Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their adventures.
The walkie-talkie on the kitchen table crackled.
"That's Mark," said my friend. "They've had a no show. You can go if we move fast."
Mark, her husband, was a heli-ski guide with Canadian Mountain Holidays and I was visiting on break from university in Ontario. I loved skiing, but really, I wasn't the most experienced. Now I'd been offered free heli-skiing, the chance of a lifetime, a sure way to impress my friends back East.
It didn't concern me that I hadn't skied in four years. And I saw no problem wearing my student uniform of faded denim coveralls over borrowed long johns and my friend's down jacket. I wasn't worried that her ski boots hurt immediately, or that the loaner skis were 20 centimetres too long. I was going to show those heli-guests how Canadians skied.
Panting, I met my group at the tail end of the safety and avalanche lesson. We were spring skiing, which increased the avalanche risk, and the snow was mushy, heavy with the promise of warmer weather; in parts it was also chest deep.
"Remember," Mark said, "I go first in case of avalanches. The slowest skier brings up the rear. We'll send the helicopter back up eventually."
I was enthralled with my first helicopter ride and barely acknowledged my fellow passengers: a six-pack of Swiss and French lawyers, doctors and, well, real adults. When the helicopter landed, 1,857 metres up the mountainside, we jumped out. As I looked down onto the Selwyn Range, I suddenly forgot about the money I was saving. I felt small. This had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Then my group took off down the mountain before I even had my tuque on, and I was alone in the white silence. Terror rose up inside. The slope was so steep that I couldn't see anything between the tips of my skis. There was only one way out. Down.
"Whack!" I hit a tree, and fell into the large hole that surrounded it, a tangle of snow, skis and poles. Over the thumping of my heart, I remembered one thing from the safety presentation, and made X's out of my skis, then my poles, creating a ladder to climb out of my tree-trunk pit. At the top, I stood up and saw I was surrounded by spiked snow-capped tree traps, waiting to suck me down again.
"I can't turn tight enough," I said to the trees. "That's what's killing me." So I snow plowed through the cement-like snow. My legs trembled. My torso clenched. Sweat squeezed down into my painful boots. My blue jeans were cold and wet and stuck up my butt in a rasping denim wedgie. Fog snaked around me as I toiled down the steep pitch alone, fearful of the trees. At one point, I tried taking my skis off, thinking I could hike, but sank straight down, like a straw into a snow cone. Snow was jammed up my Stanfield's and packed down my neck.
"Thwump. Thwump. Thwirrrh." It was the helicopter! I head for a clearing, and there was my group, the grownups, my long-lost ski friends. Then I collapsed, every ounce of pride drained. My pro-skier-girl veneer had cracked to reveal a scared, reckless snow-plower. But not one word was said. No one laughed. And I didn't cry.
"Maybe you guys have some tips for me?" I asked.
"Let's get at 'er," said Mark, and the helicopter lifted us back to the top of the mountain.
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