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The buses loaded, as the anxious skiers embarked on their journey that would forever alter their lives. The destination was a white paradise known as Telluride, Colorado, which was an escape from the dry, dead, and lifeless landscape of Arizona. The journey would take 8 hours but the storm that awaited them in the San Juan Mountains would stay with them for a lifetime. The ominous clouds rolled over the famous mining town of Telluride creating “The Perfect Storm” for skiing conditions. As each sun drenched Arizonan unloaded in the bone chilling weather they anticipated for themselves one of, if not the best weekend, of their skiing lives.
Snow fell all throughout the dark of the night, yet strangely it was a luminous night, created by the beautiful bright white blanket covering the picturesque ski area. The mountains guests appreciated the sparkly soft layer of powder that coveted their playground. Trudging through the thick snow the out of breath skiers could not overlook the spectacular San Juan Mountains. They gazed in amazement at the winter wonderland that lay before them. The dark green pine trees that stood tall and proud were no longer visible, now bearing the weight of every single unique snowflake it could balance on there limbs. The desert dwellers boarded the areas antiqued and out dated chair lifts to be slowly lifted up past the clouds into what appeared to be heaven. The sight was unbelievable for most, and the body’s only answer was to push forward and spiral down the runway of white silk that lay in front of them. Some had the urge to dive bomb the mountain and launch full speed ahead as they put an immediate stop to their “Halcyon Days”. Others were terrified by the steep decent of the ski runs and decided to conquer the mountain meticulously, making one turn at a time. The assortment of runs left the skiers mind boggled as to which run they wanted to defeat next. The day drug on and the now hidden sun, fell into the valley’s immense mountain range. Like cars exiting a freeway skiers poured off the mountain, exhausted, most in pain from the long day of challenging play. An exciting awareness resonates with every skier; they have two more full days of this exhilarating freedom in paradise. As they sluggishly tromp back to their separate rooms their only desire is to peel the heavy layers of soaking wet clothes off. A warm fireplace to collapse in front of is the perfect end to the perfect day. The burning logs popped with bright red-hot embers warming the occupants of the lodge, but the glowing light would slowly fade. The exhausted skiers melted into their beds and fell into a deep sleep, but the morning’s routine would begin sooner than their bodies are ready to perform.
The second day was adrenaline filled but what most of the skiers were buzzing about was the looming storm front that could dump more of the desirable white stuff. The most anticipated day was the last because the dark rumbling clouds that rolled in had dumped what appeared to be endless amounts of snow on the already heavily white-capped peaks. The skiers were in disbelief; their final day had four feet of powder, which was a remarkable snowfall. The more serious skier realized that this was their final day in skier’s paradise and they had the intention of taking advantage of every last moment. They all clamored with joy for they knew this would be a day to remember and the slopes were jammed once again with adrenaline junkies and speed demons. The white fluffy snow was beaten and flattened by the numerous skis and snowboards but the snowfall kept pace and started to collect. The snow was getting thick like hot tar and they could no longer dive bomb the mountain like the days prior. Mid-day had brought the sad reality to all the thrill seeking minds of the Arizona group, their trip was complete. What these memory filled vacationers did not know was the sad end to their exciting weekend would not be the only emotion filling their minds that day. They reluctantly wondered back to their lodges and for the last time stripped the layers of clothes off, packed their bags, because it was time to return to reality.
The long trek home was inevitable and like it or not it was happening. The vacationers listened to music pumped through their headphones, while others relived their weekend adventures on the mountain; all while a movie played on the monitors as the bus seamlessly navigated the roadway. Bursts of fading laughter were heard from the back of the bus, but as the night stretched on, heavy eyelids prevailed over its occupants. Seemingly peaceful rest instantly turned to horror. Every man, woman, and child was awakened by one jerk of their body and their ears ringing from the loud shrieks as the charter bus slammed into the guardrail. The occupants confused and scared desperate for an answer glared down the aisle and could only watch in terror. The bus carelessly and violently left the smooth black asphalt rolling down the embankment taking a barbed wire fence with it into the lonely dark but beautiful red desert. The bus was contorted and twisted, forcing the roof off, leaving the skier’s no barrier of protection. The passengers were catapulted out of their seats and onto the barren desert floor of Utah. Most were knocked unconscious unaware of what had happened, the pitch-black desert was the only witness to the screams and cries for help. They were hurt and stranded alone in the desolate desert. The emergency response teams were daunted by the distance between them and their victims, who so desperately awaited their arrival. They had an albatross around their necks and they had to suffer along side the victims. This nightmare appeared to have no end for those suffering. After 6 torturous and frightening hours the emergency teams had rendered help to 24 trauma victims, 17 broken backs and 9 dead, this nightmare was only beginning.
The most critical were evacuated from the horrific scene and rushed to the nearest hospital more than 80 miles away but felt like hundreds of miles to the injured. Families were separated and children were left screaming for their parents but their cries went unanswered. Devastation had hit every single one of these passengers. Loved ones were lost, but the shock and reality had not yet been given the time necessary to set in. The gruesome sights and memories of a bus torn to shreds, along with the bodies that occupied its seats is a memory these skiers are sure to never forget. For some this tragedy was a “Pyrrhic Victory” and for others a “Catch 22.” Each passenger now understood the meaning of, “all great things must come to an end, but memories, pain and heartache will last forever.”



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