It was ski-season, and school was out for a couple of weeks. College break had begun, and two happy little friends headed for the hills — the ski hills.
Their skis were old, and nearly longer than their borrowed car, but they didn’t care.
A bit of scraped-together gas money convinced the two friends they could manage the ribbon of freeway from Southern California to Vail, Colorado, so they headed out to swoosh down hills and create an abundance of ‘sitz’ marks in the snow.
The slopes were crowded, and the line at the Lion’s-head gondola was especially long that day. Thirty-five minutes, someone said. Anxious to hit the slopes, the college girls headed to a chairlift farther around the mountain. Ten minutes en route, then another line — 25 minutes this time.
They hadn’t saved any time, but the more a skier can shorten the cold, ski-slapping wait the better.
As they settled themselves on the chairlift, a huge ‘boom’ split the air, echoing, and re-echoing around the mountain. One girl thought it was avalanche control, while the other suggested a sonic boom.
But whatever it was, it was quickly dismissed, and the girls continued in the gently swaying chair, all the way to the top.
A cable partway up the Lion’s head line had frayed, dropping one gondola 123 feet to the hillside below. Four persons died, eight were seriously injured, and half the mountain was closed while passengers in other still-dangling gondolas were rescued.
The two of us spent the day on the other side of the mountain, away from ambulances, and hook and ladder trucks, though we did hear some rumours. Home was far away before the Internet and cellphones, so we decided to call our parents later.
Arriving back at the hotel, we were handed copy-cat messages from our parents. “Are you OK? Please call as soon as possible!” Parents!
Why would they be so concerned? We were fine, and still oblivious of how narrowly we had escaped the worst U.S. ski accident in history.
So we lined up again — this time for the phone.
“Yes, we’re OK. We skied all day and you found out what happened before we did! Were you worried?”
Hedda Hopper asserts that the cruelest, most primitive punishments are the empty mailbox and the silent telephone, so perhaps I ought not to say what’s coming next. It might be unwise to bring up teachers from long ago, lonely parents, troubled children, or other imperfect persons who might like to hear from us.
But we call. Not because we need to, or because they deserve it.
We fracture the silence because of who we are, especially when we call the unlovely and un-loveable. We call because that is what our character dictates.
“Are you still there? Are you OK? Why did you take so long to call?” Whether it’s a call nearby or to a forgotten God beyond the stars, there will never be a better time to call. LOL@wltribune.com.
Rita Corbett is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor.