I suppose there are worse ways to spend your 50th birthday than waiting for ski patrol to locate you on a barren mountaintop at 11,000 feet above sea level. It isn’t the first time I veered off path, neglected to read the map, took a leap of faith. But this time, the results of my inability to plan ahead could have dire consequences.
The Colorado sun is quickly melting snow around me. I jab my poles in just below my feet to break what would surely be a hard fall down a steep slope. Precariously pitched in uncharted ski territory, I dig in my pocket for my cell phone and dial 911. The operator patches me into Keystone Ski Patrol.
“I’m stuck below Gondola 13. Can you send someone to get me?”
"Don't worry. We’ll have someone there any minute,” the dispatcher assures me.
I zip the phone back into my pocket and hope my rescuer won't ask me how I got here. I'd have to tell him the embarrassing truth.
After veering off “Mouse Trap,” a treacherous, way-beyond-my-skills black diamond run, I thought I could ski down the mountain by following underneath the gondola path — at least there'd be civilization above me (funny how snow distorts one's perception). About a quarter of the way down my pure powder path, I came upon an unexpected vista. I'm now at the ledge of a steep valley, a forest below me that divides the gondola's path to the bottom of the mountain. As far as I can see, there is no way down, and there is certainly no way back up.
I sit down, unsnap my skis, and dig in.
# # #
My roommate Alicia found the big green binder in Career Services and dropped it with a thud on the table in front of us.
"Here it is, The 1980 Job Resource Guide," she said.
"I guess we should be happy that it's huge."
We sat under fluorescent lights and paged through the multiple job listings.
It was May of our senior year at Mundelein College in Chicago. Alicia was a psychology major with no plans to enter her chosen field, and I was a humanities major by default. Refusing to declare a major until the junior-year deadline, I simply kept signing up for classes that I thought would be interesting: Federico Fellini Film Study, Russian Literature, Music: In Search of Self. We were graduating in a month and up until now had made no attempts to secure a job after graduation.
Slouched over the desk, we paged through the book unenthusiastically until a small ad caught my eye.
Summer help needed. Keystone Resort — Rocky Mountains.
"Can you imagine?" I said, sitting up straight.
A sly smile appeared on Alicia’s face.
"There's plenty of time to work on those real jobs later, right?” she said. ”I mean, it's just for the summer."
For the next few days, we talked about Colorado in the cafeteria, in our apartment, in the neighborhood bar with friends. Another college friend, Evelyn, found the idea irresistible, too, and soon we had booked three tickets on Amtrak to Denver, leaving on Father's Day, one week after graduation.
# # #
I skied often as a child on family vacations, but as an adult, I lacked the money and time. My rusty style was apparent from day one on this vacation when I tumbled over my own ski pole disembarking from the lift. But my age-related clumsiness would not stop me from falling into a childhood habit of risk-taking on the slopes.
Now, as I sit under Gondola 13, I marvel at my sheer stupidity. Aren't you supposed to have a little more common sense at my age? I stick my gloves in my pocket and lift my hood up so I can rest my head in the melting snow. I don't dare stand up for fear I'll lose my balance and tumble forward into the deep abyss in front of me.
Two eagles soar by in a cloudless blue sky. I close my eyes and imagine the laughs my mishap will incur at my birthday party tonight. Alicia has booked a horse-drawn sleigh ride for our six boys and our husbands to a mountain cabin for a "cowboy dinner" and square dancing. It's not something I want to miss.
I sit up and look for signs of ski patrol.
# # #