Returning from injury ski day

18th November 2013, by Abi Butcher

All smiles: Abi, surgeon Jonathan Bell, instructor Phil Hopper and physio James Vickers

All smiles: Abi, surgeon Jonathan Bell, instructor Phil Hopper and physio James Vickers

On Saturday (16 November) I went skiing. Albeit it was on an indoor slope at The Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead, but I went skiing. So what? I hear you ask. Well, it was quite a major achievement considering I snapped my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), tore my lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and the surrounding knee capsule in a fall while skiing in Austria on 3 March. I had reconstructive surgery on 22 April, when knee surgeon Jonathan Bell from Wimbledon Clinics took a piece of my hamstring and screwed it in place of my ACL — all of this three years after another rather catastrophic (cycling) injury on the same knee. Yes, I am rather accident-prone.

I have been working REALLY hard at the physio ever since, with a summer of brilliant strengthening work at Isokinetic London and most recently, an intensive programme with sports physio James Vickers. James knows all about skiing injuries, having worked previously with the British ski team and Chemmy Alcott, in particular.

But, standing at the top of that slope on Saturday, I didn’t know how I was going to ski down. Lucky then, that I was on a Return from Injury course with the Warren Smith Ski Academy, run in conjunction with Wimbledon Clinics. As well as the (very reassuring) instructor Phil Hopper, I had Jonathan Bell and James Vickers by my side. I wasn’t wearing a knee brace, but I did have on (as per Jonathan’s advice) a Bioskin knee skin that offers a little support and compression — and mental reassurance.

“You’re going to think every movement is going to hurt your knee, but it won’t,” said Phil. “I tore my meniscus and it takes time, sometimes you feel your recovery is going brilliantly, other times it might seem to be going very badly, but it’s always going in the right direction. Just take your time.”

After a bit more of a pep talk, he launched me off the abyss (it wasn’t really, I’m exaggerating) suggesting I do a couple of runs to get the feel of things again. The first felt like my first ever run on skis. I was terrified — of turning, of the snow, of bumps, of people whizzing up behind me, of being hit, of hurting myself…but I got to the bottom without incident. Not exactly smiling, but I got down.

After another two warm-up runs (during which my skiing style worsened), we started to work on slow-motion technique to loosen up our knees and hips. There were seven on the course, all of whom had suffered various knee injuries including breaks to ligaments and bones. The camaraderie began immediately and was so reassuring.

I found I didn’t want to commit to using my left (injured) knee to turn at all, and after two more runs in slow motion (steering with my shoulders) I stopped skiing altogether and went inside to the café for a meal and hot drink. My knee was hurting at the angle it was positioned in the ski boot and I felt close to tears. I love skiing with a fierce passion, but I couldn’t do it any more and was wondering if I would ever be able to.

But, after half an hour the rest of the group came in and James took a look at my knee. “It’s not swollen, you’re not damaging it, why don’t you go back out there after lunch and see how you feel,” he said, kindly. “This isn’t a session to see how well you can ski, but to gently awaken the muscles you use for skiing, as part of your recovery.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Refuelled by a large jacket potato and a strong mocha, and under the watchful eyes of Phil, Jonathan and James, my skiing started to flow better. As the afternoon wore on, I started to feel more confident, use my left knee and ski more positively. Phil put us through a range of exercises that allowed them to assess how much I was using that knee to turn — apparently I’m nearly there, but not quite — and as we wrapped up for the day, he suggested I get myself out to a resort to remember what it is I love so much about this sport.

It sounds like I’m writing a paid-for advert for this day, and not a blog, but I’m not. These brilliant guys have helped me beyond belief, and I know everyone else on the course benefitted hugely from it, too. I’m just so grateful that I could take those first steps with the help of my surgeon and physio, and an instructor who really understands injury. Now I feel far more confident going into the ski season, and after months and months of doing boring physio exercises for an hour every other day, I have regained enthusiasm for that “final push”.

As for my knee? There was no swelling, no discomfort and weirdly, two days later it feels stronger and happier than ever before. Onwards and upwards to the mountains!

For more information on the course — of which more dates may be added before the season — visit

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