I was seven years old when the event in question happened. That fateful morning, my parents dropped me and my siblings off at ski school. They wanted to enjoy doing some runs on their own while my sisters and I worked on improving our skills — or really, I think they just wanted us to leave them alone for a bit. We headed to our respective ski-level lessons, so I was about to spend the day apart from my sisters as well. I was elated for some freedom.
The group had a large range of age levels, and I recall one of the older girls was 13-years-old. I thought she was so cool and I latched on to her for the day. I wanted to be a cool kid, too. And, as a seven-year-old, I figured she knew more than I did. So I believed her when, on one of the ski-runs from the top of the mountain, she said we could go a different way than the rest of the group and that we would easily find them at the bottom of the slope.
The kids ahead of us copied the instructor, doing their pizza turns and french fries — each of us tracing the ski tracks of the person who went ahead. We all made it back to the instructor and he told us where we would be heading for the next part.
“Follow me!” he yelled. The kids ahead of us followed the instructor, but me and Cool Girl went down another run. Where the main trail split off into two, they went left; we went right.
This is where things went south. Fast.
It was nearing the end of the ski-day and this was to be our last run; the lifts would be turning off soon. We figured we would just find our parents waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain and there would be no consequence for having split from the group. Cool Girl convinced me that they would never find out.
I continued to follow her down the mountain, thinking ‘wow. this run is taking longer than I expected.’ I remember wanting to cut back to the main trail. Anxiety was rushing to my seven-year-old head. And so, I cut through the woods, back to what I figured was the main trail.
No Cool Girl in sight, and no ski group in sight, either. I was completely alone.
I figured the best thing to do was to continue down the mountain and that I would easily find my parents there. But this particular ski resort had multiple bases lodges. I ended up at the wrong base lodge.
I knew time was running out and that the lifts would be shut down soon, so I went back up the lift and tried to find the correct base lodge. But I didn’t make it very far. My fingers were starting to freeze, and I was getting tired. When I reached the summit, I noticed adults going into the summit lodge. I followed a group inside, hoping I could ask someone for help. I remember feeling so small, surrounded by all these raucous adults enjoying their apres-ski drinks.
All I wanted to do was to find my family.
I must have been gone longer than I thought because at this point, all the lifts had closed and all the ski schools had sent the kids off to their parents. My parents and sisters were waiting for me, thinking the worst happened. The personnel at the base had already sent a party of ski patrol to go out looking for me in what I can only presume was a ditch.
I am so lucky that there were honest people in that bar who helped us get in contact with the main base lodge. They turned the nearby ski lift back on and someone from the bar escorted me on the lift, back to base, and back to my family.
To this day, we still talk about this episode in my family. It was 25 years ago, but not forgotten. As a parent now myself, I have a lot of homework to do before I enroll my children in any sort of ski school; we don’t need history to repeat itself.
The lesson: Never trust the ‘Cool Kid’ who tells you to follow them. If they say they know the way, they don’t.