WHITEOUT ON RUAPEHU

 

Short Story from a New Zealand volcano

 

 

I swung my skis to a standstill and tried to orient myself. The driving snow absorbed most of the surrounding sounds and the visibility seemed nil - but for those black volcanic rocks already deprived of their white cover by spring sun and rain. Then an eerie thing happened: those rocks came jumping at me. I tried to evade them, but had no feeling of moving on the even surface of the slope.  It was frozen and dusted over with a layer of fresh snowflakes. Abruptly, the rocks came to a halt - then, instead, slid away from me.

 

I rationalised: since I was not dreaming - I almost doubted this - I could not be standing still at all. I must be moving forward and backward. It was weird, because I was not even aware of any muscle movement. Suddenly, plowing through the snow, a sign appeared, a crossed-out skier painted on it. Such signs mark the edge of the skiable ridge. Beyond lies "the GUT", a bluff of 100 metres.

 

I guess I panicked because the landscape, or what was left of it, the rocks and the ominous sign, began to rotate around me. I still had no feeling of moving at all. The crossed-out skier came circling towards me. I desperately willed my body to move closely enough to the sign, so that I could grab the iron rod holding it up.  

 

I missed it!

 

Where was up? Down? I threw myself to the ground losing one ski. Only then did I feel my own movement. I was sliding feet first. The uncanny sensation of being locked into uncontrollable movement left me, but I became aware of sliding downhill with the horrible sensation of being unable to stop myself. Frantically, I kept digging my gloved fingers into the hard snow. I knew time was running out and the steepness of the slope would increase rapidly. What had Beth said before we parted? "Look after yourself!" I wish I could before the whiteness would swallow me. I have seen a skier perish here. He slipped, fell, and sliding, gathered speed fast. Then he was sucked up by the GUT like a rag doll bouncing into the abyss.

 

I felt myself slowing down. There I lay prostrate, with my fingers dug in, hardly daring to breathe lest I would dislodge myself from my precarious position. Carefully, I started digging one hand into the snow, then the other. Having achieved a good grip, I ventured to scrape my ski edge into the slope. Gingerly, I rose and started to climb up.

 

I was in control of my life again.

 

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