My stomach sank to my toes as my eyes adjusted to the steepness of the snowy mountainside. Sitting in a snow mound, I kept glancing back and forth from the inevitable fall below and the powdery ledge above from which I had just come.
"This isn't right," I kept repeating in a panic to Micah, who was waiting several feet below. "This can't be right."
It was our first day of skiing in Jackson Hole. Neither of us had really skied before, but after dominating all of the five-year-olds on the bunny hills, we felt confident we were ready for the real slopes.
Micah had a paper map in hand, and on the ski lift he pointed out the different courses: a green course for beginners, which winds leisurely from one side of the mountain to the other; a blue course that is intermediate level with steeper slopes; and a black diamond course, which is advanced and shoots straight and fast down the mountainside. Micah traced the green course with his index finger, and we agreed to remain on that path.
The first stretch of the green course proved to be just as simple as I had expected--no more steep than the bunny hills, actually--and our confidence grew as we steadily followed a man wobbling about in his skis. All felt easy until we came to a turning point. The man we had been following continued straight on and disappeared over a ledge. We could either keep going straight as the man we had been following did, or we could make a sudden sharp right turn. I expected the slopes to be clearly marked, but there were no real indicators as to which way to proceed for the green course.
"C'mon, Holly. We need to go this way, " Micah gestured toward the ledge.
"How steep is that drop off?" I cautioned more than questioned.
"This is it. Let's go," he said. And with that, he disappeared.
I quickly followed, and as soon as my skis dropped to the other side, I knew it was a mistake. I was at once out of control, flying down the mountain at a speed in which I could not stop. I managed to shift my skis to the left, steering myself into a snowy mound. Wrecked safely on my side, I sat up and began trying to work out my options: either I try to ski down this, or I take off my skis and scoot down this mountain on my backside.
"Micah, I can't do this! It's too steep!"
Micah spent quite a bit of time snowboarding during college, but he was just as inexperienced on skis as I. Trying to calm me down, he explained how we would have to slowly move laterally down the mountain.
"I'll stay in front so you can crash into me."
"I can't do this!" I continued to panic.
Suddenly a man with a gray goatee and a yellow ski jacket glided over to us.
"Are you okay?" he asked in an accent I thought could be German.
Embarrassed, I quickly responded, "Yes."
"How long have you been sitting here?"
"Not that long."
"Can you stand up?"
"Yes, but I don't think we are on the right course. Do you know what this is?"
I felt like I was going to throw up.
"Well, can we get back to green somehow?" I half-begged.
"No, I don't believe so," he replied.
I looked back down the mountainside, imagining the broken limbs that would occur before I would reach the bottom.
The man came closer. "Here," he held out a hand, "I will take you down."
I blinked at him.
"It's okay. I'm a ski instructor from Switzerland."
Suddenly, I couldn't stand fast enough. Like jumping onto the back of a motorcycle, I wrapped my arms around the waist of my Swiss savior, positioning my skis between his, and silently prayed I wouldn't do something to make us both tumble down this mountain. Between prayers, I managed to ask him his name. He first gave a name I couldn't understand. When I didn't respond, he said I could call him Peter.
As we continued to wind down the mountain, Peter told me about his children, who he said were about my age. He taught them to ski in a very similar fashion with their skis between his, him steering and growing their confidence in his control. I focused on his steady voice and the scent of pine and sandalwood that gently floated behind him.
I kept looking back to check on Micah, and despite a few small tumbles, he followed us well.
Upon reaching the bottom of the slope, Peter said, "Okay, you are safe now," and he began to ski away.
"Can I hug you?" I called after him, "You saved me!"
He grinned, threw his arms around my shoulders in a big bear hug embrace, and said, "Have a wonderful trip. Stay on the green."
With that, Peter was gone.