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Duluth man's ski outing goes to the dogs

Paul Lehman compares his dog's behavior to the adorable but naughty and neurotic title character in the 2008 movie "Marley and Me" -- only "about 10 times worse. Now here is another one to add to the list."...

At home after the accident
Paul Lehman of Duluth nurses his broken right leg Wednesday afternoon. He was cross-country skiing at Snowflake Nordic Ski Center when his dog, Sconnie, held by his wife, Jessica Lehman (left), ran into him on the trail. Lehman suffered a broken leg in the accident. His wife came to his aid. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

Paul Lehman compares his dog's behavior to the adorable but naughty and neurotic title character in the 2008 movie "Marley and Me" -- only "about 10 times worse. Now here is another one to add to the list."

Skonnie, Lehman's 1½-year-old black Labrador retriever, caused him to fall during a nighttime ski at Duluth's Snowflake Nordic Ski Center on Tuesday, breaking Lehman's leg and forcing a rescue.

"It could have been worse," Lehman said. "I could have been farther back on the trail and hit my head, or who knows what. You have to be positive and I am. Things happen for a reason; I'm just trying to figure it out."

Lehman, 26, of Duluth, had taken Skonnie for nighttime skis at Snowflake before, but always on a lit trail. There, she would run ahead, occasionally waiting for Lehman to catch up.

But Tuesday they went on a longer, unlit trail, their path lighted by Lehman's headlamp. As he glided down a section of trail called Wiggles about 7:30 p.m., Skonnie unexpectedly ran back to him.

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"She must have gotten scared," Lehman said. "It's all a blur, but she landed on top of my right ski," causing him to go down.

"When I looked down, my ankle and my ski were twisted weird," he said. "It was just not right."

Lehman had broken his fibula and damaged ligaments and tendons. He is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday to have a plate and seven screws installed.

As he lay on the snow, Lehman, a lifeguard, assessed the situation.

"My dog was running around, my leg was all messed up, my body hurt all over," he said. "I yelled 'Help' a couple of times and didn't hear anybody. I was just calling my wife when Steve came over the hill."

State Patrol Capt. Steve Stromback was enjoying an evening ski of his own when he found Lehman in the snow.

"The adrenaline was going a little bit," Lehman said. "I just told Steve: 'Pick me up and we'll hop out of here.' "

Stromback -- no stranger to emergencies -- dissuaded Lehman from trying.

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"He was alert and talking, but in pain with his ankle," Stromback said. "Walking out would have been very difficult for him. So I put out a call to 911."

Three fire department units responded to Snowflake, unsure of where exactly Lehman was on Snowflake's 15 kilometers of trails. Stromback skied out to guide firefighters to their patient. With the firefighters came Jennifer Lehman, Paul's wife.

"The patient was getting cold but otherwise in good condition," 7 Engine Capt. Chad Cooke wrote in a report on the incident. "One of our crews reached the patient, wrapped him in a blanket and firefighter's coat and pulled him out in the Stokes basket."

Stromback and the firefighters were professional and very welcome, Lehman said.

"If those guys would not have shown up, it would have been a long way to hobble or I would have had to wait a while," he said. "My ankle was sore as heck, but the sled ride was nice."

Lehman declined an ambulance, having his wife drive him to a hospital.

Fire officials and Stromback said the incident illustrates the value of carrying a cell phone.

"If you're going to be outside, it is great to have the ability to call for help if you are injured," Stromback said. "Whenever I'm out there, I always carry my cell phone."

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Tuesday was only the second time in 20 years that Snowflake owner George Hovland recalls an injured skier needing to be hauled out.

Related Topics: SKIING
Steve Kuchera is a retired Duluth News Tribune photographer.
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