A few years back, two members of the Bergfreunde Ski Club had to be helped off Mount Rainier. I was one of them. I had been skiing for about 30 years and was getting a little more adventuresome on steeper slopes and skiing amongst trees.
It had not snowed in a week at Crystal Mountain Resort. Some sections of the mountain were pretty icy. I led four of the more experienced skiers to a part of the mountain I had skied the year before, a simple route to expert runs called the Autobahn. My friends skied in front of me but missed the turnoff.
I caught up with them. I wanted to turn back and walk to the route I had taken the year before, but my peers convinced me to try something new instead. They heaped praise on my skiing ability and my ego was stoked. I followed like a lamb.
The first section was heaven, powder skiing on untouched runs. When some of us stopped around a bend, a skier named Jan rounded the bend and nearly crashed into us. We laughed so much. Three of the more experienced skiers took off down the mountain.
I left with Jan right behind me. We went about 500 yards and stopped, looking down a steep, narrow ice chute.
“Oh my God,” I thought.
Jan pointed out the signs warning of a cliff that were posted every 20 feet or so on the right. Jan is a great skier, but ice is another thing. We skied over to another chute, but this one looked steeper than the first. We made our way back to the first chute. But unfortunately, I was also working my way closer and closer to the little signs that said “cliff,” “cliff,” “cliff.”
I realized I was in real danger of going over the cliff! I was about 10 feet from a fairly large tree, right on the edge. I knew if I could just make it to the upside of the tree I would not slide over.
I also realized I wasn’t going to make it to the tree.
I kept reminding myself that it could be a 10-foot cliff, but I remembered seeing cliffs while riding the lifts last year. The ones I saw were not 10-foot cliffs. Jan may tell you that at this point I was curled up in the fetal position, my thumb in my mouth, crying for my mama. It’s not true.
I was trying to kick my skis off on a slope that was steeper than most I had been on. Out of the blue, a ski patrol officer was right up the hill after helping another skier. Jan flagged him down.
She later told me her exact words were, “My friend is mired in the snow down there. Could you help him?” Bless her heart, she can turn a phrase, can’t she?
The nice ski patrol man skied effortlessly down to me and asked how I was doing.
“I told my friends this was too steep for me, that it was beyond my ability,” I said.
His words still ring in my ears. “We are going to leave that for another time,” he said, calm as ever. “Right now we are going to get you off this cliff.”
I said OK and nothing else. He took off his skis, helped me kick mine off and showed me how to pull myself up the slope using the skis as an anchor. We made it to the top of the ice chute in less than 15 minutes. (Fifteen minutes to travel about 30 feet.)
Looking once again at the chute, I asked him how we were going to get down. He said there were a number of ways.
By now a helicopter was circling overhead. I hoped it wasn’t for me.
He informed us we could either ski down the slope, slide down on our backsides or he could tie a rope around my waist and lower me down using a tree as the top pulley. I knew that in certain areas the cliffs and ice chutes were visible from the chair lift and photos of my indignities could be posted online or, worse, sent to club members.
I decided to ski or slip down the slope. The ski patrol officer showed Jan and me how to use our poles as dragging anchors. After about another half-hour, we were down to an area we could ski comfortably. Yahoo! We thanked the ski patrol officer.
The helicopter circled once again, just as our walkie-talkie rang. The other three in our party wondered where we were. They were informed that Mike was all right and would be making it to the lodge soon, shaking but in good health.
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