for hanging on to the tow rope. Something like this I have hitherto never seen.
What happens next comes as no surprise. If only I had listened to my guts. They are screaming: “That’s not right!” as the lift drags me uphill. I have indeed managed to catch the rope. But on the way up, it occurs to me that I don’t know, how to step out. Means, I cannot just let go of the rope, because I need it again for the next ride. So I call to my friend, Patrick, asking him how to get out. Patrick is sitting a little further next to the lift tracks – he got kicked out. Then everything happened very quickly. I don’t pay attention, my board turns sideways. Patrick screams: “Let go!” Too late, the board gets stuck to the post, by the resistance the hook slips backwards on the cable and my rope gets eaten by the pulley wheel. Within a split second I’m hanging on the post, head down and wrapped up like a hogtied bat. The rope pulls tighter, I’m sure it will break all my bones. “Goodbye freeride trip”, I think. The Rescue: Even before the staff stops the lift, the laces on my snowboard boots untie as if by magic. My foot slips free. I fall down on my head, but in that case, it’s the lesser of two evils.
Again for the record: This kind of accident gets only favored by snowboards, because it is easier to keep in the tracks with skis – to the far left of the poles. Nevertheless, a ski could have also gotten stuck with the same result.
With pain in my legs and my right arm, I ride down the slope. The snow is great, and for a moment, I‘m annoyed that it will be my only ride for the day. The pain is almost unbearable. At the bottom of the lift station, we cool my hand, Patrick buys me some vodka and someone else hands me two pills. I flush them down together with the vodka without even asking what they are. Later I learn, it’s Ketonal, a painkiller.
It’s 5 pm, we need an X-ray. For this purpose you just go to the city hospital, find the right room, wait in line, pay the equivalent of 4 USD and get an X-ray image of the desired location. Then you can leave and do with it what you want. A new leisure activity for all those who always wanted know how they look like on the inside.
There is no clean break visible on the X-ray image, but is the wrist bone supposed to stick out so far? We have no idea and decide to ask a doctor. By now is 7 pm, where to get medical attention this time of day? Another 20 minutes later, my friend Katja has organized a doctor via cell phone. We pick him up from a bar and take him to his practice. He puts on his white doctor coat and starts the examination. Afterwards we drive him back to the bar.
We get two plastic casts for the price of one (Katya had her cruciate ligament torn a few weeks ago and thought since she is already there, she might as well). Concerning my cast, the German doctor two weeks later had enormous joy taking it off, sarcastically speaking. Cutting it with a standard gypsum saw is not easy and the plastic gets increadible hot causing burns.
We ended up doing the freeride trip anyway. It was not always easy with the broken wrist and numerous bruises, but we got great material. By the way, underneath the cut on the knee hides a huge bruise. I still feel it almost two months after the accident, a souvenir to remember the “drag lift from hell”.
[…] are a rare occurrence at the end of March, so we couldn’t help but visit a nearby ski base. There an old, rusty drag lift was my doom: the accident leaving me dangling, head-down, from the cable post like a hog-tied bat. Sitting on a […]