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Every February, I go skiing, and every February, I get worse. I’m that one girl in every group of friends who routinely loses her poles and takes entertaining tumbles for all to see. This year would be no different. As I stepped outside of the cabin, a crisp, biting cold kissed my cheeks and I instinctively slid my fingers deeper into my gloves. I turned and looked up at the smooth, snow-frosted slopes that awaited me. How could I have known that the beautiful slopes I was admiring were the same ones that wanted me dead?
Jessica Thatcher has been my best friend since kindergarten. With our long brown hair and shared passion for soccer, dancing, and desserts, it is not unusual for people to mistake us for sisters. One of the reasons why we get along so well is because we turn everything we do into a game. We both love to laugh and make the best of whatever we’re doing, so we always end up changing a simple activity into a friendly competition. Skiing was no exception. Although she is far more advanced on the slopes than I am, my pride wouldn’t let me admit that I couldn’t keep up with her. When she headed for the double black diamond for our first run of the day, I slid on my goggles with false courage, as if they were a mask that was hiding my fear. I shouted a playful, “Bring it on!” as I shoved off the mountain. It was all downhill from there.
It happened in an instant. One minute she was tearing down the run just a few feet ahead of me, and the next thing I knew, she was gone. I wasn’t about to give up on winning the race; I sacrificed control and pulled my skis together so that they lined up parallel to one another. I quickly began to pick up speed.
Now, most people are capable of skiing with their skis in “French fry” fashion after a few years of practice. I am a different story. My friends continue to invite me on ski trips because I tend to provide moments suitable for America’s Funniest Home Videos. Every year I accept their invitations, determined to prove to them that I can get better. I have yet to improve, and I have yet to prove them wrong.
Is pride a friend or a foe? Pride can keep me from failing a test. It can keep me from falling behind in a race. It can also keep me from using common sense. People in our society are bred to want to be the best. From the moment we can begin to understand words, we are programmed with a need to succeed. We have a strong to desire to show that we can conquer challenges and we refuse to let danger or fear stand in our way. But pushing ourselves to do things that we know we are incapable of doing just to show that we are brave is not always a healthy choice. I was about to learn this lesson firsthand.
My legs locked. I felt my body begin to bounce along the mountain’s curves uncontrollably. I was moving way too quickly to have any chance of stopping or even gradually slowing down. The courage that was telling me I’d be okay just moments ago had suddenly melted into a pool of sheer terror, and I was drowning in it. There was only one way that this could end, and I knew that it wouldn’t be pretty. I was flying so fast that I don’t remember what I was thinking, if I was even thinking anything at all. If there was a moment in my fifteen years that my life should have been flashing before my eyes, that was surely it. It was over. I knew I was going to die.
The fact that I’m sitting here writing this today clearly ruins the suspense: it is obvious that I survived and I’m here to tell the tale. I didn’t die, but I did crash. As I swept down the mountain at superhuman speeds, I soared through the air every time I rolled over a mound of snow. Completely out of control, I was heading straight for an enormous tree, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Regardless of the fact that I was wearing a helmet, a collision with a tree at this speed would mean me blacking out, alone, in the snow. I dropped my poles about ten feet before the moment of impact and put my forearms out in a shielding manner to prevent my body from hitting the tree straight on. All of the sudden, I felt myself sinking. Before I hit the tree, I dropped about 6 feet down into a hole of melted snow around the tree trunk. My skis were stuck into the ground vertically, and luckily my boots had snapped out of the binding like they were supposed to. I was pressed against the tree around 5 feet below the surface of the snow. I was paralyzed from both fear and the cold, I was in heavy boots, and I was by myself.
On vacations with my mom, it’s a well-known rule: be up before the sun rises in order to be the very first people at whatever place we’re going. When we’re at Disneyland, this is a good thing. We enjoy about seven rides without any wait before most people even open their eyes and eat breakfast. When we’re skiing, riding the smooth, untouched snow before anyone else, it’s usually a blessing. On that day in February, it was a curse. There was absolutely no one coming down that run that I was trapped on. I waited about five minutes in the snow, and when no one came, I knew it was time to take action.
I began popping open the locks on my boots and slid my feet out of the size 8 burdens. I knew that this was risky; exposing your feet to the merciless mountain air with only a thin layer of wool to cover them is not a good idea. I also knew that there was no way that I could get out of the hole with the weight of the boots holding me down, so I took them off and hoped for the best. Once the boots were off, adrenaline took the lead. I tossed the boots up onto the surface of the snow one by one, then wedged myself between the tree and the snow and scooted my way up. I was free. I shoved my boots back on with a sense of urgency and grabbed my skis from the hole. I popped them on and slowly let myself inch down the mountain to safety.
Although my entire body was numb, there was a warm feeling that flickered through me when I realized that I would be alright. I slid down the slope, knees bent with my back end sliding across the sleek snow. I was not going to risk losing control again. When I finally reached the lodge and walked up to my table, I was welcomed back by a clumsy hug from my sobbing mother. My friends bombarded me with questions: “What happened?!” “Are you okay?” “Where were you? You scared us to death!” I answered the questions in a brief fashion and quietly asked to just go home. Although I refused to let it get to me in that moment on the mountain, I was mentally shaken from the experience. I didn’t return to the slopes all weekend, or at all for the rest of the year.
There’s something absolutely terrifying about being alone. On that cold day in February, I knew I had to stay focused on getting out because I only had myself to depend on. It’s a simple fact: people need people. As humans, we depend on our family and friends to love and support us. One of the most universal fears that we share is the fear of being alone. The fear of being alone on a Friday night when the rest of the world is being held by their loved one after a hard week. The fear of being alone as we reflect on our lives and take in our last breath. The fear of being alone when we’re trapped on a ski slope and there’s no one around to help. While the thought of only having ourselves to count on is a scary one, I learned something from being by myself out there in the snow. I really could do things that I didn’t think I was capable of doing. Maybe it wasn’t the things I planned to accomplish (like making it down an entire run without a disastrous crash), but I pulled myself up out of a deep hole and got down a double black diamond without dying! Barely, sure, but I can still tell my grandkids that I did it. Besides gaining knowledge about my strength as an individual, I also picked up another little pearl of wisdom on the bumpy descent: leave the double black diamonds to the skiers who can actually ski. After that experience, the bunny slopes never looked better.