First line of the liability agreement: You may die today.
A friend found out about $50 heli drops down in SW Colorado and a group of us jumped at the opportunity. Silverton, CO to be exact. A place you read about in magazines! If you’ve ever been there, you understand the majestic views. You understand how your heart flutters just looking at the massive landscapes carved around you. You understand the ruggedness, the splendor, the untouched-ness of the land. And you understand the expert terrain it offers.
I didn’t. Not until that Sunday morning. When we got that first waiver. When we found out about the tragedy that had happened the day before. Then it started to sink in. Adrenaline starting seaping out drip by drip. Until we were on the one – and – only ski lift. When we signed our second and third waivers. When we got our safety speeches over and over. Then my roommate, Kari, comes up “Hailee, can you self arrest.” I’d never heard the term until that morning. Self arrest means doing anything and everything you possibly can imagine doing to stop yourself if you start sliding out of control down the mountain. Self arrest means – can you save your own life. I replied “yes” and then adrenaline was gushing like water over a dam in the spring.
We waited in line. Seemed like every snow enthusiast had heard about the heli drops and were there. Tho, Silverton only allows 100-200 passes to their mountain/day.
When my group was up for the next heli ride, they herded us over, had us huddling over our gear. “Don’t go to the back side of the heli, you will be ground up. Do not stand up all the way, the blades do sink down a little. Get inside, buckle up and please leave the pilot alone”
We, filled with estatic emotion, jumped in. The pilot took off in a flash. We dove straight down the side of the mountain, sped across the valley and went straight up the other side. Seconds passed. And we landed on the Pyramid. As we jumped out, my emotions skyrocketed. “WOW, this is A LOT steeper than it looked from the other side.”
The first run looked like sheer ice. No, wait. It was sheer ice. The ski patrolers called it ‘firm snow.’ But they knew better. Mark, our most fearless groupy went first. We all cheered. Cheered, but maintained butterflies.
We went one-by-one. Every run that day, we went one-by-one. Its for avalanche safety. If one person sets off an avy, then the rest of us have a chance at using our beacons, shovels and probes to save their life. If we all go at the same time, then we’d be buried together (not a good option.) This day there wasn’t a high avalanche risk because, remember, the snow was ‘firm.’ Our biggest risk was sliding down the mountain out of control and not being able to ‘self-arrest.’
The first run was a leg burner. Trying to get an edge into that ‘firm’ snow was all my life depended on. The sound of the scraping made my muscles work even harder. I’d stop occassionally to look up, see how the rest of the group was fairing, to see if I was the only one with fire in my thighs and excitement in my eyes.
As a group we made 4 full runs that day. We all made it down and out safely with stories to tell for a lifetime. And will definitely be going back. It’s just that first line on the waiver that makes its resonate continuously: You may die today.
Yes, I accept that challenge. It could happen anywhere….so I’ll choose that risk here!