Once upon a time (as all important stories begin), a little girl stood on a ridge line high above the tree line. She was 13 years old, and she was terrified.
“I’m not going,” she said. “We should turn around,” she said.
“No way,” her eldest brother said.
“Just a little farther,” her father said.
The little girl tried every excuse in the book, anything except admitting that something about walking along the ridgeline made her feel dizzy and sick. On either side, the drop seemed impossibly sheer, the rocks impossibly dark and sinister against the beautiful, powdery white. (She realizes almost ten years later that she is afraid of heights.)
Her brother took her skis. Her father prodded her along, offering words of encouragement and promises and threats. She knows that they don’t know anything about avalanche danger, but she knows, too, that arguing this fact is useless and doesn’t want to think of it anyway.
To her, it feels like an hour before her little troop catches up with another group. First, two men carrying two pairs of wide powder skis and one sit-ski. They take turns carrying the heavier equipment. The men smile, laugh, and wave the little girl ahead. “We’ll catch up,” they say, as if this meeting was planned
The lump in the girl’s throat sinks into a pit of dread in her stomach. Shame starts coloring her face before they even get to the third man. Moving along the path in front of his friends was Jim. His legs stopped at his knees, but he navigated along the narrow path with the ease of familiarity. He looks up and says hello cheerfully.
The girl considers flinging herself off the edge of the next cliff in humiliation.
Unlike so many locals, Jim and his friends welcomed the three outsiders into their group. Their smiles were large and genuine and without hesitation they invited the little group to join them.
She stood there feeling like an idiot (because, obviously, the little girl was me). She spent the entire hike psyching herself out and making her brother and father miserable, and yet here was someone with a physical impediment who had made the very same climb with a smile on his face. She was thoroughly ashamed.
She stuck close to the locals, in complete awe. When they dropped over the cornice, She followed without question and landed her first 10 footer completely by accident. (“Oh, it’s just a little drop,” her father said. Her father is a liar.)
That run is seared into her memory as the best run she’s ever taken. Almost a foot of fresh snow had fallen overnight and even my straight east-coast skis floated through the fluff like a dream. She followed the white clouds kicked up by the locals, delirious with the feeling of flying through powder snow.
Several in-bounds runs later, maybe after a bathroom break, she was walking to catch up with her family. A snowboarder with long, straggly blond hair held out a hand to stop her. a”Excuse me,” he said, “Were you the girl on Silver King?”
It took her a confused moment to answer. He wasn’t one of the locals we skied with, and she hadn’t seen anyone else on that part of the mountain. “Um. Yes?” she mumbled, already trying to move on.
“That’s awesome,” he said.
She felt a jumbled mix of shame and pride, a strange combination of sensations that is as seared into her memory as the heavenly run itself.
I’ve tried to write this post so many times. I’ve started, and stopped, and put it away. Sometimes I saved the draft. Sometimes I deleted it immediately. While I’ve told this story countless times, but for some reason it’s difficult for me to place it in written words. Part of this is because I still feel that uncomfortable mix of emotions. I hardly deserved the praise. But I was a 13 year old from Massachusetts, a long ways away from big mountains and powder days in the double digits.
That day marked a turning point for me, as if that day I became The Girl on Silver King. Three years later when I hiked Tuckerman Ravine for the first time, I insisted on carrying all of my own gear, although that same brother offered to help. I also made sure that I carried my share of water, wine and food. I learned my lesson.
It’s crazy to think that I’m already double the age I was on that peak. I still think of myself (with pride) as The Girl on Silver King.
Silver King is adjacent to Crystal Mountain. I do not recommend or condone out-of-bounds skiing for those without avalanche training. Mountains are big. Always tread lightly around things that are bigger than you.