When exploring the great outdoors, it’s always advised to prep for the worst-case scenario. But what happens when it actually comes true? When Hilary found herself in remote Victorian backcountry with a broken leg, she had a few revelations – including the importance of ambulance cover.


Untouched snow, blue skies, a warm fire, and good company are all the makings of a perfect weekend in Victoria’s backcountry.

Like all addictive outdoor pursuits, alpine ski touring requires an array of expensive gear, and more importantly, experience in alpine conditions.

For years I’ve been eager to get out there more and have taken every opportunity to explore the mountains with experienced alpinists. Training in avalanche safety, understanding terrain, snow conditions, forecasts and the necessary rescue gear that goes with it are non-negotiables if heading out of bounds. 

Read more: ‘Slay Safe’ With Free Alpine Backcountry Training

On this particular mission, I was tagging along with my experienced cousin, Tim, and his partner Margot as my tour guides, as we joined some friends for a weekend at Cleve Cole Hut. After two days of carving satisfying turns down untouched runs on Warkwoolowler/Mt Bogong, it was time to bid a reluctant farewell to hut life and return to sea level and another snap lockdown.



For two days we’d managed to avoid the ‘mother of all storms’ that was forecast and were instead rewarded with blue skies and a quiet mountain.

What transpired next was a three-hour alpine rescue ordeal, complete with emergency sleds, helicopters, plenty of profanities and a hands-on tutorial in remote first aid. I went through the pain of breaking cleanly through both shin bones, so hopefully, you don’t have to.

For all the outdoors-loving folks out there, here are nine lessons I learnt from a potentially very costly, life-threatening and guaranteed character-building ordeal in Victoria’s backcountry.

Lesson 1: Make Sure to Tune Your Gear to Your Conditions

I’d borrowed touring skis off a friend, and hadn’t bothered to check the DIN setting, so when I accidentally got some air and tumbled headfirst into the snow, my skis stayed on. That resulted in a very broken leg, evident by my backwards right foot. Whatever your sport, be sure to tweak your gear to your current weight (if carrying a pack), conditions, and ability.

Read more: How To Read The Weather Like a Pro


Lesson 2: No Ambulance Cover, No Go

I knew there was no way I was getting off the mountain under my own steam, and being able to send for a very expensive, but necessary, lift out of there made the incredibly painful situation bearable. I’m still yet to receive the bill from Ambulance Victoria, but according to their website, I can expect it to be in the ballpark of $26,000! Not all private health insurance policies include ambulance cover, so be sure to double-check.


Lesson 3: Always save some phone juice for emergencies, or better yet, carry a PLB

Thankfully I’d charged my phone at the hut the day before, as we were all running low after three days in the alpine. Be sure to utilise aeroplane mode, offline maps such as maps.me and factor in the impacts of extreme heat or cold on battery longevity.

Read more: How To Use a PLB


Lesson 4: Go in a Group

Having 3+ people in your party makes dealing with emergency situations much safer, and sane, for all involved. When it came time to relocate me up to the hut, trying to move me in the emergency sled (procured from the nearby hut) would have been impossible for one person. Being able to strategise with someone other than the patient is also extremely valuable for those in the intense situation of providing first aid.


Lesson 5: Whiskey Isn’t Always Your Friend

By this stage, over 60 minutes had elapsed, and the pain was unrelenting and intense. So much so, the thought of having a swig of the whiskey on hand made me feel nauseous. Forgoing a drink turned out to be a good choice, as the paramedic later explained that whisky warms you up, but then it makes you feel colder and thins your blood.


Lesson 6: Emergency Blankets ‘Are Like Christmas on a Stick’

Whilst the sunshine and multiple down jackets were enough to keep me warm, Sean the paramedic used emergency blankets to wrap my leg after removing the ski boot and applying a splint. You can never have too many emergency blankets in cooler conditions.

Read more: What to Pack in Your Hiking First Aid Kit

Lesson 7: Always Leave Plenty of Time to Get Back to the Car

It was an 8km ski / hike back to the car, and with the weather turning, we’d allowed plenty of time for the trip out. But an unscheduled three hour rescue ordeal meant Tim and Margot were racing against dusk to make it back safely, whilst battling mental, physical, and emotional fatigue from an adrenaline-fuelled afternoon.


Lesson 8: Be Grateful for Our Health System

From the paramedics to the ambulance crew, and all of the nurses, surgeons, orderlies, and array of people that helped piece me back together at the Wangaratta Hospital, our system is incredible. Knowing that an accident-prone, outdoor explorer like myself can (almost) walk away with a reinforced titanium tibia and not have to pay a cent makes the entire, awful ordeal bearable.

Whilst I’m in no rush to return to the hospital any time soon, knowing that I don’t have to choose between bankruptcy and making a full recovery is something to be grateful for when addicted to the outdoors.

Lesson 9: Breaking a Bone Isn’t Fun

The lucky last lesson is for all the adults like me out there, who have never had the experience of breaking a bone. It sucks.

Thanks to getting a titanium rod hammered through my tibia bone, I was only in a cast for ten days and could weight bear after two weeks. But today marks five weeks since the accident, and my leg is still incredibly swollen and sore, I can’t drive, I just hobble around the house and rely on pain meds to get through most days.

The good news is I should make a full recovery – the bad news is that this was totally unavoidable. Plus, my rescue required an astronomical number of resources and money.

Read more: A Letter From Your Clumsy Hiking Friend


I hope sharing this experience can prevent you and your adventure buddies from misadventure, and if you do find yourself in such a scenario, hope that your crew are as competent and compassionate as mine were. As we return to wild places over the coming months, be safe, have fun, and for goodness’ sake, make sure you have ambulance cover.