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Slopeside Updates from World Snowboarding Championships

March 21, 2016

Physician Assistant Nella Wennberg is sharing some of her experiences while serving on the Medical Team  for the 2016 World Snowboarding Championships in Yabuli China. Nella, along with Dr. Bryan Huber and Dr. Adam Putnam,  volunteered their time to serve on the Medical Team for the U.S. Snowboarding Team.

March 16 – Finals & Medical Team Reality

Last update from Yabuli, China! Slope style finals today. What a spectacular day; warm sunshine, blue skies, wind temperate.

The competition was furious and the tricks crazy. I was stationed at the knuckle of the second jump. This gave me a unique vantage point not only on being able to respond to athletes that were injured but also, experiencing the thrill of the trick literally over my head! The competition went off without a hitch and fortunately only one minor injury, which I responded to, on jump two. Otherwise just a great day all around.

Tomorrow will bring the exhibition in half pipe. I’m sure it will be an excellent show without the anxiety of injuries as the athletes will not be competing. I am looking forward to this as it should be less stressful. By far the most common feeling I have had while providing medical expertise to the event has been a sense of responsibility for the athletes’ wellbeing. With that said and the incredible complexity of the jumps it brought on another layer of heightened awareness. Fortunately, as of this moment I can relax knowing the competition is over and all is well.

I look forward to sharing some of my photos when I return.

Goodbye from Yabuli, China

Sunday, March 13  – Shawn White and the Half Pipe

Checking in from China brings 30-35 degree blue bird days. The competition has been incredible. Big air finals today with tricks that were mind blowing crazy! Sick! Dope! (snowboarders lingo). There was only one notable injury, an ankle fracture, but fortunately with X-ray on site and excellent orthopedic care, the Canadian athlete was in great hands.

Last night was the opening celebration which was no less spectacular with a large stage and multiple performers surrounded by a light show that made Times Square look like the poor cousin.

This was followed by an evening mixing with all the athletes, coaches, the multitude of event planners, venue managers, judges, and others who came to the event including Shawn White. I was totally cool and he came by and started chatting with me. I introduced myself as if I had no clue and he shook my hand and said “Hi, I’m Shawn.” Sweet!

The unfortunate development was the cancellation of the half pipe competition. The pipe was not quite right and despite an enormous effort by the engineers, the riders and coaches determined it would not represent the talent of the athletes on such a high profile event. While many athletes were disappointed, most felt that it was a good decision. There will be an exhibition event featuring the top riders.

Well that’s all for now.


March 10 – Getting to Yabuli; It Is Worth It!

We arrived into Harbin, China after about 26 hours of travel. There we were met by a Chinese World Cup rep who drove us for an additional 4 hour journey with a police escort! Altogether, after 30 hours of straight travel, we reached the remote town of Yabuli, China. We finally checked into the beautiful mountain resort around 3:00am. Phew! Had about two hours of sleep and up at 6:30am to start our official first day.

The first day we met with the U.S. contingency including coordinators of the event, coaches, athletic trainers, and Chinese medical providers. While language barriers have proven to be challenging (along with internet connection!) we have come to know a group of very good translators – all college students who have volunteered their time.

Our most important job has been to coordinate medical care starting from injured athlete on the hill, to initial response, to transport, to continued evaluation in tents set up at the events, to transport to the local hospital 20-minutes away if necessary. Dr. Huber went to the local hospital to see the facilities and meet the physicians who may potentially need to help take care of our athletes.

The Yabuli resort is very beautiful. As Dr. Huber and I rode up the lift, we were reflecting on how similar the landscape and tree coverage reminded us of Vermont. If you for a moment forgot you were in China, we both felt that we were right at home, with the exception of the building structures. The buildings are cement exterior in pastel colors of pink and cream. They have a very distinct architectural design. As this is a resort, there are many techno light displays including gigantic screens with images of happy skiers and winter delights. There are also many ice sculptures that light up the night sky.

Early this morning while getting a morning work out in, the sun came and lit up the morning sky in hues of rose and purples. The day brought glorious sun and noticeably warmer temps, around 25-30 degrees fahrenheit. Sunblock was key!

This was the first day of competition. It was the qualifiers and semi-finalist competition for men’s Big Air. The athletes, the best in the world, were competing. They were so impressive. The tricks that came off the jump never ceased to amaze me. It was clear how important our role is in managing and treating the potential trauma. Fortunately, thus far it has been minor injuries. The venue, while not free of some issues, is fantastic. Not only is it picturesque, the courses are well designed. The athletes have been mostly pleased thus far.

Well, this is a quick synopsis of our first few days. I hope it gives you all back home a small window into our journey at the World Cup Snowboarding Event.