When I was 12, I spent a year at Catholic school, and in a desperate attempt to fit in, I joined the ski club. Joining a ski club sounds like an unconventional way to get people to like you but at Notre Dame Academy the ski club was the thing all the cool kids did. Since most of the seventh graders at the school had been skiing since they were old enough to stand up, it was really just a chance for everyone to show off their winter athletic abilities. In other words, ski club was a pretty big deal.
I was not a skilled skier by any means but one of the friends I had managed to make, Carolyn, was an avid skier and convinced me to join. I warned her that the only time I had gone skiing I had fallen off the chairlift and subsequently down the rest of the mountain. However, she seemed to translate that to, “yeah sure, I’m an awesome skier!” and didn’t see the problem.
Before I knew it, it was February: the start of ski club. The first day I found myself awkwardly strapping on some unfamiliar ski boots in the depths of Watchusett Ski lodge wondering what the hell I was doing there. All the girls around me were talking about starting off easy with a blue square slope and then spending the rest of the day on black diamonds. Obviously, I wanted to puke.
Carolyn and I went up on the ski lift together for the first slope. I felt pretty proud of myself when I didn’t fall off the lift like last time but as soon as I began to realize how high the slope was, the vomit reflex started back up again. Carolyn didn’t seem to notice my apprehension at all. So when we finally got off the ski lift and I fell on my face after going barely a foot down the mountain, she was confused.
“Wait,” she said as I tried to desperately untangle my skis from each other while struggling to back get into sitting position, “I thought you said you had been skiing before?”
“Well, if you recall, I told you I was bad at it.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think you were this bad!”
I stared up at her, helmet askew and snow down my pants, not sure how to respond. I spent the next half hour tumbling in an uncontrolled fall down the hill, stopping every five minutes to pick myself back up while Carolyn verbally berated me on how I was “wasting her time.” When we got to the bottom I was on the verge of tears and she was on the verge of strangling me.
“Okay,” I said, “Since I’m obviously holding you back how about you go off and ski with everyone else and I’ll head over to the bunny hill and practice. That way, for next time, I’ll know what I’m doing.”
That plan sounded absolutely fantastic to Carolyn. She sped off like a bullet for the black diamond slope with her fellow pre-Olympic level skiers leaving behind a wake of manufactured snow. “I’ll come and get you when it’s time to leave!” she yelled over her shoulder.
Lonely, embarrassed, and a little sore, I dragged my ass over to the bunny hill. It was there, on that sad little hump of snow surrounded by three-year-olds and nervous mothers that I taught myself how to ski. I listened in on small children being coached how to do the “pizza” and “french fry” techniques and I did the same. I stayed on that hill until the sun set and the flood lights came on. By the end of the day, I considered myself proficient in the art of skiing.
I figured since it was dark that Carolyn was going to come and meet me soon so we could go get on the bus together. I pulled out my 2007-era flip phone from my pocket to call her and share the good news of my progress when I saw that I had three new voicemails and 13 text messages, all from Carolyn. The first voicemail sounded relatively calm.
“Caroline, where are you? We have to leave soon!” The second one was similar but a little more panicked. “Caroline! Seriously, we need to go!” The third was a full on shout. “WE’RE GOING TO LEAVE WITHOUT YOU, GET ON THE BUS!”
I immediately began to feel all negative emotions at once, fear being the most prominent. What did she mean, where was I? I told her I was on the bunny hill! And when she said “we’re going to leave without you,” did she mean she was already on the bus? I called her back and started hobbling towards the ski lodge.
“Where are you!” she yelled upon answering.
“Carolyn, where are you? What’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m on the bus! We’re going to leave! Where are you, we looked everywhere for you!”
I didn’t have time to answer the question she should have already known the answer to, so instead I just shouted, “DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT ME, TELL THE BUS NOT TO MOVE, I’M COMING!” I kicked off my skis and held them awkwardly in my arms and began to move as fast as I could in my ski boots. The only problem was, I had no idea how to get back to the room where I had dumped all my stuff. I began to cry but it was so cold that my tears just froze to my face. I started asking people around me where “the room with the skis and stuff” was but my lips were so cold I could barely get words out. I think most people thought I was an intoxicated child and simply ran away from me.
Out of breath, lost, and completely hysterical, I dropped my skis to the ground and simply settled with the fact that I was going to be stuck at Watchusett Ski Mountain forever. I would have to live behind the lodge in the dumpsters and adapt to a diet of melted snow and discarded hot chocolate. My family and friends would never see me again. I would simply become a legend: The Girl Who Got Off the Ski Club Bus and Never Came Back. Just as I was wondering whether anyone would pick up the movie rights to such a story, my English teacher and ski club advisor emerged from the crowd around me.
“Caroline Witts?” she asked me. She seemed relieved that she had found me since I’m sure losing a student is something that is frowned upon. I broke down in a mess of tears and snot at the sight of her. “Did the bus leave?” I sobbed.
“No honey, come on, lets go get your stuff.” She gently guided me towards the building like you would a mental patient as I continued sniffling and apologizing, dragging my skis behind me.
When I finally had my belongings we hurried to the coach bus still parked out front. I was so eager to get inside and sit down that I fell and cut my hands on ice. When I finally pulled myself into the bus, bleeding, sweaty and covered in frozen tears, I was greeted by a chorus of boos. Loud and aggressive boos from all directions. It seems my classmates were not too thrilled that they had to sit in the bus for an extra twenty minutes while everyone looked for me. I sat down next to Carolyn who proceeded to yell at me for how embarrassing I was the whole ride back. I was too exhausted to ask why she had never come and met up with me. I didn’t care at that point. I just wanted to go home.
It may come as a surprise, but I eventually came to enjoy ski club. I got better and made more friends and towards the end I almost forgot about the whole horrific first day. However, for the rest of the school year, I was given a new nickname, Bunny Hill Champion. Not quite as catchy as The Girl Who Got Off the Ski Club Bus and Never Came Back, but still legendary.
Photo Credit: Ben Wesemann