How much do you love to ski?

by Alexandra Rochester

“I’m so cold.”

“I think I’m going to die.”

I don’t know what dying feels like, but I know what they mean. They are six years old with blocks of ice encasing their mittens, and I am twenty-four and tasked with getting all nine of us down this mountain in one piece, hopefully having taught them something about skiing, preferably having had a good time, which under these circumstances will be quite the challenge. The advice is to always hope for the best, but none of us prepared for the worst, which today’s weather is.

Each of us could do with another layer, hand warmers, a hot drink, less time spent waiting for the gondola in the freezing rain, a respite from the high winds that increased as we rode up Red Chair, and a hug from our mums telling us it’s going to be okay. Instead, we have the knowledge that it is -17C and that we must attempt to ski until 2.45pm, and not only do the elements insist that we work around them, time is unconcerned with getting through this day quickly.

Our blood is shrinking out of our fingers and toes to conserve our hearts, leaving us numb and wincing, and later screaming with pain when it returns as a burn. Icicles line their faces, and I watch their heaving chests try to subdue their sniffles. My limbs ache, but it hurts more to see these typically happy girls so scared and sad. The wind tears at our layers, trying to strip us of all warmth. We need to move.

“I know you’re cold. I’m cold too. Let’s do bunny hops all the way down to Garbanzo. Jump as much as you can through every turn, and you’ll eventually start to warm up. Ava, you’re at the front. Emily, you’re our wingman. Is it safe to go?”

They usually resemble puppets being swung around; full of comically energetic and awkward co-ordination, but in this moment they can barely glance over their shoulders to check our surroundings for oncoming skiers.

This is the first time they have experienced these types of conditions, but I have done this before, and I will do this again, and they will learn that this is one of those days that tests how much we love to ski. 

They want another day of racing through the trees like we’re in Star Wars, jumping off little hits and feeling the astonishing sensation of flying. I want to talk about pizza and French fries and give them actual cookies at lunchtime, but today Mother Nature is doing what she wants, and so we must endure the specific and severe elements that are an integral component of the ultimate winter playground we choose to frolic in.

They think they’re going to die, but we all know they won’t. They don’t want to do this, but when you have to, you can, so they do. We start to ski.

Whistler Outdoor Endurance & Survival Writing Contest
Judges comments:

How much do we love this piece? Using blunt and elemental language the author tells a story that will resonate deeply with anyone who loves to ski. Or loves to partake in any sport where nature demands a heavy helping of doggedness and stamina as part of the deal. What delights the reader with this story is the fact that the protagonists are children with  “blocks of ice encasing their mittens.” Children, the most resilient of all athletes, standing at the top of a mountain in the rain and the freezing cold and the instructor who feels their pain  because, as all readers will intuitively understand, the instructor was once a child just like this. In a few short lines cookies and hugs from mum and “racing through the trees like we’re in Star Wars, jumping off little hits and feeling the astonishing sensation of flying” are juxtaposed with ice and  heaving chests and sniffles and wind tearing at their layers. The little group moves down the hill and they “think they are going to die” but they “learn that this is one of those days that tests how much we love to ski.” Endurance and grit at its finest.  

Judges: Jude Goodwin & Mary MacDonald, April 2018