I wanted to shout H-E-L-P, but I was too embarrassed, so I shouted hello -- as loud as my 35-year-old lungs would allow.
"H-E-L-L-O! Can anybody hear me?"
The only response was the howling whoosh of the wind.
My left leg was knee-deep in Canadian snow, and only one ski was at my side. I had just taken a swan dive into what veteran skiers call "perfect powder snow." I turned around to grab the other ski but it had disappeared, sinking below the surface leaving neither a forwarding address nor a detectable indentation.
Here I was atop the Continental Divide in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta -- surely one of this universe's prettiest places. I did not, however, want to leave my bones here.
A novice skier, I was trying hard not to panic. I knew I had 2 1/2 hours of light left, but my heartbeat was rising nevertheless. There was no one in sight.
Just moments before, I had been 10 minutes early for the lesson that I hoped would give me some beginner's tips and advance me past the snow plow. I decided to take a quick run alone down one of the slopes here at Sunshine, just outside Banff.
I had watched a stream of skiers slide down the mountain and right up to the returning chairlift for repeat runs. I asked one woman in fluorescent garb how difficult the runs at the end of the lift were. She looked at my mismatched apparel, assumed I was a hopeless beginner and suggested I turn right at the top to catch a run marked by green signs specifically for beginners.
The first sign of trouble came when I failed to dislodge from the chairlift at the right moment. The operator shut down the line, got me off and pointed me on my way.
But I must have turned too far to the right. All of a sudden the green signs were gone. Even so, the slope looked fine to me, but within minutes I had discovered the problem: The snow wasn't packed, and I kept getting stuck, my body weight pushing the skis into the snow until the tips disappeared. I went down, feeling like I had fallen into the Blob, but got up successfully and put the skis back on (thanking the ski gods for breakaway skis).
Soon, however, I was knee-deep again. The slope stretched ahead for 50 yards, then banked to the right. There was no one there, and no one back up the hill. Finally, I found the lost ski about a foot below the surface.
I made my way over to a steep narrow trail, where a skier descended, swiveling his hips like a hula dancer. He stopped long enough to tell me the trail I was on was double X (double expert?). "Take it slow," he cautioned.
I clutched. If I leaned too far to the left I would roll down the hill all the way to the lodge, barely visible through the trees. Any attempt to turn around could send me tumbling off an icy ledge.
Finally, I decided to take parallel steps across the slope, through the trees, to an open area -- a mogul hill for expert skiers.
Just then, two more skiers glided by. I continued my routine: tortoise-speed steps, one ski at a time, sit and slide a bit, then another step, inching down the mountain.
The night before I had heard seasoned skiers talking about how to ski moguls correctly, one of them instructing the others to swivel the split second you reach the top of the mogul. I could visualize it, but my knees were like jelly.
My heart didn't stop pounding until I reached flat land, to an outbreak of applause. A worker in the lodge apparently had watched me crawling down the mountain. He had a big grin on his face. I returned a faint smile.
Had I learned my lesson? The test came at the end of the day, after an hour's lesson. I was thinking of taking the three-mile run down to the parking lot, and asked the instructor about the best approach. He looked at his watch, pointed out the fast-approaching darkness and recommended the gondola. Not what I wanted to hear.
Then the images of the afternoon flooded my mind. I ended the day taking the long gondola ride down, watching the sunset over the Canadian Rockies. I was warm and cozy, with my legs stretched out in front of me and both skis safely at my side. Stuart Wasserman is a writer in Portland, Ore.