Airplane school is taking up all my mental energy right now, so I am posting from the archives of my life’s odd happenings.
Once upon a time, I skied at Mission Ridge, in Eastern Washington. It was a great weekend, but I had an experience that more than proved the maxim about last runs.
It was the last run of the first day. Two of us meant to take the blue runs from the top but, in the waning light of a late March afternoon, we accidentally headed for one of the blacks instead. Clouds had come in a bit earlier in the day and conditions were icy. It was quickly obvious to both of us that the run was above our skill level. My companion took off her skis and walked over to an easier run. I wish had done the same, but I believed I would be able to side-slip down to a less treacherous area.
I had descended only about 20 feet when my skis went out from under me and I began to slide. My bindings were set too high and I was completely out of control. I was sure I was going to go home with broken limbs, but I flailed for purchase and was able to grab onto a small tree and arrest myself.
I was relieved but didn’t know what to do next. My skis were still on my feet, but one was above the tree and the other was hanging below. My first thought was to get them both below the tree. I wasn’t strong enough to push myself off the tree with one leg, so instead I took off the uphill ski, thinking that I would drop my foot below the tree, then put it back on. Within moments that ski was had rocketed off down the slope, the brakes useless on the ice. Thinking that one ski is worse than no skis I took the other one off. The second ski immediately set off to join its twin hundreds of yards downslope.
Having seen the fate of the two skis, I was not anxious to join them, so I redoubled my grip on the tree and waited for help to come. The few skiers who passed by that way didn’t hear my cries for help because the sound of their skis on the ice drowned out everything else, but eventually someone on the lift heard me and promised to send the ski patrol.
They came and they were wonderful, but mine was a new situation for them, so it took a few minutes to figure out a course of action. Finally they decided that one of them would face me from below, holding on to my feet while herringboning down to a safer area while the other took my poles and rounded up my skis. I didn’t love the herringbone idea, but I didn’t have a better one, so after some coaxing I let go of the tree and we started down.
As they say, it all happened so quickly. We had gone only about 30 feet when the patroller lost both his footing and his grip on my right foot. I saw him falter and start to slide just before I started to slide myself. As I whipped around him on the axis of my left foot there was a split second in which all I could see was this pair of big, sturdy, reassuring ski patroller legs. It took everything I had not to throw my arms around him as I had earlier embraced the sapling up the hill but somehow I willed myself to go limp as I headed down the most exciting run of my life.
I was pointed head first (this was before ski helmets). First I thought I had better turn myself around, but every time I got perpendicular to the fall line, the incline would roll me over, from front to back or back to front. I flipped in this fashion 6 or 7 times, finally picking up so much speed that I just kept rolling, coming to a stop about 20 feet uphill from a tree.
With some trepidation I tested my limbs, and, finding them all functional, burst into hysterical laughter just as the ski patrollers skidded to a stop next to me. They complimented my luge skills, reunited me with my skis and poles, forgave my poor judgment and accompanied me back to the lodge to be reunited with my worried friends.