This story is by Jessica Gilmartin and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Deirdre knew it was going to happen before Becky landed. As Becky started her ten-foot freefall, Deirdre’s pole fell through the snow beside her. The snow was heavy powder on top, but much lighter below.
Becky’s board hit the snow and the entire side of the mountain shifted. Deirdre’s world went into slow motion. A pure white island of snow broke away and slowly inched its way towards her. She turned to Stefan, but he was already skiing away. She moved to follow him as the avalanche started to swallow her.
Deirdre loved winter. She relished being outside in the cold. Skiing was one of her favorite pastimes. It had been years since she had been on a real mountain. Skiing in Buffalo was nice, as there was always good snow, but those slopes were more hill than mountain. It took longer to get up the hills on the chairlift than to ski down them.
Her first husband was an adequate skier, but not as ambitious as Deirdre. It was a fight to even get him to spend a weekend at a ski resort. He just didn’t appreciate the cold like she did. Nothing made her feel more alive than racing down a hill with the wind burning her cheeks.
Her son, Rick, followed in his father’s footsteps, but luckily for Deirdre, married an avid snowboarder. Their love of winter sports was the only thing that she and Becky had in common, but it was this similarity that made it possible for Deirdre to check off her biggest bucket list item. She was currently sitting in a chalet looking up at the Swiss Alps.
Deirdre’s smile tightened, her eyes bulged a little as she took in this forty-something, stereotype of a Swiss ski guide – blonde, dark skinned, a face chiseled and lined in all of the right places. It was Stefan’s job to take Deirdre and Becky on the best slopes. Deirdre was sure she could hear the “ding!” when he smiled, flashing his iridescent teeth. He was definitely in toothpaste commercials off season.
They chatted on their way to the nearest lift. It became clear immediately that he was much more interested in Becky than Deirdre. Every time she opened her mouth, he redirected the conversation to Becky, who relished the attention.
Touted as a “tenth anniversary adventure”, Deirdre thought this tour of Europe was Rick’s last ditch effort to save his marriage. Becky’s attempt hadn’t lasted long. Their youngest was only a year and here Becky was, flirting relentlessly with Stefan.
Becky had arranged for them to eat breakfast at the top of the mountain. Their table overlooked the Swiss Alps in all their glory. Deirdre immediately lost herself at the panoramic view. She would be skiing down these mountains soon. They looked even taller from the top.
Deirdre snapped back and she looked at Becky.
“The waiter would like your order.”
“I must’ve been in my own little world!” Deirdre scanned her menu quickly for anything that looked familiar. “Crepes, with strawberries.”
“What would you like to drink with that, madam?”
“Just coffee. Black.”
“Very well. Your drinks will be right out.” The waiter’s accent was a thick French, not uncommon in St. Moritz.
As they ate, Becky and Stefan continued their conversation. Deirdre lost all interest, having no time for people like Stefan. She had wasted her thirties with a man who was more interested in other women and had sworn them off. If a man couldn’t give her attention, she didn’t have time for him. Her second husband’s influence was probably how her son had ended up with Becky.
When Becky brought up going off-piste, Deirdre’s ears perked up.
“I almost always take my clients off-piste.” Stefan responded.
“That’s why I was assigned to you. Only Americans ask to go off-piste. I know the best slopes.”
This piqued Deirdre’s interest. “I didn’t think Europeans went off the trails. I read it was hard to get a guide who’d do it.”
“Well, I’ve spent a lot of time in the US. I guess I caught that American sense of adventure.”
“Ah.” Deirdre now understood his appreciation of younger women.
Becky gave Deirdre a searching look and said, “Why don’t we do a couple runs down the groomed slopes and maybe, later in the day, we can talk about going off-piste.”
After breakfast, they spent hours going down groomed slopes. This was skiing like Deirdre had never experienced, but always wanted. It took a half hour just to descend the mountain. Becky was carving up the mountain like crazy and their joy was palpable.
Reluctantly, they stopped at one for lunch. They knew they needed to eat if they were going to go to nighttime skiing, which was an experience they both wanted.
“I didn’t realize how much it warmed up,” Deirdre said as they walked into the restaurant. “Skiing always makes me immune to the temperature. The only thing I ever pay attention to is the wind blowing across my face.”
“It’s still below freezing,” Stefan interjected. “See. It’s just starting to snow.”
When they finished lunch, the air was thick with fat, wet flakes. A new layer of heavy powder covered the ground. They decided to try a couple runs off-piste.
The first run down, they stayed within sight of the piste and ran down parallel to it. The second time, took the lift to the highest point of the mountain.
“Why don’t we go down here,” Becky pointed to slope that would eventually join a trail halfway down the mountain. “This looks fun. Are there cliffs I can jump off?”
Becky cut Stefan off. “This is our only day skiing for our whole trip! We want the full experience!” she exclaimed with a slight whine in her voice. Deirdre hated it when Becky’s spoiled upbringing came out.
“Ok, but we stay close together. No riding ahead or leaving anyone behind.”
“Deal.” Becky agreed with a toothy grin. As the snow started to fall thicker, she angled herself down the hill before there was any more argument. Stefan hissed through his teeth and pushed off to follow her.
Deirdre rolled her eyes, shook her head and pushed off. Even though the ungroomed powder on this side of the mountain was glorious, Deirdre skied more cautiously than usual. The map showed a lot of drops and Deirdre didn’t want to accidently go off of one. She sliced up to the other two waiting a little way down the mountain. They were talking about finding a cliff for Becky to jump.
“Let me ski ahead a bit. I’ll wave one pole in the air if I want you to come to me, both if I’ve found a cliff for you and point in the direction you should go.”
Becky and Deirdre watched Stefan ski down slowly, checking the fronts of the cliffs. He was skiing between the cliffs, barely visible from the top. They looked like little hills with valleys between, but then the hills just fell off on the other side. Stefan stopped at the first drop off and signaled for them to come join him.
“These are too tall. I don’t want to have to carry you down.” He skied down further and signaled again. On the fourth try, he signaled for Becky to go off a cliff.
“You go first,” Becky told Deirdre, who made her way down and turned to watch.
Becky started slow, wending her way to the cliff, not wanting to take it too fast. Becky flew off the cliff ae Deirdre’s pole fell through the snow beside her. As her board hit the snow, the whole side of the mountain shifted and started racing towards Deirdre…
Deirdre woke up freezing and unable to move. What had happened? Where was she? She tried to move her arm, to bring her hand to her face but could only wiggle it. It was like she was buried in some freezing substance.
That thought triggered her memory and the events of the day came flooding back over her. The skiing. Going off-piste. Becky triggering an avalanche. Stefan skiing away from her.
The realization that she was buried in snow hit her so hard that she started to hyperventilate. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes and knew that this would end badly if she started freaking out.
She focused on her breathing and once it went back to normal, she took stock. She tried to move every part of her body. Her left hand moved around fairly freely and bumped into something hard. She felt around and found her pole. There was almost no resistance, so she thought maybe she was close to the surface and not buried deeply like she had first feared.
She tried her other hand, pinned below her, and pain shot up her arm. Something was wrong, maybe a sprained or broken wrist. She used her left arm to break up the snow above and around her so she could shift into an upright position. As soon as she tried lifting her upper body, she sunk deeper in the snow.
She heard a voice above her. “Stefan!” It was Becky. She was very close to Deirdre. Deirdre started moving around again, trying to make noise.
“Rebecca, love, are you okay?” Deirdre froze, confusion washing over her.
“I watched you ski away, but as the snow started moving faster, I lost sight of you. I was worried that you got caught in it!”
“Darling, we had this all planned out. You knew what to expect.”
“I was still worried! I haven’t been this close to you in almost a decade. I didn’t want to lose you again before I could even touch you, kiss you.” Deirdre could hear them kissing above her.
“Did you see where Deirdre ended up?”
“It was somewhere around here, but she’s a goner! She got swallowed by the snow before she even knew what was happening. If she’s not dead, she should be soon. Look, there’s one of her skis.”
“Bury it. We want to be out of here now. No one can see us up here. We’ll be on our flight to Argentina before anyone even notices you’re missing. Disappear into the jungle.”
“Yes, we couldn’t have planned on better weather, either. By the time anyone starts looking, our tracks will be covered with a fresh layer of snow.”
“That will be hours from now. The only person who knows we’re out here is Rick, and he’s busy with the girls. He won’t start to worry until after bedtime.”
Deirdre took it all in without moving a muscle or making a sound. She heard them head down the mountain and started moving again. She used her body weight to pack the snow beneath her. As snow started to fall in on her and she just kept using it to solidify her base so she could crawl out. She wasn’t sure how she was going to get down the mountain without her skis, but she wasn’t giving up yet.
Finally, after an hour, she stuck her head out of the snow. It was already getting dark and the snow was starting to slow down. She tried to stand up on the snow and ended up buried up to her waist again. How was she going to get down?
As she started to move around looking for her skis, she heard a helicopter flying above. She got her pole, got on her knees and started waving it. She could see a spotlight about a hundred yards to her left. She crawled in that direction, trying to keep the pole up and waving. The light moved right over her and kept on going. Deirdre almost gave up hope until the area around her lit up again.
She was saved, and she was going to make sure Becky and Stefan were caught before they could board their plane.