THE FEATHERDUSTER

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Student gets stranded in the snow

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“Help!”

“Helloooooooo? Anyone thereeeee? I think I’m stuck!”

My shouts rang clear in the frigid winter air before fading into the valley. The only response was the howling wind, followed by a thick, deafening silence. Not a single soul was in sight, with the exception of myself and my ski gear, which laid scattered in the snow around me. Careful to not slide off the mountainside, I stretched out my legs and propped myself in a reclining position, sending a mini-avalanche of snow clumps tumbling into the deserted valley below. The sun was setting, and all the ski lifts would be closing soon. A strong gust stung my cheeks and numbed my fingers as I thought about my parents and sister back in the ski lodge, enjoying the luxuries of warmth and a good Internet connection, probably gathering around a cozy fire or savoring a steaming mug of hot chocolate. I gazed ahead into the empty sky, and letting out a dejected sigh, wondered how on Earth I got into this mess in the first place.

Ten minutes earlier, I had been skiing through the snow. With the wind whistling in my ears, I approached an intersection and skidded to a halt. Ski trails are ranked either green, blue, or black, respectively, according to their difficulty. To my left was a green trail, and to my right, a black trail. Silence hung thick in the winter air as I considered the two paths. The trails were closing in about half an hour, so I had to get back to the base soon. A passerby skier disrupted the quiet, and I watched as he disappeared down the green trail. Realizing I had to make up my mind, I began to let myself slide to the left. Then I looked at the black trail. While I was by no means a Lindsey Vonn, I wasn’t a novice either, and I could handle blue and some easy black trails fine. Besides, what would be a better way to end a long day of skiing than with the sweet victory of conquering a black diamond? I could imagine my sister’s eyes growing wide with envy and bewilderment as she realized that I, her awesome sister, was a ski master.

I think I got this.

With a smug grin, I switched paths and smoothly sailed down the black diamond trail, bubbling with the overconfidence and bravado of a student taking a test without studying the night before.

I was wrong.

I barely made my way down the first slope before one of my skis caught on a rock. Any instances of my over-inflated ego vanished the second I went flying forward, tumbling off the trail and into the snow. Both my poles and one ski were flung far beyond my reach as I began skidding towards the bottom. I grabbed onto a rock, stabilizing myself, and it didn’t take long for my heart to sink to the bottom of my stomach, heavy with dread, at the realization that I was stranded.

Fast forward to the present. After what seemed like an eternity of mentally chastising myself for my foolishness and stupidity, and another good minute or two of yelling at the top of my lungs for help, I finally came to the conclusion that unless I were to spend the night up here uncomfortably in the cold, I had to rescue myself.

Bzz. Bzz!

My fingers stinging from the cold, I pulled out my phone. Battery at five percent. Zero bars. Not a good sign. My mind flashed back to all those adventure movies I had watched with my father, and if there’s anything I learned, it’s that bad things happen when your phone’s out of juice and you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Thinking fast, I contemplated my options. I could sit and wait for someone: surely ski patrol checked each trail before closing the park for good, right? But what would I do in the meantime? My phone barely had the power to stay on, and with no service, there was no way I could make a call, much less pass the time playing Flappy Bird. Besides, I didn’t have the patience to wait.

I looked up at my fallen ski gear, wondering if I stared hard enough, I could summon the Force, some secret telekinesis power, or at least a mini avalanche to float them to me. Nothing happened. But wait. Maybe I didn’t need all my gear to make it back to base. Screw the poles and the ski: I could get along just as fine on a single ski. Imagine that! I couldn’t help myself but break into a goofy grin as I pictured myself casually speeding towards the lodge, perched on a single ski like an awkward flamingo, leaving a trail of puzzled skiers in my wake. Then I glanced down the steep hill and all the snow moguls I had yet to conquer. Nope. One-ski skiing was out of the picture. So was abandoning my gear altogether and trudging down the hill in just ski boots. Besides, there was the financial cost of leaving the gear up here to consider…

Suddenly, two tiny figures emerged into the valley below. Humanity at last! Hope appeared to me like a shining beacon in the snow, and adrenaline filled my veins. I immediately started hollering at the top of my lungs.

“Helloooooo! Help! Can you hear me?” I waved my arms wildly.

To my relief, the two skiers stopped and saw me.

“Hi there! Are you stuck?” one of them asked.

“Yeah, I think so!”

“Should we call ski patrol?”

I stopped flapping my arms and scanned the slope, a nearly-vertical maze of towering moguls and sharp branches, the beacon of hope extinguished. I saw a flurry of scenarios flash across my panicked mind. In one scene, the slope was too steep, leaving both the ski patrol rescuer and I stranded. In another, a messy tangle of ropes and harnesses had to be thrown down so I could clumsily haul myself up. In the final and worst involved a full-blown helicopter rescue that was later caught on television and broadcasted for the entire resort, as well as my family, to see.

Yikes. As stupid as it sounded, I couldn’t face the embarrassment and unwanted notoriety of having to be dragged back to the base by the ski patrol. If only I could somehow recover my gear… I looked back up at my ski and poles, sitting sadly in the snow, awaiting their rescue. Suddenly, an idea bloomed in mind.

I turned back down to the skiers. “Actually, think I can get back down myself.”

One of them nodded. “Okay. We’ll wait for you!”

Motivated by renewed confidence and determination, I began to climb up the hill. Wedging my intact ski into the snow and using the rocks as a grip, I made my way upwards inch by inch. Each time I released my ski a small shower of snow clumps tumbled down the hill, making me wonder if one wrong move could spark a full-fledged avalanche. I secured my lost ski the moment it was within arm’s reach, and was able to grab one of my poles before the slope got too steep to climb any further. The last pole, alas, had to make the ultimate sacrifice of staying behind. It was a $50 blow I was willing to take.

With most of my gear intact, I strapped in my ski and rested the remaining pole across my shoulders. Determined not to crash again, I cautiously navigated my way towards the valley. I was overcome by a wave of relief the moment the hill flattened to smooth, flat ground. The two would-be-rescuers and I parted ways after I thanked them for offering help, and I skied the rest of the way to the base, this time wisely sticking to the green trails.

Later that evening, my family and I were seated at the bar of a local restaurant near our condo, feasting on poutine fries dripping with melted cheese as snow swirled outside. Laughter and chatter filled the dim room as my mother, father, and sister took turns recounting their own ski adventures that day. Finally my father turned to me as I bit into a fry.

“Helen, how was your day?”

I out the fry down. Despite the warmth and coziness of the restaurant, a dark cloud ominously gathered over our table as I silently mourned the loss of my fallen ski pole and the $50 I would have to pay from my own wallet. With a deep and heavy sigh, I began to retell the tale of my ski tumble: a tale of foolishness, (financial) loss, bravery, and a good lesson learned.

“So I did something really stupid today…”

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