The Kid

He’s just hanging.

“Bunch of hillbillies.” He said it with the type of sneer you would expect from that type of comment. He wore dark sunnies  and a race car hat, the ones with the numbers on it.
91.
I couldn’t help but suspect that many would tally his mark on the same chalkboard, but there is no way I would tell him that.

As far as “hillbillies” go, we city folk are deep behind enemy lines. High in the foothills of Canterbury, New Zealand, skiing a “resort” that was hand-built by men in permanent overalls. Pictures of women crushing rock hang proudly on the “lodge” walls. The lodge is a portable square box, where the snack shack doubles as the ticket office. The bathrooms are outhouses. Overall, Mt.Dobson possess a sort of beyond quaint aura that holds a sort of unbelievable magic, one that leaves you bewildered at the existence of this type of skiing experience. The view in every direction is quite literally “nothing” (or “everything” depending on your sense of seclusion), which only adds to the mystique. So, we puttered around, making lazy shapes on the sun baked snow, from between the arms of a long, fast t-bar and a short, slow lift.

Near the end of the day, the light started to fade, as an ominous haze started to creep over the mountains head.

The chair stopped.

Normally, I take no notice, at our home mountain we spend nearly as much time suspended on stopped lifts as we do snowboarding. Surely, I could handle the one and only delay in our lazy day. Maybe it was the cold air, making sound travel, but we started to hear shouting. The lift operator running from his shabby hut. “Oh my god.” Linz said, which she usually doesnt say, “there by the pole.” She points.

He was just cliff hanging from the lift. He looks like a teenager. My mind races for solutions, but there is nothing I can do. I feel like shouting but there’s nothing I can say. My eyes search for something. No pads on the lift poles. No way to mobilize the small crowd of onlookers. We’re just stuck, hanging five chairs from the mess.

His jacket is stuck to the chair, as is his board to his feet. He has a helmet on, but it is a long way. A really long way. Everyone has thought about it. What would it be like? Would I jump if I ever had to? How long would I wait, until I did? Eddie and I have shared a million different versions of this same conversation. Its wholly different to watch it unfold. Its sickening.

The lifty makes all the mistakes he can. Hes an older man, I can tell by his bushy eyebrows and limited range of profanity, of which I hear his best efforts. He leaves his station, yelling “hold on mate” until he gets below and realizes he cant actually do anything. Then he just stands and watches, like everyone else. The crowd, the man, the mountains are silent.

It seems like forever to reach that awful inevitable moment. He let go.

After the fall

I flashed back to creek jumping in Oregon. Time slowed. The girls closed their eyes. It seemed like he should have hit the ground a long time ago. He landed, I was surprised his legs didnt explode. No screams. The silence continued. He was conscious, and I felt sick. The lift started and we left as soon as we could.

It was obvious, the hillbillies where over their head. Their 80’s era sleds had trouble getting up the hill.  The last time I saw the kid he was strapped to a backboard. No helicopter.

“Typical.” Said #91.

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