The morning sun had nearly crested the snowy peak as the crew paused to celebrate their ascent. After three months of planning, six grand in new equipment, one nearly impossible park permit, and a long morning trek, they had arrived at the summit of White Peak National Park. The first, and arguably most difficult, leg of their ski weekend was complete.
“Coming to you live from the summit of White Peak,” Riley began as he removed a small camera affixed to his ski helmet. Fitted head to toe in brand-new winter gear, his lanky build was nearly unnoticeable as he pivoted in a wide circle to showcase his surroundings. “A harrowing journey that few would ever pursue,” he continued sarcastically while redirecting the camera toward the other male in the group, who was now sitting against a stone slab several feet away. “Dustin, how high are we again?”
“Uh, 12,314 feet,” Dustin replied while looking down at his watch.
“You heard it here, folks, 12,000 feet,” Riley continued. “An adventure for the ages.”
Only open to the public for four months a year, White Peak National Park, known to enthusiasts as “The Great White,” was one of the most sought-after ski excursion experiences in the Rocky Mountains. The park spanned nearly thirty miles in each direction from the main peak, was carefully regulated by park services, and sported a three-year wait list, which was mostly due to the park only issuing one civilian ski license per twenty-four-hour block. It was through Riley’s alumni connections with the Parks Department that the crew received preferential access and secured a quick spot in a matter of months.
“Are you going to do this the entire trip?” Miri interrupted as she tossed her pack in the powdered snow and plopped down next to Dustin. “We literally hitchhiked the first ten thousand feet and then followed a trail up until a few hours ago.”
“Dude! You are killing the vibe,” Riley snapped as he put the camera back in the bracket on his helmet. “My people have been waiting months to see this.”
“You have ten followers, including us, and you’re not even livestreaming,” Miri laughed. “Get your ass over here and enjoy this view before we hit the slopes.”
“Miri’s right,” Dustin added. “Don’t have a ton of time up here. Parks want us setting up camp below 8,000 feet and before the sun sets.”
Riley rolled his eyes as he dropped next to Dustin. The three sat in silence as the winter winds tossed loose snow across the untouched peak. Each breath was heavy and visible.
“Pretty awesome though, huh?” Riley continued as he took off his helmet and set it on his pack resting in the snow. Without breaking his gaze from the valley below, Dustin patted Riley on the leg.
“Pretty good hookup,” Miri responded. “Been trying to get up here for years.”
“We are literally on top of a mountain by ourselves,” Riley added. “Every direction, for miles, there’s just nothing.”
Dustin leaned over and pulled a map from his zipped left pocket. Quickly unfolding it, he placed the terrain view in front of Miri. “Alright, we’re here,” he started, pointing to the map. “Slopes are open through this area. Then things will tighten up with forest on both sides around 9,000.”
“And back to business,” Riley mumbled.
Ignoring Riley’s comment, Miri leaned over and looked at the map. “Where are we planning to stop for the night?”
“Right here, northwest of where we are now,” Dustin said as he pointed to the lower corner of the map. “Straight shot would get us there a few hours before sunset, so we should have plenty of time to explore Frostmoor.”
“Thought that was during our second day on the slope,” Riley interjected as he leaned across Dustin to get a better view of the map.
“Today, my friend,” Dustin responded as he pushed Riley back.
“What secrets lurk in the abandoned village of Frostmoor?” Riley began with a theatrical voice, grabbing his camera and placing it in selfie mode. “Cut off from civilization, only the empty remnants of a time long past.”
Miri lunged over Dustin at Riley’s arm. “Give me that. I’m not doing this for the next two days.”
“Okay, okay,” Riley shouted as he stretched away from Miri. “I’m done, I’m done.”
Dustin let out a deep sigh and stood, cutting off Miri’s lunge. He quickly examined his boots before folding the map and returning it to his pocket. Dustin, in his mid-twenties, stood over six-foot-two, with broad shoulders, well-groomed facial hair, and a military-style haircut.
“We rollin’?” asked Miri as she looked up at Dustin and squinted from the sun.
Dustin helped Miri to her feet. “Let’s switch over,” he replied as he gave her a peck on the lips and then stepped over to his pack and ski gear resting nearby.
Miri and Riley followed suit and unpacked their gear. Miri made quick work of her skis and spent most of her time adjusting her helmet and goggles, while Riley focused on setting his boots and snapping his skis into position. Well accustomed to recreational skiing, all three quickly switched their equipment and were ready for the descent.
“You guys good?” asked Dustin as he shifted his ski pole bands around his wrists.
Miri and Riley both nodded as they approached Dustin and came to gliding stops.
“Let’s keep our formation tight, and we need to stick together,” Dustin continued. “If anybody needs to stop, just shout.” He turned and looked down the slope. “And watch your speed, especially out of the gate. Descent looks a little dicey down there.”
“I literally grew up two hours from here,” Miri interrupted. “Let’s go!”
“Ready for descent, oh Captain my Captain,” Riley sarcastically said into his walkie talkie. The grin on his face was chin to chin.
Dustin rolled his eyes, hopped up the short incline to Riley, and swiped the radio from his hand. “Give me that.” He turned and tossed it to Miri, who awkwardly snatched it from the air. “That’s yours now.” He turned back to Riley. “And don’t call me that.”
“C’mon, man,” Riley grunted. “Technically, you are the only one of us with military experience.”
“Military experience that only lasted a few months.”
“Oh, I thought you served for a few years,” Riley continued. “What happened?”
“That’s a great question. He hasn’t told me that part yet,” Miri added as she slid closer to Dustin and glared at him.
Dustin pulled his goggles over his eyes and shifted away from them. “Story for another time,” he muttered before starting down the steep slope.