I was just at a meeting where we were asked to tell about the scariest thing that ever happened to us. My story was a skiing trip to Crested Butte in Colorado.
Until today I had never been above nine thousand feet except in an airplane. At that altitude, flatlanders like me become exhausted quickly with just a little activity. I arrived at Crested Butte ski lodge where the base is at nine thousand feet and the runs go up from there.
I put my boots on, picked up my skis and walked across the parking lot toward the lifts. By the time I reached the lift, about fifty yards from where I started, I had to stop and catch my breath. As I stood there gasping for air, I looked up at the lifts. There were two of them that went straight up the steep slope in front of me and then disappeared behind the crest. This initial slope was bigger than any ski hill in Minnesota!
I was there with two of my sons who also had never been at any serious elevation. We carefully studied the map of the runs and selected the easiest one we could reach for our first mountain ski run. The lift took us over the edge of the first slope and then seemed to stretch on to infinity. Finally, about fifty miles later, we got off of the lift.
All three of us stood in awe of the amazing scenery stretching out for miles in every direction. Of course, we were also standing there because we couldn’t get enough air. After a minute or two we started gingerly down the run. It was long and uneventful which was just what we needed.
We did a couple more runs before we decided we better stop for lunch. The elevation was really taking a toll on us. While we were eating, the man I was supposed to be meeting there arrived. We sat and chatted for a while and then he suggested we go out for another run. I told him I was too tired but he insisted and eventually I gave in.
We took the lift up again but this time he led us to a more difficult run. Not a black diamond, but at Crested Butte, the blue runs are more difficult than black diamonds at many other ski hills. I knew this was not a good idea but I thought I could do one more run.
The first hundred feet or so was very flat, almost like a bunny hill leading us away from the lift. Then suddenly the earth fell away. I went over the edge and in the first two seconds I realized that I was out of control. I had no strength left in my legs and I wasn’t thinking quickly enough to just sit down. In an instant I was rocketing down the slope like a runaway missile. I shot past both of my boys who had taken a more aggressive start and had been well ahead of me.
Trees and house sized boulders shot past me faster every second. My focus narrowed down until I saw nothing but a tunnel poiinting straight down the side of the mountain. I would have been praying at this point but my brain couldn’t form words.
The run had just a few gentle curves and, even with my tunnel vision, I saw them and managed to make the turns, but just barely. Then I saw the world drop away. It looked like I was going to shoot out over a cliff and and be mashed onto some rock pile far below.
I flew out over the headwall, airborne and terrified. Far below me I could see the bottom of the lift and a line of people directly in my path.
Now I was going about ninety miles an hour faster than I could manage and my skis were not touching the ground. I was certainly going to be killed and I would take two or three others with me. Half way down the hill my skis touched the ground again. With the last bit of strength left in my body I managed to turn just enough to shoot past the end of the line of skiers and slam into a gigantic snow pile.
Thanking God for that last second blessing, I crawled out of the snow. The people in the line were applauding my less than graceful performance and laughing uproariously. Two hours later my heart rate returned to normal; I was going to survive!