Frigid air whipping my face and knees bending as close to each other as they could, I murmured prayers to myself the entire ride down. Entire cliff faces surrounded me, and I was painfully aware of more experienced people whizzing by me, only a half foot away. Ice accrued on my glasses as the tears on my face began solidifying. If there was ever a time I came the closest to dying, it was accidentally skiing a black diamond at the Sugar Mountain Ski Resort.
I was sixteen years old and on a weekend getaway with my church’s youth group. My youth pastor embarked on the journey that was corralling seventeen teenagers throughout the entirety of the trip. The itinerary was simple enough: we’d leave on a Friday night, ski all of Saturday, and leave the following Sunday. At that age, I was just beginning to dip my toe into the pool of spontaneous adventuring, so I was ecstatic to get the opportunity to go skiing. To prepare for my getaway, I googled all the terms the professionals knew, like “pizza slice” and “ski lift.” Having lived in North Carolina my entire life, I didn’t own a snowsuit, but luckily there’s even businesses that specialize in snowsuit rentals. This was one of the few trips in my teenage years I didn’t overpack for because I read skiers pack only the bare necessities: layers. I planned ahead, estimating I would need five to six layers. Bags packed that Friday night, I knew I was ready to face the slopes.
The beginning of the trip passed quickly with my youth group singing through the entire “Ninety-nine Bottles of Pop on the Wall” song and tormenting the unfortunate souls that dared doze off during the bus ride. We ate dinner and made it to a cramped cabin only a mile away from the ski resort. I remember barely being able to sleep that night, anticipating the chill and chaos of the next day.
Despite my inherent night-owl nature, I was the first person awake the next morning.
“Get up, everybody!” I shouted, running to everyone’s bed like it was Christmas Day. I treated that day almost like Christmas, running from bed to bed, asking my friends and peers to get up! Within the next hour we departed and moved onward to the first feat of the day: surviving the wait lines. The equipment rental line weaved around trees and buildings, next to kids putting on their skis and shivering couples who hadn’t worn enough layers. I bounced into the line, eager to people-watch until we got inside the rental building. That enthusiasm only lasted fifteen minutes before I began to lose feeling in my toes and had run out of small talk to bring up with my group. It felt as if time passed so slowly that hour that I blinked and breathed and spoke in slow motion.
Finally, after eons, we made it to the help desk and filled out the necessary rental paperwork. Only thirty minutes later, I was ambling out onto the slopes, questioning if I should brave the kiddie slopes or stay on the flat strip that was somehow a step below the kiddie slopes. I think the anticipation fueled my bravery, so I waddled to the kiddie slope lift. To my surprise, not falling over wasn’t as hard as expected; it was stopping that was the problem. I definitely plowed over multiple children that day[CM3] . Yet, I persisted, thoroughly enjoying each time I used the escalator that carried me back up to the top of the slopes after each run.
After multiple runs on the kiddie slope without falling over, I knew I was ready to brace a much larger beast: the bunny slope. The ski lift to the bunny slope lasted about two minutes, and there was a particular detail about this ski lift that made it much more daunting than the escalator. I could see up ahead, where skiers were to get off the lift, a steep mound of snow. If skiers didn’t get off of the lift at that exact point, they’d either have to fall to the snow or be carried into a shadowy cabin void where the ski lift chairs got circled back again. And, of course, if you hesitated on the snow mound while getting off the ski lift, you’d get kicked in the back by the next skier trying to descend. Bracing myself, I gritted my teeth and leaped off when my time came and immediately skied forward a few feet just to fall over onto my side seconds after. Despite my embarrassment, I awkwardly stood back up like a fawn trying to find its footing after birth. Surprisingly, after that fall, I skied for the next three hours relatively fall free, to the point where I felt confident upgrading to another slope. A wiser version of myself would’ve looked for a resort map to double check where the next bunny slope was. However, I acted off instinct and set my ambition on the ski lift directly to the left of the bunny slopes. After all, who would set a professional-level slope directly next to an amateur slope?
Heart pounding like a bass drum, I moved over to the ski lift, impressed by the significantly larger and well-maintained awning over the lift. I sat down, expecting only a two- or three-minute slope ride until my next conquest. The first minute went by without any anxiety, the second with anticipation. After the third, though, I became skittish. Why would this ski lift take amateurs so high up the mountain? Nerves prevented me from saying anything for another two minutes, until I mustered up the strength to ask the teenagers next to me what ski lift we were on. I poked the girl next to me and asked, “Hey, where is this ski lift taking me?”
She responded, “Shoot, you didn’t check first? This is taking us to one of the hardest black diamonds in the entire resort. That’s why the ride is so long.”
I audibly gulped. I had only been skiing a grand total of six hours, and I had heard one too many horror stories of unqualified skiers tackling black diamonds. Like a frightened teenager, one of my first thoughts gravitated toward home. What would my mother say when they found my icicled body on a mountainside?
The girl and her friends to my left could sense my unease and asked what level skier I was. I responded this was my first day ever skiing, and their widened eyes following my response didn’t put me at ease. The guy on the far left, with bloodshot eyes and unsteady hands, offered me a container, asking if I wanted a drink that would “take the edge off.” I nearly laughed; why would I want something intoxicating when I wasn’t sure I could even make it down this hill in a sound state of mind? His question led to a natural segue into my testimony as a Christian, and to my shock, all the teenagers were receptive. I even struck up a conversation with the girl next to me about my poetry and what literature she preferred reading. Nevertheless, the small talk didn’t put me any more at ease.
Five minutes later, the top of the ski lift approached. I could barely see what was ahead of me, as the wind only grew more and more nefarious the higher we climbed the mountain. The girl to my left slapped my leg, wishing me good luck, and her posse whizzed away, leaving me in the dust. Legs shaking and bending almost as if they were bendy straws, I lifted up a prayer to God, asking Him to guard my safety and imploring for peace. I decided the safest way to navigate down the mountain was to brake the entirety of the ride, to go as slow as possible so I could be aware of my surroundings. I even contemplated just sliding down the mountain on my behind, the safest but most intolerable and chilling option. Eventually, I began sliding down the mountain, already going faster than I was comfortable with. Tears I let loose began to mingle with my sweat, yet I was making good progress down the mountain.
With no idea of how long this slope was, I couldn’t efficiently gauge how far down the mountain I was. I think about halfway down, though, is when I chose to wipe-out to avoid flying off the side of the mountain. I couldn’t control my speed or my direction at that point, so the wisest way to brake was simply by making myself fall. But when I did this, my glasses fell off my face and to my right while my left ski popped off and flew to my left a couple inches away. Frantically, I looked from my ski to my glasses, questioning which was more important for my survival. Sight trumped mobility, so I crawled to grab my glasses, only to have a skier ski only maybe two inches away from my glasses and my hand. I yelped and thanked God that the skier hadn’t ran over both.
With my glasses back on, I was able to grab my ski rather easily, but had a difficult time putting my left ski back on without sliding down the mountain. After a five-minute ordeal I was embarrassed to think anyone could notice while skiing down the slope, I regained both of my extended sled feet and continued moving. The only response I had at this point on the slope was to laugh at myself instead of crying. Certain I looked like a madman laughing and shaking while “pizza-slicing” the whole way down the slope, I realized I was partially enjoying this experience. This was going to be a much better story I could deliver to my friends on Monday than I expected to have. Five minutes later, still panting, I made it to the end of the slope, almost skiing right into the wooden guardrail that skiers were meant to brake at. Honestly, I would’ve been relieved to slam into the wood and to feel any other material that wasn’t snow.
Feet away from me, I saw my youth pastor about to head into the dinner lodge. I called his name, and he asked, “Damaris! Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you. Couldn’t resist the call of the slopes, huh?”
I turned back to look at the mountain I was fortunate to have made it down. “Sure, Pastor. That’s one way to put it. Man, do I have a story for you.”
The rest of the night was spent around a dinner table, enjoying fellowship and rehashing my adventure countless times. The more I told the story, the more I was able to be thankful for God’s providence. Needless to say, I had some comments to make to the staff at the resort about their layout. But to this day that ski trip is one of the funniest stories I can tell people, and, weirdly enough, I’m still looking forward to the next time I get to go skiing. It wasn’t such a negative experience after all; turns out brushes with death can be rather enjoyable.