I was young, dumb, and full of ambition. Growing up in Vail, I had ski boots on my feet before I began to walk. Skiing was my life, and I shared my soul with the mountains. I had always felt a strong connection with the freshly powdered peaks, and knew that I belonged among them.
In pursuit of my lifelong dream of becoming a professional backcountry
skier, I stood on top of the East Vail Chutes and looked down. The Chutes, as a persona, are a devious temptress, notorious for taking the lives of those who try to conquer her. She cannot be conquered nor slain. She is always awake, hunting for the next victim to bury deep within, the next soul to absorb into the mountain.
This particular morning was filled with the brisk cold air from the clear wintery night before. I sat with my two friends, letting the morning sun fill our eyes, legs still burning from the long hike. The pure white powder had laid silent for weeks, waiting for us to pounce. I could feel my breath and mind rejoin with my strength and knew I was ready for another chance to claim the Chutes.
As the sun bloomed over the peaks across the valley, I skied down her backside with childlike giggles. I came to my first cliff and lunged off her with no hesitation. I flew through the air, the feeling of weightlessness came about and time slowed down. Spotting my landing before me, I prepared for touchdown into the fluffily white abyss.
As soon as I landed, I felt my bindings release my now weighted body, throwing me over my heels, snowballing to a halt. This was a normal occurrence, and I composed myself to retrieve my skis tucked beneath her white blanket. As I struggled upward in her bottomless snowy layers, I felt myself sink along with her. I was helpless. She was now in control, speeding down toward the trees.
This was it, I quickly came to the conclusion she was going to bury me. I was going to die like the others; one more soul to be added to her mantle. Rapidly picking up momentum, I started to tomahawk uncontrollably, beating into stumps and trees like a pinball. She then flipped my battered body onto my back, head first, and navigated me toward a colossal tree. At that moment, time seemed to freeze.
I was about to see my death, frame by frame. I pondered my last thoughts as I was about to break my neck and become one with the mountain. At least it would be quick. Suddenly, as I approached my fate, she changed course, squeezing me through the crack between the tree and his neighbor. I was alive, still tumbling violently, but alive.
As I reached the foot of her figure, the massive avalanche was losing momentum. I fought with every last hope to stay above her undertow that insisted on pulling me deep within. Finally coming to a halt, I was fully buried and powerless. The once-friendly powder had now created my coffin, cementing me, motionless. Still coherent, I realized my doom.
My circumstance soon became clear: I was going to die alone of suffocation within the next 15 minutes. Knowing this, I began to cry uncontrollably. There was no dignity in how I was facing death. Every second counting down from 15 minutes seemed to be dragged-out and beaten to death. Once I came to the terms of my death, I began to see my life before my eyes.
Only then, did I begin to see the truth of my life and the legacy I would leave behind. It wasn’t my greatest achievements. It wasn’t my family, the greatest a boy could ever ask for. Not the many happy days and neat places I had experienced all over the world. In fact, not one happy memory surfaced into my pondering, dying soul.
The once-friendly powder had now created my coffin, cementing me, motionless. Still coherent, I realized my doom.
Slowly suffocating, I saw my own shameful and negative behavior flash forward. I remembered making fun of the fat kid in PE class and how I used to steal from everyone, including my family, and much more. I was a dishonest, drugged-up human being in this world without an ounce of truth or dignity in my bones. I was another cocky young punk who was going to die at 18, pursuing himself. These bad deeds would be brought to the table when I met Death himself, and I would not smile back, but rather cower in pity.
Knowing this, I began to sink deeper and deeper in my shame and dishonor for the life I’d lived. Rapidly losing the hope of being saved, I understood the inevitable. As I waited for the last few moments of life, I thought of how I was going to die alone into the cold dark abyss. I would not bury my parents, they would bury me, something no parent should experience. My term was over, my time was up. Only after I had lost all hope, I heard something through my dark coffin.
My two friends had now trickled down the mountain and through the rubbish to make contact. With three feet of frozen snow between us, they began to dig. After what seemed like eternity, I was released from her vice of death. I sat embarrassed, crying in front of my friends. I kept my thoughts to myself and prepared to make the hour-long trek to the trailhead with my beaten body. My gear had been lost beneath the colossal pile of snow never to be found again, just as I could have been.
On the hike out, I realized my second chance at life. Many thoughts crossed my mind. I knew that my second chance was ill-deserved. I remembered greeting Death, and came to the conclusion that I never wanted to feel that shame again. I had to be proud of myself and strive to be the greatest person I could be by inspiring everyone I came across. I had truly learned what a chance at life really meant and would not waste it again.
You will inevitably greet death with the soul you carried through life. At that time, you will already know where your soul lies and negotiate your terms with death. They say that when you die, your life will flash before your eyes. Make it worth watching and smile back.
I remembered greeting Death, and came to the conclusion that I never wanted to feel that shame again. I had to be proud of myself and strive to be the greatest person I could be by inspiring everyone I came across.