Inkster of the Week: Jock McMillan, Year 12

Friday 16th June 2023

This piece of writing, exploring the lead up to a significant event, does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of a freezing day up the mountain.

Sheets of blue ice flaked off the galvanized steel of the chair, tumbling into the powdered snow below. The lift whirred into action, the chair rumbling over the rollers with a slight creak. A frozen fog enclosed the valley, and the light levels were dropping along with the temperature. The thermometer had been steadily dropping for over an hour.

"-11ºC," James mumbled. "and if that wind gets any worse, they'll close the pass."

"Crap... we'd better get a move on then," Max said.

Max brushed caked snow from the folds in his jacket, his fingers numb and clumsy, scraping across the coarse Goretex fabric. The chairlift was the last obstacle between them and the start of the journey home. It would deliver them to the windblown summit of the mountain, where they would ski through the pass and down Saddlers Ridge to the hut.

Max awkwardly pushed himself back into the seat, as he had begun to slip on the layer of snow melt between his pants and the seat cushion. James carelessly held his pole out, hoping to add to the growing collection of scratches and scrapes in the thick grey paint of the tower, having heard the distinct hum of the chairlift tower. Snow still clouded the view outside to about ten meters, meandering in the freezing winds of the Alps. Apart from the whistling wind and the drone of the lift, the only sounds were the occasional scrape of metal and wax on ice and snow. Other skiers were fleeing the incoming front to the warmth of the base building, but the boys weren't so lucky; they were heading right into the storm.

A large gust of wind tore up the valley, turning the empty chairs on either side into makeshift wind chimes as they crashed into the lift towers with a resonating hum, sending vibrations right down the tensioned steel cable. The lift slowed and groaned to a halt, swiftly followed by Max's cursing and James' moaning.

"I swear, if this thing doesn't move soon," Max groaned, followed by more moaning from James.

The lift bell rang down the slope, signalling the lift operator's best efforts at restarting the cable. Snow peppered Max's face, stinging his cheeks and cutting them raw, forcing him to pull up his collar. James sat fumbling with his goggles, readjusting them again and again, struggling to find comfort and trying to distract himself from the numbing cold.

"Come on," he mumbled aloud. "Let's get a move on," as if trying to persuade the lift into moving, to no avail. The wind lashed even more sharply against the boys' red cheeks, snow now more like hail, still battering their hunched frames. Flakes of brittle snow piled up in the crevices of the seat, only to be swiftly removed by the bitter wind, yet the lift remained stationary.

"Get comfy, man," James remarked, loosening his over-fastened ski boots, letting blood rush to his cold feet. "We might be here a while." The lift still whined a few hundred meters above, trying its hardest to initiate some form of movement, yet failing again. Max glanced at his phone.

"4:55, 5 minutes to get to the pass if it's still open."

"No chance we're making it," James mumbled through a shiver.

A gust of wind hit the chair like a punch to the gut. Helmet straps and zipper toggles flailed and whipped, jackets rippled and smacked against the seat, and snow continued to cut and scrape against raw skin. And then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone. For the first time in hours. Helmet straps and zipper toggles flailed and whipped, Jackets rippled and smacked against the seat, snow still cut and scraped against raw skin, and then as quickly as it had come, it was gone. For the first time in hours, snow fell vertically, the slope was quiet.

A jolt thrust the boys back into their seats and the familiar hum of the lift returned.

“Can you see the flags?” James asked

“Not from here.” The thick fog still hung in the air clouding them from view.

“The pass better be open, I swear”

“Only one way to find out,” Max replied as the chair screeched under the rollers of the final tower. Their skis hit the snow carving deep lines in the powder, a sort of frozen wake of sprayed snow behind them as they ventured into the frozen fog.