The downside of the mountain top

  • February 15, 2024

By now, my corduroy Levis were covered with snow from wiping out, and the snow was turning to ice against my skin. My brother looked truly sorry for my misery.

In this third of a three-part series about teenaged Helena’s treacherous ski trip with her brother, Ralph, will she finally conquer the mountain?

“C’mon, Helena, we’ll just do the other slope once. You’ll love it!” he said.

What I would really have loved was the ski lodge. It was just steps away. About 10 regular steps, about 110 steps with ski boots on. A warm fire, hot chocolate….

“We’ve come all this way. You don’t wanna miss this, do you?”

Ralph was trying to speak to my inner Charlie’s Angels, none of which were ever very active except for my Farrah flip. I mustered my anemic sense of adventure and followed him to the… chair lift. We were going to the top of the mountain. On the way up, I wasn’t getting alarmed because I’m not great with depth perception. I couldn’t tell that the slopes below us were WAY steeper than Bunny Hill and Scenic Boulder Slope.

Ralph began preparing me for how to get off the chair lift. How hard could it be? I had tamed the wild T-bar lift! Getting ON the chairlift was a breeze, it just scooped you up by the butt. I didn’t have to do anything. But what goes up must come down. Sometimes the hard way.

He told me to scoot to the edge of the chair, look down, keep my skis pointing straight ahead and when he said, “Go!” to stand up and push off. Child’s play! The moment arrived.

“Go!” he commanded. I looked down. It was not level ground. There were two icy ruts for your skis that immediately hurtled you down a sizeable, cliff-like drop. Ralph shot to the bottom. I froze, still perched on the edge of the chair. The chair began to lift back up in the air.

“Go!” Ralph urged from what was beginning to look like a snowy little Whoville down below. By now the lift had completely passed over the cliff and was heading to the turnaround to go back down the mountain. Although I knew nothing about skiing, I instinctively knew there was incredible shame attached to going back down the ski lift because you were CHICKEN. I was caught between a rock and a hard place.

“Go!” sang the little Who’s in unison who had gathered around my brother, craning their necks skyward. So… I did. I literally just dropped myself out of the sky. And splatted askew on my back like…well… like a swastika.

I did not land on snow but on ice. That kind of unfrozen, refrozen, unfrozen, refrozen ice that is harder than ice. I momentarily had the wind knocked out of me and all went black. I heard a girl exhale softly: “She killed herself….”

When I came to, my brother looked very concerned for my misery, and I began cursing him out. Not that I used actual curse words, because cursing was not part of my personal code. But I spoke like I was cursing. I don’t remember what I said, but I was ticked. And then I got more ticked because I realized we were on the TOP of the mountain and the only signs were for the “Expert--Black Diamond -Cowabunga-Only Swiss People need applyy” SLOPES. That was the only way down!

I could endure the shame of stopping the T-bar, crashing the slalom and wiping out, but not the shame of taking the chairlift down. I still had some pride. My poor brother. He stayed with me all the way down. I would go a few yards, wipe out, chew Ralph out, repeat. He was truly penitent. I stormed off to the lodge and stayed there for the rest of the day, shivering in my wet Levis and reflecting on what I learned.

1. I will never go skiing again.

2. You can’t be good at everything.

3. I don’t like speed that doesn’t involve a gas pedal.

4. Despite everything, the mountains were gorgeous.

5. I’m still a snow baby. Just not a breakneck speeding snow baby.

6. Skiing is a spectator sport best enjoyed during the Winter Olympics.

7. Bonne Belle wild cherry lip balm is very comforting at times like these.

8. Get a snowsuit for all snow-related activities.

9. It made a great story.

10. Life is all about the stories.

Read part 1, part 2

(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns  #medianuns)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.