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Pale Face

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Watching the flakes fall and start to stack on the windshield of the car your mind began to race. You’d been here several times since that day but part of your mind never left. Snow slowly covering the sunshine you wondered if you’d see her again. You couldn’t help but wander back to that day. Your mind is set like a fifties film wheel. Spooling the pictures through the screen in your head. A bad movie, but a good memory. Terrible for most, yet tangy for you. You directed your unfocused eyes off in the distance as you went back over the thoughts from that day.

It was a late day in January. The wind crisp, the sky clear, and the snow was fluffy. It had been sloppier, wetter, heavier than previous weeks, but with a high of twenty degrees on the mountain, it had been cold enough to keep the snow light. With a cold face the first words you remembered were hers. Your friend turned toward you. He pulled his bandanna up as the lift came to a stop.

“Welp, it’s gonna be a rough day if it starts like this boys”

You reached to your left ear to turn the music down. You couldn’t hear what had been said. As you turned to look and ask, he sparks off again.

“Say "what" like a dumb cunt does, I’ll push you off this lift right now.”

You have goggles and a bandanna on but he could see your smile because he went directly to a fake shove that would have sent you down sixty feet or so. Right into the feet of powder you’d been dying to be in since the last time you pulled out of the parking lot. You could see the first chairs coming down off the summit. Apparently, somebody wasn’t awake enough to get off the lift over here.

The first skier coming down the hill was the skier you focused on. They would have made a good poster. One you would hang in your room, or garage if you had a woman coming over more. The black one-piece overalls covered in the white pedaled, orange pistoled, and gray stigmed flowers popped off the hill. They were accented by white sleeves, helmet, and powder, lots of powder. Powder so thick, fluffy and fresh it was rooster-tailing up. The rooster tail shot into the back-lit bluebird day that was coming on. The smile couldn’t get bigger on your face, but it got bigger in your stomach. With some of the butterflies, a lot of powder, and in awe without taking your eyes off the fresh skier planking down the under lift run, you asked the only thing that would affect your start to the day.

“So what’re we thinking? I mean if Summit’s open the only question is do we spend all day up there?”

The one who had threatened to push you off leaned back in the chair putting his arms around the backrest as he answered slow and smooth.

“Yeah, I was thinking that. At least until I saw this jacket down here. Those flowers are trippyyy bro...But yeah, I was thinking why don’t we scoot over to cloud, skate it back across to the bottom of sunshine, and then we’re five minutes from the summit lift and warmed up?”

“Hot damn, sounds like a plan to me. Safety break once we get to the backside?”

Pulling the beer from his pocket he sliced into the conversation, “ Yeah, I mean the sooner the better. I’ll drink the pocket beer now for breakfast. Save the backpack beer for a safety snack.”

I started unzipping my front left side. “Yuuup” I cracked the top and motioned toward the iconic clink as our PBR’s foamed.

“Cheers bitch!”

“Cheers Dick!”

We both took a long chug as the plan settled like drying concrete. Getting off the left we both swung to the left. After a twenty-minute trip of warmup turns, direction switches, and small exercises for later jumps you scooted right up to the third spot in line. With the shorter line, blood flowing, and the anxiety of heading to the summit you were ready for the day. After another ride back to the right and further across the mountain than you had started, you rode up the second to last lift for a five minutes, unstrapped, and got ready to ride another lift. This was the one. This was the one you’d been hoping to see the top of all season. Hardly anybody rides the top, and if they do they tend to just ride the face down. It hurt seeing people do it. If only they knew the 15 minutes on the icy trail around the back led to the best runs in the state, no doubt. Oh well, more for you. You thought as the well-cushioned left chair took you into flight. The three-degree, thirty mile an hour wind blowing across the face was substantially cooler than anything on the rest of the mountain. Nothing to shield yourself from the wind up here. It was well worth it and would stop as soon as they were around the first hundred yards headed to the back. The board glided across the ice and came to an unreasonable quick stop. Within sixty seconds you had strapped in and stood up. Wanting to avoid the brittle cold you didn’t even make sure your counterpart was coming. You turned and quickly dodged out of the way. He flew by at one and a half times your speed. He had pushed off something and was keeping his speed to make sure he could stay strapped in for the journey. You felt left behind, but knew that was the sign. You sent it.

Sweeping turns shot showers of diamond dust in the direction behind you. The trees all leaning one way, sided with a few inches of snow waving their heavy hands as you blew past. You could feel the weight of the snow forming berms of powder beneath the board. The blue sky sang to your heart like a spring bird. It was an amazing day and no thoughts you could muster could carry the thankfulness for days like this. The trees started to thicken like the plot of Tarantino’s movie before the real blood began to spill. You were already getting sore. You didn’t care.

On the top of a small knob buried in the pines you both came to a stop. This was today's first safety station. Sitting in the snowbank overlooking the second half of the run you were about to take down to the cat track. You sat down. You reached into the front left holster pocket and pulled out a banquet beer. Sticking the cold beer into the snow like a cup holder you dug deeper in your pocket and found the lighter before he could even ask. Handing him the lighter and cracking the new beer you began to be blown away. Blown away at how perfect it was. Blown away at how little time it took to get here. Blown away by the sun's reflection of each beautiful flake of snow that sparkled with the perfection of angles as photons bounced through all of them. You took a sip and started to relax. Breaking fresh trails and sparking fresh green to smoke, you were losing yourself in thought. That's when you heard her.

You whipped up from the lazy boy you'd formed in the snow to see if it was in your head again or if there was a third person. Your partner had his face covered but his jaw had dropped so low you could see it hanging out from the bottom of his face cover. She was really standing there. Where did she come from? How did you not hear her coming? The joint was still being lit, you weren't even stoned yet. You began to process exactly why Sky's mouth was still in the snow. This woman was beautiful. She was exquisite. She was something like you'd never seen before. All of this and add her outfit was alluring, it was a mess in your head to try and process. Taller with coffee dark hair you suspected she was thin and fit but couldn't tell under the onesie she was wearing. She had one blonde streak either by birthmark or precision down the right side of where her bangs would be if she wasn't covering her eyes with the fire lens reflective Oakley goggles. She pulled her goggles up over her uncovered hair to reveal how sun kissed her skin had been in the snow. Her eyes were more captivating than the perfection in today's shimmering snow and sky. They even matched the retrofitted onesie that was black with streaks of rainbowed neon looking like somebody spray painted it right from a 90's Dixie cup while screaming "Fuck Jerry". After a full three seconds of silence, you understood why Skyler's jaw had dropped so far. You grabbed a fishing reel and duct tape to get yours back into place. The real life snow angel started the conversation before either one of you could muster up the courage to even ask her name, where she came from, or if you were dreaming.

"Well hello boys." She giggled as if she could read the thoughts scrolling through our minds. "I smelled the start of a good time and was hoping you'd let me join?"

The joint he had lit was dwindling down and almost out. He'd been distracted. Sky took a lung full of smoke to start her back up before continuing.

"It's a spliff if that's okay with you?"

The perfect smile off the wall of white ivory in her mouth got wider than it was before as she started again, "Well even better then boys. "

She slid in the five feet between Sky and I and sat. Passing the spliff directly to her she inhaled like a stone-cold veteran. No coughing, just deep exhales of smoke and frozen breath. She took two like Snoop always said and passed it over to you. You couldn't even make a face at your friend to signal a "what the fuck is happening to us" face. That was okay. As you were grabbing the well-lit baton you finally had enough of your tongue back to talk.

"So miss, where do you hail from?" Trying to sound funny and intelligent I came across as stupid and incoherent.

She handed the spliff back across to the other side as she replied, "Oh you know, I've been around here a while."

Sky chipped in in-between puffs, "So, you're saying you know more about the mountain than we do?"

Another giggle and a nod confirming more of our infatuation with her.

Handing her the baseball bat-shaped torch that was still lit, I asked the question that set her off.

"So what's your name?"

The look in her eyes didn't stop at fright. It went straight past to something else deeper and harder to get her out of. So deep she stood up and took off down the mountain. No words, no signs, just a look of panic as she stood up and raced between the trees.

Looking over at Skyler I was dumbfounded. What in the fuck? The fuck had just happened? Did she ride off with our splifftastic stogy? Do we follow her or call it a loss? He gathered all my questions and initiated his response by already trying to get out of his snow chair. I threw the helmet back over my head and tried to catch up.

She was out of our sight before we had moved but that didn't stop us from trying. Like bloodhounds on the trail we tried to sniff the tobacco and weed out from the frosty pines. The icy wind cut through our efforts. It was useless and before we even thought about stopping we were at the end of the run. Coasting to the lift in a storm of curse words we had been beat. Skyler was making a B-line right to the lifttee.

"Hey bro.."

"Hey man, can you wait in line?"

"Yeah, no problem, we'll get right back in. I just wanted to ask if you'd seen a hella retrofitted girl? She was a super swell looking snow bunny and she robbed us... at our safety break."

The lifttee stroked his long beard as it shimmered in the sun like a sheet of brown snow as he thought over the question.

"Saftey Break?"

Skyler using his thumb and right hand to act like a lighter and his left to hold a little invisible rolled masterpiece, the lifttee immediately laughed.

"Oh saftey break! Love to talk saftey." He kept chuckling as he continued, " No though, I didn't see a hella retrofitted snow bunny come down. Nobody has been taking saftey breaks in line or carrying the Olympic torch. " He made a cheech motion for my buddies chong.

Skyler turned to me to see me parked on the bench. I tightened my bindings down to my board as he sat next to me. Without a word we knew we'd wait and kill more of the day than we should. We didn't need the weed. We didn't need her to face repercussions. We just needed to know what happened. After what seems like days Skyler finally breaks the silence.

"Okay, you wanna head up and see if we can see her on the way up?"

"Yeah, I'm tired of waiting for a shitty ending to a story on such a good day."

We scanned our passes and proceeded up to the chairs. As we went by the bearded lifttee he told us, "Hey my man, up top wants to talk to you. We radioed up there asking if they'd seen this girl."

An audible laugh and a quick drawn reply from me made the lifttee feel like he had done more than enough for us, "Haha, hey thanks bro!" We bumped knuckles through our mittens as the chair carried us to the top.

Not a word was spoken the entire way up. We both gazed off into the trees and runs we could see hoping, praying, to catch a glimpse of this wonderful lady that had us so turned around. The highlights of the snow gleamed in the sun burning the little skin I had showing. The fifty shades of white and black of the rocks standing out against the darker green of the pines like a painting you'd wish you'd always painted, it was beautiful.

Awaiting at the top outside of the shack that operated the lift was a less bearded all black-haired man. Standing outside of the control shack at top was a large man. He was thicker, even through his snow attire. He had muscle I had always wish I had, and a casting worry in his eyes. He made a small hand motion as the lift flattened out to let us off.

With his head down, his voice lower and more broken than I expected, he didn't even wait for us to skate over to him before he started "Don't go back there again or you'll die like she did."

Dismayed by what we had heard, my friend and I start to laugh as we're sure it's a joke. It wasn't.

Skyler looked at this man for a more tuned response, "Excuse me?"

"I heard your story, you saw the girl. A few people a year see her. That's advice from the mountain herself to stay away from the backside. It's not your kind of day back there.

Brushing the fucks off the what to find out how they got in there, we stood right off the lift as the chairs behind us let people unload and skate right by.

"She died here thirty-some years ago, skate that path and the mountain will take you too."

With confusion clustering your head, you take his advice. Both of you nod like you've been cast into a trance. Slowly skating to the front side of the mountain without strapping in, you start to talk.

"I don't know if I believe them but I guess we don't really need to go back?"

You sit down to start strapping in and spark a response.

"Yeah, I didn't really think that much about it and the guy at the bottom was stoned to the bone, but did you see the guy at the top? He had something behind his eyes like he's seen it before too. I believe him"

"Yeah, well let's get back to cloud chaser and fire this one up so we can get back to getting high and chasing clouds not on top the powder."

You stood up to follow him and disregarded all that had happened for the rest of the day. You let it all go but for the rest of the weekend you were searching for something you wasn't sure was there. You'd see flashes and sparks of black stained neon with the curtain of golden hair. Always expecting it to be there when you turned your head, but it never was. It was never something you expected but always something you think about. You thought about it every time you rode the mountain. You thought about it every time you watched snowfall. You thought about it every time the windy chill cut though your nostrils and depleted another scent. You thought about it every time you stopped in the outback run and read the sign.

It was at the end of the day, long after most had had their last run. You made sure to ride it up one more time with your friends as close to four as you could get. Your friends went a little further down the hill for a safety break after the mountain closed. It was tradition to not talk about safety until twenty minutes past the last run. It was a loud tradition today. As the fools you'd found halfway through the day didn't really grasp the story from the second run, you couldn't stop thinking about it. Skyler had given you a few looks through the day to let you know you weren't the only one with trouble processing it.

Everyone in the group was perched at the lip of a small hill to watch the traffic drain off the mountain. It moved slower than molasses in the winter as it creeped out of the parking lot. Beating the traffic with a little weed never hurt anyone. At least no one that we'd ever known.

Having never stopped at this exact spot before you took your board off to explore the half visible acre. With 270+ degrees of skiable land it was quite often you'd do this at the end of the day. Dick in one hand and a beer in the other, you stood on the edge of a tree well as you bled the lizard. Can tipped back and eyes trying to make sure you didn't stain your white jacket you saw it.

Engulfed by the Northwest above a twenty-foot drop there was a grove of Doug-firs as big and thick as any on the mountain. Hanging on the last one before the drop there was the faded cross and a plaque with an inscription.

You instantly knew what it was. Legible or not, you weren't so much worried as you were baffled. You Shouted with no emotion in your voice.

"Skyler, sky, hey dude. You're gonna wanna see this."

As you looked over it, no matter how warm it was inside your jacket, you got the chills every time. You read the faded words and looked at the picture frame. You assume it used to be more clear. It was just a few neon streaks on a body with a weathered face no one could make out. A skier, a women, a daughter. Impressed by the puzzle as your mind put it all together. You slowly whispered the words as Skyler slid up behind you only to drop his beer in astonishment.

"Alicia, you are on the mountain and in our hearts forever- Love your Family"

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