Skiing and Fear on the Mountain

Well, we’ve just gotten back from 2 days at Copper Mountain which were largely just great.  This has been the first winter break where I haven’t been absolutely counting down the seconds where the kids went back to school. Overall, we had 4 days of skiing, my sister came out for a whole week, the kids basically made the pierogies this year for our Christmas Eve dinner and Santa made it by the house. My schedule has somehow allowed me to be off for almost all of 2 weeks, and since Eric is home on winter break also, it’s just been a lot of good family time. Not that there haven’t been a few moments where I think we were all a little sick of each other, have separated the kids, have created spurious reasons for early bedtimes, or have had tantrums (both kids and myself). But for the most part it’s just been really, really fun.

Skiing over the break was huge. The boy and the girl made huge leaps in their skiing this year-the girl went on her first lift and the boy is even skiing some blue runs!  One of the things we’ve been looking forward to is having them be able to ski with us and not have to be in lessons. Since I snowboard I can’t really help out with teaching them to ski, and Eric didn’t necessarily feel comfortable teaching them either. This last time, I agreed to pick up the boy early at 2pm to ski a run or two with him after lessons since he’d made so much progress.  So on Saturday, we picked him up at 2 and I went up a lift with him for a run.  Eric was going to wait at West Village for the girl to finish her lesson at 3pm, and the boy and I were going to ski over to Center village where our lodge was.

[A note: this is long. If you want the brief version, I couldn’t find the Boy and was panicky. Scroll down to the asterix break to find out what actually happened. Otherwise read on to share my two hours of terror.]

Now the boy likes to ski through the trees, which I find nerve wracking when I ride with him-one moment he’s there, then he’s not, then he pops out of some trees. So I’d asked him not to go through trees on our ride down. A note about the weather-it was cold. 15 degrees cold and dropping. We were both tired and getting chilled so agreed to just do the one run. We got off the lift and headed down the run to take us to Center Village, and then suddenly, he simply wasn’t there.  I thought he had maybe taken a little tree path, so followed it down, but didn’t see him at the end. I waited there, looked up and down the mountain and just…no child. At this point, I got worried that he had hit a tree or gotten stuck, so I unstrapped myself from my board and walked up the hill, but didn’t see anyone in the trees. I flagged down a ski instructor and told them what I was worried of-he skied the path and looked from below and assured me that there was no one in the trees.

This wasn’t really all that reassuring to me, as my big snowboarding fear is getting stuck in a tree well, low enough that rescuers can’t see you and getting hypothermic and suffocating to death. I hightailed it down the mountain to Center Village, looking for the boy the whole time and not seeing him. At this point, I was in almost full panic mode. I found someone who eventually directed me to Ski Patrol and I hoped that he was just sitting in the office, but he wasn’t there. I told the Patrol officers about what had happened, and expected them to say something like, “Oh we already have him,” but they didn’t. I was now in full panic mode.

As they called their units into action and reassured me that they had never lost anyone, I was frantically trying to call Eric, but cell service wasn’t working. I was able to text him and our friend, who was with him, about what was going on, and told him to wait there and have our friend take the girl back to the lodge. The Ski Patrol people asked me to walk around the base of Center Village, which is a large place if you’ve ever been to Copper Mountain. I walked around, into the restaurants that he’s been familiar with, and still no boy. I went back to the office and the Ski Patrol guy said we should re-ski the run we had been on, though part of me suspects that he did this to get me out of the office and feel like I was doing something. The temperature was dropping rapidly-someone in the ski patrol office commented that it was now 5 degrees outside. It was snowing and getting darker too, all of which made me more and more terrified.

At this point, Eric was over at West Village and waiting to hear something, but his phone had died. He called me from someone else’s phone, but I didn’t really have much to tell him. As we were taking the lift up to get back to the run, the ski patrol had the boy’s tag scanned-he had just gotten on the West Village lift at 3:17, which was now! Relief flooded over me, as at least he was alive. He must have taken a wrong turn, I reasoned, ended up at the wrong village, and gotten back on the lift to try again. As it turned out, the timing on the chip was off by an hour so my relief was unfounded, but I didn’t know it at the time. We hightailed it down to the top of the Union Creek lift and waited for him to get off, which he never did. Maybe we missed him again, the Ski Patrol guy reasoned, and we headed back down the original run. Somehow on the way down I lost the ski patrol person again.  By this point, my phone had died too. Usually I keep it in an interior pocket of my jacket but had just stuck it into a side pocket and it had frozen too cold to work. So now I had no way to reach Eric either.

I ran back into the office at Center Village near 4 pm, almost 2 hours since I saw the boy last. I started babbling how I’d lost my kid and now I’d lost the ski patrol person and honestly I don’t remember what else. The kind man there told me to hold on and said that the boy had been found-he was at our ski lodge and our friend had called it in. Sheer relief and happiness flooded over me. The man asked me what my name was, and it took me a full 10 seconds to remember my name. I’m not kidding here. He drove me back over to the lodge, where I found the boy calmly playing Plants vs. Zombies on a cell phone. He looked up at me and said, “Hi Mom!” and went back to playing.

*******

As he told us the story, what had happened was this, in his own words as much as possible: “So, I was skiing and then went into a little curve, but not in the trees, and then when I looked around Mom wasn’t there. So I skied down a little ways and waited, but didn’t see Mom. So I started to freak out a little, but then said to myself that I had to make a plan. I didn’t want to just stay on the mountain because of, well, strangers, and also because it was getting cold. So I made a plan to find anyone I knew. I skied down to Center Village, and followed the signs so I didn’t go to Union Creek. When I got to the bottom I still didn’t see Mom, so I looked at Center Village and saw Jack’s and the big snowpile that was next to our lodge and went there. I climbed the snowpile to get higher up and see if I could see anyone from higher up. I got into the lodge but didn’t have a card to get up to the room so waited for someone else to get in the elevator and then took it up to our floor and went to the room, but no one was there. So then I remembered that you had talked about going to use the hot tub at the fitness center, so I went outside and asked someone to show me where it was. I walked to the fitness center [note: this is about 1/4 mile away, across 2 streets, and he was still wearing ski boots] and asked them if they had seen you or our friends. They looked but didn’t find them. I told them my story and they said that if I couldn’t find my way home to come back. I walked back to the lodge and then remembered that there was a hot tub on the second floor, so took the elevator again and saw that it was still closed. As I was walking back to the elevator to just go back to our room and wait, I heard Sister’s voice downstairs. [Note: that floor is open to the ground floor below, so sound carries up] I said, ‘Sister?!’ and then Aunty said, “Boy, is that you?!” and they met me at the elevator and let me in!”

At this point, our friends called Ski Patrol to let them know he had been found, and our stories match up.

I cannot believe how composed the Boy was and how he was able to devise a plan for himself, find his way back to the lodge, walk 1/2 a mile around Copper looking for us, and really take care of himself. I was so impressed by his independence and resourcefulness, and am astonished that he didn’t simply start weeping at the side of the mountain. After it was all over I identified with the mom in “Home Alone,” where she was frantically trying to get to her son, who had it all under control. This experience made me feel like we are doing something right as parents. 🙂

I also cannot believe that he told the adults at the fitness center that he was a lost child and they simply sent him back out into the cold weather instead of calling Ski Patrol immediately. I am so grateful that my daughter never stops talking in the loudest voice possible so that the Boy heard her from a flight up and called back. Mostly I’m just so happy that the Boy is safe, alive, and back with us so we can all go on more skiing adventures.

But this time with a plan for what to do if we get separated.

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