Cold wind drove icy snow into our faces as the chairlift rose above the trees and carried us to the top of the Lake Louise Ski Hill. My husband, brother and I stumbled off the chair, slid down the slope to the map, and stared up at the lines and dots, searching for the green route off the top. My brother bounced his snowboard down the slope and waved his arm toward the cat track sloping away to the west. A few years ago, our uncle had nicknamed him “The Kamikaze Kid” for his snowboarding.
“Is it easy?” I hollered at him, but the wind carried my words away. I shrugged. We’d told him we hadn’t been downhill skiing in three years and he’d already been up and down the hill once while we got our rental gear, so surely he knew the easiest way down.
We dodged whizzing skiers and snowboarders and made our way along the narrow track, fighting our skis and squinting into the blowing snow. At the corner, my brother was waiting to warn us that there was a 20-foot drop and then it got easy. He disappeared over the edge.
I started looking for some way around that drop. Inching to the left, I managed to find a more gradual path and kept my balance as gravity pulled me down the hill. Flailing my ski poles while the snow caught first one ski and then the other, I finally pulled to a stop and looked around the hill. My brother had planted his snowboard below me and was watching us. I made my way over there and again asked about “easy way down.”
Minutes later, when we hit the moguls, I started wondering what on earth I was doing here. Dollar signs flashed through my head as I thought about what we’d paid to be here. We should have just stayed at home. I was too out of practice. Why had I thought this was fun anyway? I was freezing. Trying not to hit my bum or break a leg. I just wanted to be at the bottom of the hill again.
By the time we made it to the bottom of the hill, I’d found small spurts of confidence as parts of the hill were easier than others. We skied up to the chair lift—now without a lineup, since everyone who’d arrived at the same time as us had scattered over the runs and chairs at Lake Louise—and rode back to the middle of the mountain. There we assessed the map again, talked to someone, choose a green route off the top, and made sure we followed the signs when we got there.
When we hit one wide, powder hill with no one else on it, I pointed my skis downhill and let myself fly. “Don’t fight the hill—work with the snow,” I muttered to myself as wind whistled past my ears. My whole body shifted, twisted, balanced, moved as I felt the snow beneath the edges of my skis, turning into the puffs of powder, sliding over the icier sections of the hill and arriving at the bottom in time to look up and watch my husband come down.
We lost my brother on that run—he dropped into a black diamond bowl while we made our way around on the green run—and took another trip down that same run before stopping at the restaurant to warm up and get a bite to eat. Then we tried another side of the hill, where the mountain sheltered us from the wind and few other people were skiing. I began going as fast as the snow would allow.
On one run, I had to stop several times to admire the mountains and valleys around us. When the sun came out from behind the clouds, I stopped under a big pine tree to admire the view and say, “Thank you, God, for this beauty and for the chance to be here seeing it.”
Towards the end of the afternoon, my husband and brother had finished and I wanted one more run down. I took the gondola up to the top and came down the long green run, dodging past other skiers and trying to keep my record of not wiping out in a day of skiing.
I thought about how it’s easy to forget the cold of the wind in your face, the parts of the hill that made you wonder if you’ll make it down alive, even the pain of crashing into the hill. What I remember about skiing is the speed of the ride down, the challenge of reading the snow and picking the right route down the hill, and the thrill of reaching the bottom after a fast run.