Ambulances on Their Backs
funds for the Brain Tumour Charity and for Royal Free, the hospital where he was treated. The question was how to do it.
A passionate skier and a member of the British speedskiing team until he was injured in a crash, Machell came up with the idea to boot up for the marathon during a ski trip to Selva, Italy, which is connected to other resorts. “I’ve never walked so much in ski boots in my life,” he says. “On the way back from a pub, I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad. I could run a marathon like this.’”
He proceeded to buy a treadmill on eBay and began training in boots, working up to 10k, and starting to believe, “Maybe I can do this.”
He did it, but at a price. Machell hit the infamous 20-mile-mark wall a wee bit early, around mile eight. “I’ve never been in so much pain,” he says. A woman on the sideline— he guesses she was a nurse— persuaded him to stop and “she pulled all these bandages out of her rucksack and fixed me up.”
Later in the race, around mile 18, he was weakening again. “Then my best mate rang me and told me that ‘Pain is temporary. Glory is eternal.’” Now any thought of not completing the course had to be dismissed. When he saw his girlfriend at mile 22, “I knew I was going to make it.”
You know how sore your feet are after the last run of a long ski day? Don’t make Machell laugh. “I was worried at the end of the race to take my boots off, wondering what I would find,” he says. “There were blisters on blisters.”
Being a thrifty Brit, Machell admits that running 26.2 miles in his ski boots “did ground them down a bit,” he says. “But I think they’re still good.” ● BY HEATHER HANSMAN Mortensen says it never fails. The instant patrol responds to someone seriously sick or injured on the hill, a doctor skis by. “They want to help but they’re used to perfect light and perfect conditions,” Mortensen says. “Then they see me on my hands and knees managing an airway and they ski away.” And, luckily for the on-slope patient, Mortensen has what he likes to call “an ambulance in my backpack.” He’s used to starting IVs, stabilizing vitals, and initiating other invasive medical procedures that were formerly restricted to emergency rooms—on the side of a ski run. Mortensen is part of a bigger movement, mostly invisible to happily oblivious skiers, to raise the level of on-hill medical care.
The overarching ski-patrol medical directive used to be to stabilize on-hill patients, pack them into a sled, and get them—fast—to a traditional care facility. But as the sophistication of transportable medical technology improves, and, as Mortensen says, a certain old boys’ club fades out, patrollers are able to offer more- advanced care and change the fate of people who get sick or hurt on the hill. “That’s been the big shift in patrolling in the past 10 or 15 years,” he says. “We’re all at least EMTs and we had a level of training that we weren’t using. There’s no reason we can’t give prehospital-level care, and we know that we can impact their recovery.”
On the hill, that care can manifest in a lot of different ways. Mortensen says Breck patrollers can do a needle decompression of the chest wall for a collapsed lung and use an automated external defibrillator during cardiac arrest. They administer drugs to keep patients comfortable, but they’re also hyperaware of how quickly they should transport people and where to send them. When injuries get life-and-death serious, patrol is an increasingly crucial link in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) chain. “You could say that it’s better to get hurt in a ski area than at your house. We very well could get to you faster than an ambulance,” Mortensen says while showing a guest the patrol’s medical facilities at Breckenridge’s midmountain Vista Haus lodge.