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Are You OK?

WARNING: This piece contains some salty language. If you're offended by that, you might want to pass on this one.

I shout, "Are you OK?" as loud as I can but the ripping winds and blinding snow muffle my words. I shout once more but the words never left my mouth. I'm in shock and think I'm staring at a dead man.

Skinning across Desolation Lake, I see a figure in black pants, red and purple jacket, pink backpack and a beard collecting more ice than snow. He moves slowly, punching a skin track about knee deep with a translucent shrapnel-like zipper crust that just formed within the past 2 laps, 30 minutes. I pick up my pace, pushing my orange Black Diamond Verdict’s through the crunchy rime crust into the typical Utah powder below, another good snow pack ruined.

I meet up with his skin track, which is about as wide as one of my skis. I chase, wanting some company as I've been skiing solo for the past 4 hours and want to share the stoke on this magnificent powder day. As I crest the peninsula of the shoulder I’ve been skiing, I see my fellow skier about a hundred yards ahead of me, making his way into a grove of aspens frosted in Old Man Winter’s paint. I stop to pull out my camera and snap a photo.

Peering through the ice-covered lenses of my sunglasses I see the skier shake, slip backwards down his skin track and fall limp to his left side. His left leg kicks back, pushing his ski tail into the deep powder. His left arm drives straight down, punching a hole about 2 feet deep. His head lay rest, left side down in the rime covered snow. There is no movement.

I stop, pulling my growing eyes from the snowflakes and rime and lift them towards my fellow skier. I swallow the phlegm that's built up in my mouth and forget about breathing. I look around the flats of the snow and ice covered Desolation Lake to see if there is anyone around, but there’s not. I look back over my right shoulder to see if there is anyone on the ridge, but its empty. I look left and all I see is a forest of Douglas Fir. I look up and see I'm about 800 vertical feet from the Resort ridgeline and that's empty as well. I look back towards my fallen friend and he hasn;t moved. He still lies motionless, buried in the “Greatest Snow on Earth.”

I shout, "Are you OK?" as loud as I can but the ripping winds and blinding snow muffle my words. I shout once more but the words never left my mouth. I'm in shock and think I'm staring at a dead man.

My heart is redlining and pounding with every beat inside my head. My legs kick my skis up and out of the snow, moving with a shovels load of snow with every step. I slide my skis forward and can hear the rime, the ice move across the top sheets of my skis and the mohair of my skins. The winds pick up, blasting the plastered snow from the branches of Aspen and Douglas fir. I shout once more,

"Hey! You Ok!"

But it's pointless, the wind is too much and my distance is too great. I pick up the pace and push the needle past 7000 RPMs. It sucks being out of shape and I feel like I can't get into 5th gear and move.

The only thing moving is my thoughts. I think back to CPR, first aid and ski patrol training. 15 compressions, 2 breathes. Wait, its 30 and 2. Do I pull my Spot Tracker Emergency Locator Device and hit SOS?  Just f**king go is all my little Kazoo is shouting, so pick up my pace, blasting ice and snow into my face. I dig deep, breathing in as much oxygen as I can, exhaling with force. I put my head right into the Wasatch Winds, eyes down onto the snow and run, it's all I know how to do. I get within 150 feet and shout once more, but there is no response. I run faster. This is no Mardi Gras and I sure as hell hope this isn't the Day of the Dead.

Short of breathe, I dig even deeper and push as hard as I can up the last 100 feet of 20 degree slope, shouting as loud as I can, hoping somehow the winds will die off for one moment and maybe he will hear me and respond. But I hear nothing.

Fifty feet to go and I see movement. His right hand reaches slowly back towards his right heel and stops. His head lifts slightly and falls back into the snow. Then, there is no more. I jump up on him, grab his outreached right leg and shake him shouting

'Can you hear me? Are you OK?"

Golf ball sized snowballs encrust a lumber jack-like beard. Red, white and blue I SKI sunglasses are filled with snow, blocking view of his eyes. The stained and well-used 1983 wool hat is half cocked over the right side of his face. He slowly turns his eyes towards me, slower than the Earth on its axis,

"Just taking a break. My f**king skin slid off my ski."

I place my hands on my knees, my chin on my sternum, close my eyes and all I can mutter with the oxygen I have left in my already depleted lungs is


About the Author

Alex Stoy is an adventure sports junkie who has been exploring the world for over 25 years. Stoy lives in Park City, UT and is always on the lookout for 'idiotic adventures' including running, yoga, ski mountaineering, canyoneering, mountain biking in random and off the beaten path locations like Argentina, Colombia, the desert southwest and Rocky Mountains of North America as well as interior Canada and Hawai'i.

Stoy's writings capture his life experiences through his own eyes and travels. His goal is to bring people the most intimate view of what it really is like travelling and adventuring in his shoes which are sometimes buried in a foot of Death Valley sand or fresh Wasatch Powder.


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