Chapter 1: Headwall

We crested the final pitch of the fast lift ride to the top of the resort. As a single rider, I enjoyed the silent ride, with my three lift companions chatting readily to each other in French, I’m sure. I hadn’t spoken much of it since high school, but I managed to pick a few words from the linguistic staccato of their conversation.

I skated quickly to the start of what would be my last run of the day. The snow was firm with patches of untouched corduroy, since it was still early by the standards of the masses. I like to get my turns in before lift lines get too crazy. I do some of my best thinking when I’m out in nature. In the springtime, it’s walks in the woods while the trees bud out and flowers bloom. In summer, running shirtless along the canal path. Fall brings the chance to get out on long, meandering bike rides. But winter? Oh, sweet winter brings skiing to me like a drug. I chase that elusive high with each subsequent run, hoping each one will be better than the last. There are some days, like today, where that is quite true. Grippy snow, a cloudless sky and sharp edges on my slalom skis put an instant smile on my face.

I gathered some speed as the slope steepened, carving tightly left and right, enjoying the lack of direction sometimes dictated by meandering novice skiers in my path. The great “mind eraser”, I termed this moment. Can’t think about work. Can’t think about relationship drama. Can’t think about tax preparation. Just pure adrenaline and joy.

It hadn’t been the easiest year, so having my mind erased was the perfect medicine. I did my best to shake off the depression I sunk into after Maribel left me, and lost myself quite readily in my work. Not that work was a happy place, either, but it was a constant companion that only I could leave, as she would never leave me. I had seen to that, by making myself indispensable. Arise, commute, work, commute, work some more, then sleep. Repeat. I lost myself in routine, trying my best to forget about the mistakes of the past. And then the weekend came, where my skis were my companion. My drug. My release.

There are many cases where you can lose yourself in thought with little consequence. Bored at a meeting? Doodle. Stuck in traffic? Daydream about real estate in Aspen. Enduring an endless conversation with a colleague? Think about lunch. But while I was flying down this hill, this sport I called a mind eraser didn’t quite do its job. My thoughts drifted back to Maribel. What had I done wrong? Why did it have to end so badly? And that’s when I skipped over an obscured chunk of ice left behind by last night’s groomer, lying in wait for my inside ski to impact it and knock me off center. It didn’t help that this chunk of ice had rested just above a steep drop: the headwall. I careened to my left as my inside ski lost its connection to the ground. I tried to compensate by attempting to lift my body from its angular posture, but there was no recovery. I felt my skis disconnect from my boots, per design, and I cartwheeled down the pitch. Time slowed. My head bounced around like a rag doll. I closed my eyes and waited out the relentless grip that gravity had on my body. As I reached the trough at the bottom of the hill, I lay motionless, staring up at that deep, blue sky.

Voices in the distance shouted at me, but the words were a blur. From the lift? Unsure. I blinked heavily, focusing on something close to my face. It was the season pass I had strapped around my calf with an elastic band. Except it was so close to my face. How would that be possible? I saw my unassuming smile in my pass photo. Below it, I made out my name, Chandler Stidwell, with the suffix, “Executive Passholder.” These words blurred as I read them, my consciousness waning. I glanced skyward again, the sky a darker blue, with some small clouds floating into my field of vision.

Dark blue turned slowly to black, and then … then there was nothing.


This story is part of a series of stories I’m writing as part of a commitment to sketch each day of 2016. My #365daydraw project yields an image each month, by popular choice, to serve as inspiration for each chapter.
Read more about my #365daydraw challenge