The day I came down to earth with a bump

Being hit by an out-of-control skier after 20 years of safe skiing really does add insult to injury, says Roger Thomas
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The Independent Travel

The skiing was going swimmingly. Bolted into my pair of brand-new pocket-rocket skis – Head Cyber C160s – with anti-gravity edges, I felt invincible, a Master of the Mountain. The sky was blue, the snow was squeaky. The resort was pretty good too. I was skiing in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, an Austrian resort whose double-barrelled name mirrors its personality – quite upmarket in parts, but with a raucous Hooray Henry undertone (though most of the Henrys come from Germany and Scandinavia) when the lights go down.

The skiing wa s going swimmingly. Bolted into my pair of brand-new pocket-rocket skis – Head Cyber C160s – with anti-gravity edges, I felt invincible, a Master of the Mountain. The sky was blue, the snow was squeaky. The resort was pretty good too. I was skiing in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, an Austrian resort whose double-barrelled name mirrors its personality – quite upmarket in parts, but with a raucous Hooray Henry undertone (though most of the Henrys come from Germany and Scandinavia) when the lights go down.

As one of those sad souls addicted to skiing guides, I was quietly compiling a list of things to say about the resort while standing near the bottom of the World Cup black run from the Zwolferkogel peak. On the plus side, there was (by Austrian standards) an unexpectedly large ski area – a "Skicircus" of 124 miles – rivalling those of the French mega-resorts. The place was very pretty, with (unlike France) lots of skiing through the trees. The toilets at the top of the new Saalbach gondola beat those in the US for cleanliness (it doesn't get any better than that). And the Hansel and Gretel mountain restaurants were staffed by lederhosen-clad waiters who looked like extras straight out of The Sound of Music. On the downside, those same waiters carried computerised notepads to add up the bill, which kind of spoilt the effect. And the food was... well, Austrian.

There's one more thing to report: Saalbach's medical centre is almost as impressive as the gondola's toilets. I was able to add this to the list thanks to what happened next.

We all have tumbles on ski holidays. In the vast majority of cases, they end up in a harmless tangle of skis and snow down the neck of your jacket that you have a good laugh about afterwards over a vin chaud. I've been skiing for 20 years and never thought twice about seriously injuring myself. Even though you often see the "blood wagon", the stretcher that takes injured skiers down the slope, it just doesn't happen to you, does it?

I had skied down a black run and stopped for a breather near the bottom. A group of 10 helmeted skiers plus instructor, on some kind of training exercise with Her Majesty's Armed Forces, proceeded one by one to ski aggressively down the fall line in fast, giant slalom-like curves.

I watched a few and thought, "They must be pretty good to be doing that." I turned away to look at the view, someone shouted and, as I turned back towards the slope, I saw, thundering towards me at alarming velocity, one very out-of-control skier.

Luckily – if you can call it that – the assailant hit me at boot level. I hate to think what might have happened if it had been any higher. I felt as though I had been struck by an express train. Like a bowling pin I was uprooted and tossed way down the slope, landing on my right shoulder. The force was such that the incident also snapped the ski pole of a companion standing next to me.

Unless you've experienced a similar accident, it's difficult to comprehend the violence of such an impact. I lay there on the snow, dazed and disorientated. The guy who hit me was fine – his skis (and I) had taken all the impact. As I was gathering my wits about me I went through that one, horrible moment when I thought, "Some serious, serious damage must have been done here." I tentatively moved my legs. They felt okay. Then I tried to lift my right shoulder. It hurt.

Half an hour later I was in Saalbach's medical centre. The hyper-efficient ski company rep, Katie Clark, guided me through the insurance and procedural paperwork (the clinic demanded payment upfront, which I would later have to reclaim). I was examined, X-rayed, found to have a broken shoulder and put into a sling; and when the doctor was told of the circumstances surrounding the injury, she insisted that I report the incident to the police.

Another few hours were then spent in the police station, giving a detailed statement. One of my skiing companions provided a witness statement, and the police subsequently interviewed the member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who crashed into me.

The matter is now in the hands of lawyers since I'm claiming compensation. I'm not litigious by nature, but in this case I feel aggrieved and angry. This incident has given me renewed awareness of the need to ski within your capabilities – and the damage that can be done on those seemingly benign and hugely seductive slopes.

I've just remembered another Saalbach-Hinterglemm plus-point: the quality of my Austrian sling. "Where did you get that from?" my doctor asked admiringly in the Crickhowell Health Centre. "You wouldn't get anything like that on the National Health."

Equity Ski (01273 298298; www.equity ski.co.uk) offers one-week packages at the three-star Hotel Riegler from £580 per person (half-board, based on two sharing), including flights. This includes lift pass, equipment hire, insurance and ski tuition or guiding.

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