Tales from the Lift Line III: The Poles You Save May Be Your Own

by Mary-Colleen Jenkins

Photo at right: Valley of fog

The ski instructor, his yellow jacket bright against the icy slope, waved his arms at me. I was at the top of the run and could barely make out what he was saying.

“Are you going that way?” he yelled, pointing across the traverse to the other side of the slope. On a day like this, it looked extra far away.

“Yes, I am,” I called back.

“Can you…?”

Danger signs warn skiers and boarders of icy conditions below.

I couldn’t hear him over the loud scraping of skis as other skiers passed behind me. The mountain had frozen into a block of ice, and their edges on the ice sounded like giant chefs were scraping spatulas over immense cast iron skillets.

S-c-c-c-r-a-pe. Sk-ri-i-i-i-tch. Ska-zchit. Ska-zchit. S-c-c-c-r-a-pe. Sk-ri-i-i-i-tch. Ska-zchit. Ska-zchit.

It was tough to negotiate the loop-di-loop of the traverse that ran across the top of the three runs below it. Going fast was hazardous and if you started to gain speed, it was nearly impossible to slow down, let alone stop.

After a few minutes it became clear what was going on. Most of the instructor’s kids were with him on the first run, but some had separated and stopped. He wanted them to go ahead.

When I got to the far side, I saw that they were stuck. One had tumbled down into some trees and was being helped by an adult who’d seen her fall. One, relieved that her rescuer duties had been taken over, skied back to the class. The third, trying not to cry, wasn’t sure what to do. She was spooked.

Skis off, she was determined to walk back across the long, slippery slope to her class.

“Hey, wait a second and I can help you,” I said.

But, she took a step – whoosh – and was gone, rocketing down the slope upside-down and on her back. She eventually came to a stop, halfway down, a ski and two poles marking her crooked descent. The other ski was almost out of sight. The girl sat up as I made my way down, gathering her gear along the way.

By the time we got to the bottom, the instructor had made it over to meet us.

“Thank you so much! Whoever you are!” he said, smiling.

A valley of fog holds ice on the slopes.

I’ll admit it. There was a split second there, the slightest moment, when I felt a little like a superhero – the mysterious stranger appearing in the nick of time to rescue the innocent bystander from imminent peril.

I’d love to say that I gave them a mysterious salute and dashed off in a rush of speed and a shower of snow. But, reality is more sweaty and graceless than that. It took another 10 minutes and a bit of swearing to negotiate my way out of that icy, chunky, nasty run.

There are two codes in the mountains. One is the Skiers Responsibility Code (http://www.nsp.org/slopesafety/respcode.aspx), and it is printed on lift tickets and maps, and posted on lift towers. The Responsibility Code is the basis for all safety policies on the slopes and buying a lift ticket means that you agree to adhere to it.

There’s a second unspoken code in the mountains. A friend calls it the Karma Bank. Do a good turn for someone, and it comes back to you. I see it as the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They’re essentially same: When someone needs help, be there.

When another skier is in trouble, you stop and pitch in. Sometimes, it’s just gathering runaway equipment or asking if they’re okay. Other times, it’s paying attention to people who seem lost or uncertain and offering to guide them if they need it. Occasionally, all you can do call ski patrol and stay until they arrive.

The kid you help might end up helping your kid someday. The words of comfort you offer someone after a wipeout might be echoed back to you after a fall. The person you hand a runaway ski to one day might be catching yours the next. The skier you guide through an unfamiliar entrance may be standing next to you on the day you nervously try something new.

For most skiers, offering a helping hand is instinctive because there isn’t a person out there who has not been in a sticky situation at one time or other. Everyone knows what it’s like.

The potential for karmic rewards aside, people help each other on the slopes because it’s the right thing to do.

I’ll tell you something, though. There’s something awfully warm and fuzzy about feeling like a superhero for just a moment. And on a good snow day, you might be able to make your exit with a mysterious salute and extra flourish of snow to boot.

Winter weekends call Mary-Colleen out to the snow, but during the week she can be found warm and dry and working with words. Jenkins is a freelance editor, writing coach, and writer of two blogs,Too Fond of Books (toofondofbooks-sea.blogspot.com) and Along the Branches(www.alongthebranches.wordpress.com). You can find her on Twitter at @EmceeReads.

Catch up with all the previous posts of “Tales from the Lift Line” below.


>> I. Waiting for Winter

>> II. Dorothy and Oz

>> III. The Poles You Save May Be Your Own

>> IV. Vittels

>> V. What kind of parents let their kids…?

>> VI. Olympians

>> VII. Emergence

>> VIII. Nickels and Dimes

>> IX. Nickels and Dimes Part II

>> X. Letting Them Run



>> I. The Beginning

>> II. When Seeing is Believing

>> III. Expeditionary Forces

>> IV. Velocity

>> V. Pack Rat

>> VI. Dude

>> VII. Expectations

>> VIII. Don’t Cry in the Trees

>> IX. The Sounds of Silence

>> X. Known/Unknown


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