Having returned their clients safely to the base, Chris and his pilot flew through the pass, following the flight path Jim had taken earlier. Chris’s eyes scanned the log cuts, looking for our white helicopter with its green and yellow stripes. He searched the trees, willing himself not to find it there. Then, he spotted people waving in the slide path, standing on the narrow bench in the terrain—Jim had landed in the only open spot for kilometers. Chris allowed himself to breathe. Before they were even fully on the ground, he was out of the helicopter, trudging through the deep powder, taking in the scene. Snow was piled up high around the heli. The front foot bubble had smashed on impact and there were chunks missing out of the helicopter’s frame. The whole thing looked both intact and yet somehow not.
“Shit, Erin, what happened?” Chris suddenly appeared next to me, peering through the door. “Jim, you OK?” he said.
Startled out of my daze, I looked sideways at him, careful not to move. “Chris, I’m cold, and I really have to pee.”
I could see relief wash over his face as he heard me try to make a joke. Chris was like a brother; I could talk to him about anything, and we always had fun guiding together. He once hand-delivered an emergency tampon to me stashed in a bag of pastries as I sat in a running helicopter, ready to guide a day of filming with an all-male crew of professional snowboarders.
“We both have bad backs here, Chris,” Jim replied. “I think you better see to Erin first, though. She needs to get out of here.”
“No, no,” I protested. “Help Jim.” I was trying to be brave, but I did want to get the hell out of there. And then it hit me: how would I get out of the mountains? I didn’t want to fly in another helicopter—ever. Could they ski me down to the road in a rescue toboggan and snowmobile me out? I envisioned them lowering me in the toboggan down the avalanche chute, trudging through unconsolidated snow in log cuts likely still too thick with alder bushes to ski through. Finally reaching the logging road, a snowmobile could tow me to the main highway, 24 miles away. That might take a couple of days, but yes, it could work.
“Barry is on his way in the 212, and he’s going to get you guys outta here,” Chris said.
Just then, I heard the thunderous beat of the big helicopter’s blades as it entered the valley at full speed. Whipping around the corner and looking up the slope, Heath, the pilot, rapidly worked the controls to slow the machine, spotting a landing at the path’s edge. It seemed like only a second later that Barry, one of the senior lead guides, was at my side.
“What’s up, girl? What happened?” he said.
Seeing his concerned face, relief washed over me. Barry would get me out. I could hear guides talking to Jim on the other side, and again he told them, “Don’t worry about me. Get Erin out of here first.”
As hands clamped my body and strong arms carefully slid me out of the helicopter and onto the backboard, I tried to make another joke: “Don’t drop me.”
The cold air hit my skin, and I instantly felt exposed, like a scab had been ripped off and all my nerve endings were left dangling. I wanted to curl up and hide. I felt so ashamed that everyone had to drop everything to rescue me. That somehow I made a mistake, that if I had done something differently, this wouldn’t have happened. I had worked so hard to be a leader—to be fair and listen to everyone’s needs. To be strong and instill confidence. And now here I was, being pulled from a helicopter, powerless. Exposed. Broken. I had fallen out of the sky in more ways than one that day.
As I lay on the board in the snow being packaged, Dr. Simon, our resort physician, appeared. He had been at base when he got the distress call. Now, his bearded face was sad as he checked me over. His normally twinkling eyes held pity, as though he knew what lay ahead.
“My fingers are numb and tingling, Simon. I’m so cold and I really have to pee,” I said.
“Okay, we’re going to get you in the 212 and get you warm.” He leaned close. “And if you really have to pee, just go. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Simon, I can’t fly in the 212,” I said. “I can’t. Is there any other way? I’m scared.” Tears began to roll down my cheeks. Silent tears of fear, sadness, and loss of control. I was being lifted, as if on a platter, to the waiting 212. “No,” I said, quietly. Chris’s face appeared.
“You’ll be OK, Erin. Heath will get you there.”
Still trying to retain some scrap of control, I said to Chris, “Can you call Ian? He’s in Whistler, teaching a course. Let him know I’m OK? And let the nanny know I might be a bit late coming home tonight, to look after Sam for me, please?”
I was hoisted up into the helicopter and slid along the back bench with Dr. Simon beside me. Jim was right behind me and Barry alongside him. We were strapped in with seatbelts and slings.
As the blades began to slowly turn and gain momentum and the helicopter began to vibrate, my tears flowed harder and faster, turning into sobs, thankfully drowned out by the whine of the engine.