On Friday I was skiing the Ellis River Trail in falling snow, with perfect wax and comfortable technique. I worried a little because my bindings were coming apart, but the loose bits seemed to be staying partially attached. I could only keep skiing, enjoying the fluid stride through silky powder. I looked down every stride to make sure the little yellow binding flexors still clung to the toe pieces. I could replace the attachment pins if I could get them back to the lodge.
On a straight, level stretch I saw two skiers many yards ahead of me. They were down. Sometimes people's feet tangle and they fall in places that seem to present no hazard. But as I got closer I wondered if they had decided to stop and sit in the middle of the trail just for a picnic. One squatted or knelt, facing the other one.
Still closer I could tell they were both women, approaching middle age. I started to form a few choice comments about appropriate places to stop and spread out across the tracks, but I don't shoot first anymore. Not so much, anyway. And not this time.
As I pulled up, one woman, on her cell phone, said, "What? No!" She turned to her friend. "Oh my god," she said. "Dick's dead! He just died!" She looked at her friend, repeating, "Dick's dead, he's dead! He wasn't even sick." Then she collapsed, sobbing, in her friend's arms.
I didn't want to ski off, since no one else but the friend was there, but I didn't know what I could do. I made a few sympathetic comments.
"You may have a shock reaction and your body temperature will drop," I said. "You should go to the warming hut, right over there, and sit for a minute out of the weather." Snow was still falling, and the breeze was picking up.
When she'd just been blasted with totally unexpected bad news I couldn't really question her in detail about how close they'd been or how seriously she might react. The sobbing woman said he'd died in his sleep. Her friend said that sounded like a good way to go. But rationality like that has to fight through a lot of other brain traffic when an emotional missile seeks you out in the middle of a pleasant afternoon ski outing.
I know what to do when someone is bleeding, or not breathing, or hypothermic. I know what to do when someone is scared or lost. But the cell phone has now allowed the outside world to barge in with crap like this. All it did was ruin her afternoon. She didn't need to know about it right then.
Oh yeah, and she had a signal out there? It wasn't the right time, but I really wanted to ask what service provider she had.