A Mancation Mishap

It’s a miracle that Richard didn’t break his neck.

Let me start at the beginning. It was in the early days of our mancation tradition to Sunriver resort in Oregon, and while there may have been at least a dozen participants that year, four of us will never forget how it actually played out.

After assembling ourselves at the Mt. Bachelor ski lodge with our ski gear and snowboards (back then you could actually get a reduced price lift ticket for a canned food donation), four of us eventually came together and slid forward as we approached the ski lift lines.

Among the group there was one novice. We learned it was Steve’s first trip on a ski lift — with rented skis— and with some trepidation he approached the whirring belt that signaled our turn in line for the ride up the mountain. We explained that the procedure was relatively simple “you simply just sit down and hang on.”

Perhaps it was that knowledge of a beginner in the midst that created a slight mood of anxiety. Nevertheless, Andy and I steered ourselves to one side of the quad chair, leaving ample space for Richard and Steve to comfortably slide onto the other side. The padded bench seat is designed to easily accommodate four people. Steve promptly planted himself on the left side and from my perspective, this is where the trouble began. He wasn’t located close to the outer edge of the bench, but rather, in the center of the space, making it difficult for Richard to quickly identify an appropriate space to sit down and so Richard hesitated, albeit briefly.

As many of you know, ski lift operators, typically young males, with significant facial stubble and a keen desire to keep things moving, bark out instructions out like carnival workers, yelling at you to take a seat and face forward. They rarely slow down the pace and when they do, the object of their frustration is made painfully obvious.

It was at that moment, a potential mishap became evident. Richard attempted to sit down and landed on Steve’s lap with his legs dangling over the edge. Naturally, Andy and I giggled at the sight of two grown men, in full ski attire: jacket, pants, boots and equipment, colliding with each other. Fortunately, the ski lift kept moving and in its rapid ascent, seemed to press them together and the momentary panic dissipated. Abruptly, Richard started to slide off of Steve’s lap. Polyester is not a very grippy material. The chair lift had already proceeded higher into the air and so when Richard slid faster Steve, to his credit, reached out his hand as a lifeline. Steve’s skis were now entangled with Richard’s snowboard and partially limited his descent. At this moment, Andy and I were admittedly chuckling a bit because a) we incorrectly expected the lift operator to stop and let them get untangled and b) the look of panic quickly spreading over Steve’s face was priceless.

Clearly the law of gravity was winning and as Richard slid further off the lift and it kept moving — I seem to recall at that moment that the lift operator yelled at Richard to either get on board or stop messing around — I don’t recall exactly — but it further heightened Steve’s anxiety and he looked quickly over to us for some show of solidarity or support.

As last, Richard seemed resigned to his fate of not making it on board and slumped down at the same time that Steve — I am not making this up — let go of Richard’s arm and literally threw up his own hands — in an effort to demonstrate he was consigning Richard to his fate — a drop of some 8–10 feet. He said aloud something that went like this: “Sorry, I can’t help or can’t hold you.” Even Sylvester Stallone gave his all in that classic scene from that mountain-climbing movie Cliff Hanger where his buddy’s glove slips off and he falls to his death…

I often wonder what went through Richard’s mind as he spiraled backward, upside down and landed with a soft ‘thumpf’ into the deep powder of the snow. Another 10 feet and the outcome could have been different.

At last, the lift operator stopped the ride as three of us peered anxiously over the back of the chair to watch for telltale life signs. Richard appeared, brushed off the snow from his ski cap and face. The ski operator yelled something at Richard and handed him one of Steve’s skis that had twisted off during the crash. He put him on one of the next chairs and started the ski lift again.

As we headed up into the cold snowy mountain air, Andy and I laughed about the experience and Steve — a first-timer on the ski lift — wondered aloud how he was going to exit with a single ski. “It’s simple we said, you just step off and glide to a stop.”

Jack Hardy

Dabbles in table tennis, short stories and tropical fish.