Whitefish MT: That Time I Saved My Friend’s Life on Big Mountain (Yea, Yea, I Know)


It was years ago, back in ’76 to be exact. My high school P.E. teacher and I used to shred that hill on our ‘too long for us skis.’

Back in the day in Whitefish when the tourists were less, the potholes were fewer and the ski hill was still called “Big Mountain” and ski passes were a hundred bucks we had the time of our lives.

She and I would ski most weekends together and holidays and when the school took a day off for various reasons. And because I had skied since I was 11 and she was a newbie at 24 I showed her the ropes. We would ski for hours and barely take a break. We wore zero helmets (say what?) with the wind, sleet, and snow burning our cheeks and yes even an occasional sunburn was to be had later in the season on ‘The Big Fun’ (when the sun finally shone) as we once called that crazy mountain devoid of the dreaded tourists back in 1976.

Jeep trails were made for speed. If you’ve never been downhill skiing just imagine a back road (so to speak) similar to a forest service road but pointed downward and what seems to go on forever. She and I skied on a lot of these ‘trails.’ Really they are just a way to get to another part of the mountain or slope like a cross over road or connecting road.

On one particular day and I will never forget it; it was quiet and not too cold, not snowing or icy and the snow was extremely deep. Skiers live for ‘powder’ days and this was among one of the best days we had ever gone out to partake of ‘heaven on earth.’ Skiing is fabulous fun until it’s not.

We skied and there was no one around that day on the jeep trail neither in front nor behind us. My ‘teacher’ skilled as she was because she was a P.E. teacher wasn’t a perfect skier and trust me even the best of skiers can veer off course a bit, fall, or get hurt.

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As I recall, I was just a bit ahead of her. I’m not gonna lie we were ‘flyin’ down that jeep trail. The next thing I knew she has sort of ‘skidded’ off to the left and BOOM down into a tree well she went. This woman is tiny and very petite and she was literally buried (head up thank God) in that tree well. All I could see once I backtracked up the hill a ways (remember I was ahead of her so I had to hike back up a bit to retrieve her) was her neck and her head above the snow. So I did what any good ‘student’ would do and I took off my skis and began to dig her out. It was a tedious process and with all that fresh snow it took like what seemed forever…One shoulder than the arm then the other and so on….

She was beside herself with gratefulness and now even 46 years later when she gets to drinking a little too much wine she calls me and cries a bit and says, “Where would I be if you hadn’t dug me out all those years ago? You saved my life…

And my reply has always been the same as I sort of throw my head back and state, “Yea, yea, you’d have done the same for me. Yeah yeah I know.”

In all seriousness though, never ever ski alone and ALWAYS wear a helmet. Oh and don’t wear skis that are longer than your car.

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