THURSDAY: The Transition


Copyright is held by the author.

WHEN I explained to my 30-year-old son that I was too nervous to go any higher today, he said that it was OK, that he understood, but he still coaxed me further to this exposed ridge just before the slope steepens again. This is where we’ll make our transition. The warmth from the exertion on the ascent is already fading, and I’ll need to change into more insulating layers quickly before the cold seizes hold of me.

I have never skied off-piste before. I managed reasonably well on the climb, but that still leaves going down.

I yank out a borrowed rain shell from my own pack, which immediately starts whipping violently in the wind. Next I remove my skis and tear off the gluey skins — used for traction on the ascent — from the bottoms, like an oversized, resistant band aid. Then I shorten my poles as my son instructed me, and, after some fumbling, put my skis back on, switching my bindings from walk mode to ski mode. I think I’m ready to face the steep descent, but my son slides over next to me and starts adjusting the straps on my helmet. When I pull away slightly like he used to, nervous about being accidentally pinched by the buckle of the helmet he wore riding his tiny, wobbling red bicycle while I ran behind, he tells me to stop moving.

My helmet feels more stable and comfortable now, but the wind has picked up again, shrieking through the plastic. The weather here changes so quickly: Blue patches of light pulse through the fog, exposing a swollen finger formation of Norwegian mountain peaks far above us. A few seconds later, the blue has already melted away and hail hisses on my helmet as if someone is pouring sand on me. My son, who’s suddenly a few hundred yards below, is giving advice through the walkie-talkie he pinned like a nametag to my shoulder strap earlier today: “Bounce up and down and you’ll be able to turn more easily, or if you can’t, just let the deep snow slow you down.” As I re-adjust my goggles which press uncomfortably against my brow, the fog thins, and I see my son’s tracks passing through a cluster of snow laden trees. Further down, he’s holding his arms in the air, clicking his poles together over his bright red shell. I want to please him, but I am not going to bounce. I can’t.

I don’t fall until I have emerged through the branches. Buried up to my chest and breathing tremulously, I’m waiting for my son’s guidance to crackle on the walkie-talkie about the best way to lift myself up from the soggy snow. He tells me to make an X with my poles and push hard. It takes a few tries but then I’m upright. I’m still not going to bounce, but I pull my skis parallel and closer together, slip into my son’s tracks and accelerate toward his padded applause.


Image of Dan Shiffman

Dan Shiffman is a high school English teacher at the International School of Hamburg. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such places as Hobart, X-ray Literary, Shark Reef, and Litbreak. You can read more of his work at