The Light on the Hill

Josh could see the light on the ski hill from his living room window. At first he thought it was a snowcat, working its way up the groomed runs like a firefly slowly fluttering toward the stars—except the glow was too faint, too “wandery,” the way it dipped into the trees then back out on the run. So he decided it was a skier skinning up to the summit for an evening lap under a half full moon.

He imagined the cold air on that skier’s face, eyelashes batting away the accumulation of frost, and the warmth of sweat escaping from under the figure’s hat, freezing the skier’s neck as it met the cold mountain chill.

Josh was going to be married in the morning, in a little chapel of trees he and Theresa had found while hiking with the dogs years ago. Yogi and Ringo were the dogs they had when they first met. Both were Labrador mixes, Yogi with a bit of bassett and a long, low body, and Ringo with the fuzzy coat and wandering spirit of a malamute. Those dogs that had been their children who were both long gone now.

When he skied, Josh thought of them bolting through the snow after chipmunks, high on the scents proliferating through the powder. One of his greatest joys had been standing above the untracked snow of Ricochet Bowl, where Ringo would let out a happy bark then take first tracks, and Yogi would whine at the steepness, then dive in after them, his short legs churning like a little rhino in the unsettled snow.

It had been perfect that morning, the untouched fluff rising to Josh’s face with each turn. It felt like a cold caress. Embracing him. Moving with him in a filling cloud as if others were also riding with him, spirits yodeling in the sluff all around.

Nature. The dogs. His dad, who he wished had outlasted the emptiness of Alzheimer’s long enough to see his son in the bliss of love. And a hundred other powder hounds hooting at the ride and the run and the thrill of it all.

The light reached the summit as he watched, and Josh fell silent as it disappeared over the hill. He stared for a little while longer as he finished his beer—watching the mountain really, and the stars—because the light never returned, and he wondered what it really was that he had seen up there.

Josh thought he should get some sleep before the big day, and anticipated how warm it would be in bed. He was starting to feel very cold.

In the morning, the house was colder still. So cold Josh wondered if he had left open a window—or the back door. As he made coffee in his French press, he thought of Theresa and how much he loved her. Of how beautiful she would be in her long white wedding jacket, with her pink cheeks in the winter, her warm brown eyes and her little circlet of flowers highlighting her brown curls.

He thought he might take a walk with her father, man-to-man, to tell him how grateful he was to get to spend the rest of his life with Theresa, and to remind him of how when he had come to ask for her hand, he left Josh in the construction site trailer, waiting for almost an hour.

He thought he might talk to the judge (both of their parents had agreed it would be better than a priest or a rabbi, given their almost agnostic attention to the religion that may or may not pay attention to their time on earth), but she turned her back when Josh entered the room.

They all did, actually. To the point that Theresa began to cry, and wouldn’t look Josh in the eye when he tried to talk to her.

Maybe, he thought, they were still mad he had decided to ski the day before—to honor the dogs—especially when the avalanche danger was so high, and there were so many other “un-selfish” things to do. Or because he had missed the brunch, and then the walk-through, and even the first Happy Hour at the brewery where everyone was going to get a chance to speak. Everyone was going to say how important this was, two special people in love, coming together, uniting disparate, but likewise simpatico worlds.

Josh was always a little contrary. He liked that. So did his friends. It’s what makes people like him who they are. To the point he decided that his wedding was going to be that way, too, celebrating his love and his life in a stark, honest, awesome way that acknowledged how the people who live in the mountains really are.

He was going to tell his father-in-law exactly that. Or maybe the judge. Or himself. But then he walked by the newspaper in the kitchen sitting on the bar. The headline said he had been killed by an avalanche in Ricochet Bowl. The story talked about how early the snow had come in, and how many other skiers and snowboarders had died in similar circumstances in the same place over the years.

So Josh was killed. And he remembered how he had felt those old dogs skiing with him, and how reality wasn’t real anymore. Then he felt the oppressive weight of the snow, and what it was like to be a light, rising above the slope.


Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray (elwayville@elevationoutdoors.com) is the author of The God of Skiing. The book has been called “the greatest ski novel of all time.” Don’t believe the hype? You can buy it here: AMZN.TO/2LMZPVN

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