Feature Story
Back in the Saddle Again: Skiing after a Hip Replacement 2
Author thumbnail By Matthew Graham, DCSki Columnist

Long story short. I got a new hip.

Longer story. I had thought that I had a pulled groin muscle. After going to several doctors and getting x-rays, an orthopedist told me that I have bone spurs in my left hip and that had caused arthritis — and that I needed a new hip.

I asked if there were any other treatments. He told me about cortisone injections and hyaluronic acid injections. But he cautioned that it would only delay things somewhat and that I should bite the bullet and get the new hip. I wish I had listened to him. So I tried the cortisone injection in January of 2022 for an upcoming ski trip. And it helped. But by March my hip was hurting again. I tried the hyaluronic acid injections (a kind of gel). And that didn’t help at all. If anything, it made it worse.

So I found a surgeon that I liked and scheduled the surgery. I had to wait 3 months from the date of the last injection to get the surgery. One of the first things I asked is whether I would be able to ski. He said I’d be okay as long as I avoided hard impacts. Hmmm. I didn’t know how to take that answer.

Anyway, I had the surgery at the end of July, 2022 and everything went well. There was literally no rest period. An in-home PT had me doing squats three times a day and walking regularly every hour on the hour starting the day after surgery. Two weeks later I was at the PT office doing squats and lunges and monster walks and balance exercises. The muscles around my hip were somewhat sore and my range of motion wasn’t as good as before the hip problems began, but everything was getting better.

Matthew Graham wasn’t sure how hip replacement surgery would affect his ability to ski. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.

By October the doctor freed me of all restrictions and only told me to avoid those hard impacts. I was back to taking HIIT classes and lifting weights and doing yoga. None-the-less, I was still worried about skiing. An invitation to go skiing with friends at Snowshoe at the end of January, however, was impossible to resist. Plus, by then it would have been over six months since the surgery.

The winter of 2023 has been abysmal in the DC metro area — warm, rainy, and no snow. Luckily, West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort has its own weather and about a gazillion dollars in snowmaking equipment. When I arrived on a drizzly Sunday morning around 11 a.m., the resort was about 95 percent open. The top of the mountain was fogged in with light rain and drizzle. I called my friends to see if they wanted to meet up. They were hunkered down and didn’t want to deal with the rainy conditions.

I decided to head down to the Silver Creek section, which is a little lower and was less likely to be in the clouds. Plus there are hardly any crowds there on weekends. I geared up in the parking lot next to the main lodge for Silver Creek and trudged over to the slopes. “Okay,” I said to my new hip, “it’s now or never.”

I clipped into my skis and swooshed down the easy beginner trail at mid-mountain. Despite the light rain, the snow was in great condition. There were still grooming marks on the edges of the trail. It was as though I had never even had any hip problems. I arrived at the lift and there was literally no one there except the lift operator. It was like a ghost town. The light drizzle and occasional wafts of fog added to the eeriness.

I took the slow lift to the top and worked my way onto the blue trails. Other than having to wipe off my goggles occasionally, the light rainfall had no effect. I remained on the blue trails for about a half a dozen runs and didn’t notice any pain or discomfort in my hip. The blue trail Fox Chase had a cut off that led to the Flying Eagle lift — the longest lift in Silver Creek. I skied down to the bottom of this lift. Again, there wasn’t another soul in sight. At the top of the lift I steered onto the black diamond slope Bear Claw. Everything had been going well and I was slightly reluctant to try the steeper terrain. I really didn’t want to fall on my new hip.

But my anxiety was for naught. The trail was only a little steeper than the blue slopes. And the snow wasn’t icy or mushy. Usually when it rains, snow becomes slushy. However, every time I’ve skied in rain at Snowshoe, this hasn’t happened. I was in Heaven — cruising fast down the slope.

A January trip to West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort gave Matthew the chance to ease onto the slopes. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.

Halfway down I stopped and pulled my goggles up onto my helmet. This made it easier to see while skiing and the small droplets of rain on my face felt refreshing. I put the goggles back on for the chair ride, and continued this practice of skiing without goggles and riding with goggles for the next couple of hours. Every so often I would see another skier and I’d think “Hey, what are you doing on my mountain?” It’s so easy to become spoiled.

After five hours on the slopes, my gloves succumbed to the rain. With soaking wet hands, I called it quits for the day and trudged back to the car. I checked into my room at the Rimfire lodge and just as I was stripping off my wet clothes, my friends called and said they were heading out onto the main slopes of Snowshoe. There was only a half hour left until the lifts closed and there was no way I could meet them in time. I opted for a nice long hot shower instead. I finally got together with my friends and we had dinner down at the Old Spruce Brewery. It’s halfway between the main village and Silver Creek. Beer and tacos and gigantic pretzels — what could be better?

The next morning I awoke to sunshine and blue skies. My good friend Valerie and her two kids were supposed to meet me at the ropes near the top of the Ballhooter lift on the main face of the mountain at 8:50. (Slopes opened at nine.) They were running a few minutes late. I stood by the ropes with a dozen other eager beavers as the ski patrol did whatever they have to do before opening the resort. Why does it always seem that the ski patrol is deliberately going in slow motion when skiers are lined up and ready to go?

Ski patrol finally dropped the ropes at 9:05 and I jumped onto Grabhammer, a black diamond slope. I got onto it before anyone else, relishing the groomed corduroy. The high-speed Ballhooter lift allowed me to get in two more runs on Grabhammer before my friends arrived.

The four of us skied down Skip Jack and then Ballhooter, both intermediate runs. Valerie’s son wanted to go to the terrain park. Consequently we traversed the mountain to the Progression Park. I usually go over the little jumps. But I remembered my doctor’s warning. So while the kids did the jumps, I was a totally lame doofus gingerly skiing over the rises and looking like I had no business in the park.

Matthew connects with his friends at Snowshoe’s summit. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.

The kids wanted to stay and play on the jumps and I bailed to the Western Territory, home of Snowshoe’s two longest runs. Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge are both expert trails with a 1,500-foot vertical drop. A favorite of many a skier is to do Upper Shay’s and then cut over to Lower Cupp. So that’s what I did. And while skiing on the steeper section of Lower Cupp, I could feel my hip torqueing. There wasn’t any pain — but I could feel the added pressure on the new joint. I had originally planned to stay to do four or five runs in the Western Territory. However, after running down Cupp again and having that weird feeling in the muscles around the joint I chose to play it safe (again). I returned to the main face.

My friends had opted for an early lunch. I therefore traversed across to the opposite side of the mountain to the Widowmaker area. The Soaring Eagle high-speed quad services three black diamond trails and one intermediate slope. These black diamonds are not as long, nor as steep, as those in the Western Territory. I was once again as happy as a clam swooshing effortlessly down the trails and rocketing back up the mountain on the lift. No hip torqueing at all!

After I-don’t-know-how-many runs I worked up an appetite and made my way to the main village and got a veggie burger at the Junction restaurant. I had no idea where my friends were. Then just as I was leaving the restaurant I got a call from Valerie. She was picking up some fries and snacks for her kids.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m in the Junction Restaurant,” she replied.

“What?” I said. “I’m in the Junction Restaurant. I don’t see you.”

She said “turn to your left… a little more… a little more.”

And there she was! Too funny. Her children arrived and I hung out with them while they ate their food. Wow! Two lunches, I thought. The kids finished up and wanted to do a black slope before going home. I was almost ready to hit the road too. So while Valerie stayed back to pay her restaurant bill, the three of us took a spin down Grabhammer. They did great! It was the perfect way to finish up testing out the new hip.

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About Matthew Graham

Matthew Graham is a skier as well as a hang glider and paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, cavern diver, equestrian, polo player, sailor, hiker, biker, rock climber, paddler, and skater. He's also yoga teacher and certified personal trainer and has dabbled in just about every other sport, even stunt car driving and bull riding! He has written for the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Weekend Magazine, Hooked on the Outdoors, Richmond Magazine, Chesapeake Life Magazine, Metro Sports, American Fitness, Blue Ridge Outdoors, Recreation News and numerous other outdoor and travel publications.

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Reader Comments

JimK - DCSki Columnist
February 18, 2023
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,973 posts
Great to hear about your successful "comeback" Matthew.  Hope you get to log many more ski miles on your new hip!
Denis - DCSki Supporter 
February 22, 2023 (edited February 22, 2023)
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,337 posts

Great news.  Keep up the good work.  Also listen to your body; you get credit for calling the day a little short.

Been there, done that and have been thinking for a few days about what to say to others without getting into TMI.  Beyond the many other things that flesh is heir to, our moving parts, the joints, ligaments and bones have lifetimes.  Cartilage wears out, joints develop arthritis, ligaments tear and bones weaken with age.  I believe that we are born with our own program for when these things will occur based upon integrated lifetime stress placed upon them and years over which it is done.  I had a great run through age 75.  See Scott’s feature story for a picture on mt. Washington as evidence.  Now, my body is breaking down.  In the past 5 years, in chronological order, 1 rotator cuff, 2 total knee replacements, 1 total hip replacement and surgery for spinal stenosis in 3 places.  The first 3 had easy recoveries and quick return to skiing.  The hip and back, not so much.  Back surgeons see many people who have had hip replacements in the previous year or so.  Initial recovery causes changes in posture and gait that can trigger back problems that have developed and lain in wait for years.  I can now ski at low intermediate level, but downhill at resorts may be ended by the most ridiculous problem.  I can’t get off a chair lift without falling 50% of the time.  It’s a flexibility problem made worse on beginner chairs.  Green chairs are often set extra low for kids as they should be.  To deal with falling I wear a pair of ‘impact shorts’ under ski pants.  They come from the world of competitive mountain biking and are made of Lycra with pads of high density foam over hip bones and tail bone.  Still not willing to deal with such a high risk on chairs so my ski future may be cross country only.

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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