About five seconds into the fall, I realized I wasn’t going to stop. The moment when my mind switched from, “Whoops, that was a stupid slip,” to “Holy crap, this could be really bad,” will stay with me forever.
It was the last run of the day in the Whistler, British Columbia, sidecountry, and my legs felt like noodles. The couloir we planned to ski was pretty simple—except for a little zigzag through a gap in the cliff band. As I hopped to the left for the zig, my downhill ski skidded on an unexpected patch of ice. I started to slide downhill, picking up speed.
My friends watched in horror as I disappeared over a 15-foot cliff. I cartwheeled. My skis popped off. My poles flew away. “I might die today,” I thought right before I heard my helmet crack against a rock.
When I stopped 300 vertical feet later, my body felt like it was in a vise. Everything hurt. When my friends found me and rounded up my gear, I could stand up and communicate, but I was dazed and quivering all over. I skied out, but later, I would learn I had broken four ribs.
Two weeks after the fall, I opened the pack I was wearing that day. Inside, I found my Klean Kanteen double-wall, stainless-steel bottle. It was nestled against the backpanel, exactly at the spot where I had snapped my ribs. The bottle was still half-full of water, but with a huge new dent. During one somersault, I must have landed on a rock. The bottle absorbed the blow, snapping my ribs but likely sparing my life.
I changed as a skier and hiker that day. I couldn’t shake the feeling of falling far and fast, not knowing when I might stop.
For a while I’d cringe whenever I looked at the bottle, a testament to a careless moment and the thin margins I’d taken for granted. But now I reach for it regularly. It reminds me how lucky I was, and am. It reminds me to be smarter, more aware in the mountains.