Quebec, Canada Tuesday 9th March, 2.13 p.m.
FELIX was working hard. Timber cruising for him was as pure a form of skiing as you could find. Cranking hard, he made two high-speed survival turns to drop into a little meadow. Flattening out for a moment, the small area gave him a chance to collect himself. Then it fell away into dense forest. Ducking under the branches of a snow-laden birch, he bounced off an old stump. A quick turn in the air, just enough to get his heart pumping. And then down again. He felt a stream of sweat starting to trickle down his back. ‘Outrageous!’ He let out a howl of delight.
Further back, at a slower rate, John Daroux was experiencing the true essence of “skiing trees”. Nobody was witnessing the highly personal relationship between skier, mountain, snow and epinette.
John wondered how Felix was going. He’d been impressed by the improvement in his technique. Obviously the result of much practice. ‘The sign of a committed student,’, he smiled. Still he had learnt from Felix to exaggerate his unweighting motion and keep his speed up and to use the snow more as a natural brake.
Braking to a stop, he recalled what a ski instructor had once said. “You can’t fake it in the trees. Either you’re good enough to make it down in one piece or you bite it big.” ‘Yes,’ he thought, ‘that’s right. It’s a real test.’
Further down the mountain Felix, trying hard to slow his speed spotted an old windfall directly ahead of him. ‘Jump, damn it . . . too fast . . . slow down.’ More survival turns as he scrambled to get back on line. Sharp branches poked at his goggles. ‘Left! Left!’ he screamed to himself. Cranking hard, he forced his skis across the hill. Suddenly there was nowhere to go. WHOOMP! Arms clutched at a birch trunk. ‘Hold on, oh God.’ Air expelled from his lungs in an explosive gasp as his head slammed against the tree trunk. The impact caused his body to rebound and collapse onto the snow. He lost consciousness.
Observing the deep ruts beside the old windfall, John Daroux braked quickly. Sensing the beginning of a steep pitch, he slowed to a stop to check his run. Peering down through the lifting cloud, he scanned the gully. His gaze was attracted to a red blob to his left. Uncertain, he raised his goggles and stared again. ‘My God, that looks like Felix’s jacket.’ His mind raced. ‘What’s happened?’ Lowering his goggles, he pushed off around the windfall and down into the gully towards his son. ‘He’s not moving, God. What’s happened?’
Braking to a stop, John stepped off his skis jabbing his poles upright in the snow. Goggles pushed up onto his forehead, he kneeled down. Reaching out under his son’s arms, he lifted him away from the tree. Gently lowering him to the ground, John, his voice urgent, cried, “Felix! Felix can you hear me! Are you alright?”
A shudder of awakening as Felix returned to consciousness. “Ohhh Jesus,” expelled from his clenched mouth as his eyelids opened.
“Felix, it’s alright. You’ve had an accident. Where does it hurt?”
An anguished cry mixed with blood and spit escaped from his clenched mouth. “My face! JESUS my face!”
He turned exposing a bloody gaping hole in his right cheek. John caught his breath at the sight of the puncture from the jagged edge of a snapped branch. Shocking. Hideous.
Blood from the disfigurement soiled the purity of the white snow.