By Ryan Dorn Explorebigsky.com Contributor
Blue skies turned to fog, and we realized we were lost.
Did we go down too far, or had we not gone far enough? How high were the cliffs in front of us? I shifted my skis up and down in the powder beneath me. I looked left, then right, then nervously at my friend Nate. Neither of us said a word. We knew we could be in big trouble.
I didn’t start skiing until I was in eighth grade, later than many of my peers. From my first time up to Bridger, I knew someday I would venture onto the Ridge. Three seasons later my dad bought me a small yellow Pieps 457 and a black Life Link Shovel. I sat on my bed for hours staring at the transceiver and reading Powder magazine, imagining the amazing mountain ranges I would someday visit.
The hike to the top of the Ridge was quick, and we decided to venture beyond our usual Bridger Gully and Apron runs and try something new. Nate and I were juniors at Bozeman High. For years now, I’d admired the Super Couloir, a striking chute that stood out while riding the Bridger Chair. Today was the day to ski it. Neither of us had been that far south on the Ridge, but we figured it was so large it would be easy to find.
But then the fog rolled in, making the entrance impossible to see. Now we were standing above cliffs, most likely halfway down the side of the couloir. We’d jumped cliffs before, but without being able to tell how high the drop was we were hesitant to huck ourselves in.
“I don’t think we can go down from here. These cliffs look too big,” I finally said.
“I can’t see a thing. They could be 10 feet or 40,” Nate said.
“I don’t want to hike back up.” I said, pleading.
We stood silent again, straining to see through the fog. Then I had a brilliant idea: I’d drop my backpack into the couloir to gauge the height of the cliffs we were standing above.
I unbuckled my pack and flung it over the cliff. It hit the snow, gained momentum quickly, then tumbled all the way down the couloir, back into the lower mountain terrain.
It finally came to rest below the High Traverse, out of our sight. Nice move genius.
A skier quickly found my pack and alerted patrol. Negative consequences of my plan hadn’t occurred to me.
Thirty minutes later we saw a ski patroller above us, scanning the terrain. As he approached, my embarrassment soared. Someone must have found my pack. The patroller was there to rescue us. When he arrived we explained our story, and he graciously led us through a series of traverses and uphill side steps to avoid danger.
Then we skied down to the old Deer Park lift where my backpack was waiting for me. Feeling humiliated, we thanked everyone profusely and apologized for any inconveniences we’d caused.
But my embarrassment didn’t stop there. We were more than an hour late to be picked up by a friend’s mom. The red GMC was the only remaining car in the pick up area.
Years later, my friend Mark reminded me I lied to his mom when I saw how upset she was.
“We were skiing to the bottom when a little girl cut me off and I ran into her,” I’d said. “She lost both skis and poles and lay crying in the snow. After a couple minutes a patroller arrived on the scene. When he realized she was fine, he let us go with a stern warning to slow down and be careful.”
I’m not sure if Mark’s mom bought the lie or was just really tired of waiting for us, but she never questioned it. Nate and I sat in silence, hoping no one would interrogate us and learn of our last run down the Ridge. They never did.
Looking back, I feel bad for lying about hitting the little girl. Someday I hope to have honest children who spend their days dreaming of skiing steep, challenging terrain. Maybe they’ll have more sense than I did. Or the cojones to just jump in.
Freelance writer Ryan Dorn grew up in Bozeman and currently lives in Seattle. He apologizes to the teachers in the Bozeman School District for not paying more attention in school because he was dreaming of skiing the Bridgers. More of his work can be found at ryan-dorn.com