Volume 80, Number 27 | December 2 - 8, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Back On The Trail
After knee replacement, I wondered, would I ever ski again?

Photo courtesy Shanty Creek Resorts

The old gang enjoys a photo break during a great ski day on Schuss Mountain.

Go For It!

“You can do anything you did before,” said my orthopedic surgeon, Kenneth E. McCulloch, M.D., who has his own practice in Manhattan and operates at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases and New York Downtown Hospital, where I had my knee replacement surgery.

Surgeons divide activities into low-impact and high-impact and most don’t recommend high-impact for their knee replacement patients. Nordic or cross-country skiing is a low-impact sport while downhill, which places more pressure and stress on the knee joint, a high-impact one.

But Dr. McCulloch says factors such as the strength of your thigh muscles, the skill of your surgeon and the quality of your replacement can get you back to as active a life as you once enjoyed.

“I tell patients the first six weeks are recovery time,” says Dr. McCulloch who graduated Princeton, Columbia and Stanford (among others) and is a board certified hip and knee surgeon.
“Three to four months after surgery is for learning how the knee functions, taking long walks, moderate hikes, golfing and low-impact exercises. After that, if you have your quad muscle strength and range of motion back, there’s no reason not to experiment with what sports you can do.”

Dr. McCulloch says key to a well-functioning knee replacement is a good fit. That’s why he performs a custom cut procedure based on a MRI – a 3-D image of the knee that maps out the cuts on a computer.

“This gives you the best possible alignment, maximum longevity and increases the activities you can do.”
Key is physical therapy following surgery and building strong quad muscle strength.

“Take activities step-by-step, increasing your strength, control and work up to tolerance,” he adds. “Start with low-impact outdoor sport like cross-country skiing.

“Success is part what the surgeon does and part what the patient does. The harder the patient works (at physical therapy and strength building) the better the results.”

Shanty Creek Resorts
Three villages (Summit, Cedar River and Schuss) with three hotels (Summit Hotel & Conference Center, Cedar River Lodge and Schuss Mountain) make up Shanty Creek Resorts, surrounding Lake Bellaire in northern Michigan’s Antrim County. Building started in the 1960s and last year saw a $10-million renovation of one facility. While the resort has more than 600 rooms and four restaurants, the vibe is comfortable, non-crowded and low-key.

A year-round family fun center with golf, swimming and summer sports, Shanty Creek is best known for is wintertime activities. Snowshoe and Nordic ski trails wind through the woods. Three terrain parks and one half-pipe cater to snowboarders while downhill skiers have 49 runs on two mountains to schuss.

For those who want to relax, try dog-sled and horse-drawn sleigh rides. And, there’s always the spa. Visit: www.shantycreek.com



August 2009. I thought I would never ski again.

I ripped my right knee while hopping rocks, boulders really, climbing Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountains, as a 19-year old college student.

I had my meniscus removed less than a year later and arthroscopic surgery nearly 20 years ago. I’d been limping around in denial ever since.

Now I was stretching and flexing with two interns outside the operating room at New York Downtown Hospital talking about our favorite skiing spots. I felt great. My knee felt flexible, firm and without pain. At the moment, all the aches and groans that go with pounding the pavement were gone. All the canceled dates and missed opportunities because I didn’t want to trek up and down subway steps were forgotten.

I was energized. I was convinced was healthy.

I was about to have knee replacement surgery.

I was about to bolt.

Thankfully, I didn’t because four months later, I was cross-country skiing across a beautiful, snow-covered meadow upstate. I was gliding through more than a foot snowfall, early for the season. I was creating a path, enjoying the view and watching my dog race ahead then drop on his back and make doggie snow angels.

We were on state land, carving trails and looking longingly south at the Alpine runs on Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills. I hadn’t dared ski downhill in a few years, knowing that my achy knee might let me down.

The next month, December, dreams of downhill danced in my head. I pushed through three times a week physical therapy, earning kudos and a scaled-back schedule.

February 2010. I was shushing down intermediate trails of freshly fallen snow at Shanty Creek Resort in northern Michigan.

And I was pain-free.

I was a downhill skier!

At my side was Randy Anderson, a level three Nordic and Alpine instructor and member of Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) for more than 30 years. With his guidance and encouragement, I challenged myself to take on slopes I never thought I would ski again.

The day before I warmed up and practiced with a two-hour trek on some of the resort’s 31 km of cross-country trails. I reverse snow-plowed (ski tips out, heels in) up a small incline. I floated across a field and trudged through the woods.

I started my downhill morning being outfitted with a new set of parabolic skis, the wider, shorter boards which have replaced the longer, narrower skis I have. Just gliding over to the bunny slope I noticed a difference. A larger “sweet spot” makes skiing a breeze, turns graceful and balance better. These babies were easy to handle!

I effortlessly got on the rubber “people mover” – an escalator-like conveyor belt that hauls you up the tiny bump of a hill. I disembarked without difficulty but at the top I froze, nervously looking down the slope.

Could I do it? Fear hotly shot through my spine. The only way out was down. My self-talk went from take your time, stop if you feel scared to when doubt, sit it out. I slowly began my descent, making long, wide, loopy figure S-s in the snow.

It was just like getting back on a bicycle.

After a couple more runs, I was sailing down the hill, stopping with a jaunty turn. I was back!

Randy said it was time to tackle a beginner run so off we went to one of the mountain’s two double lifts. Again, at the top, I shakily looked down the slope then, encouraged, eased into a slow, controlled drop.

“Best way to stop, especially after a knee replacement, is to snowplow,” advised Randy who some of the time watched me as he skied backwards down the run. “Or take one ski out of the trail and single plow. Snow plowing uses hips.”

He also championed the new parabolic skis. “They are best, especially if you’ve had knee injury or replacement. There’s less stress on joint, because you don’t have to work as hard at turns and they are more forgiving,” he explained.

The turns were smooth, easy. I dusted away the fresh powder in my path. My confidence grew with each turn, every run. Randy said I was ready for intermediate trails. And off we went.

With two mountains and 49 runs, more than 67-percent of them beginner and intermediate level, my adventure was limitless. The 450-feet of vertical terrain and long, winding runs – the longest at 5,280-feet – gave my intermediary skills plenty of options.

My day was perfect: downy snowflakes the size of silver dollars sailed through the sky creating a fresh, fluffy carpet under my skis.

My confidence renewed, I know I’m ready for whatever snow this winter brings.


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