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A Matter of Trust

By´╝ÜSusan May Warren


GAGE WATSON BLAMED THE TROUBLE on the bright, sunny day. A day when the sun arched high against a cloudless blue sky, and light gilded the snow-frosted, razorback mountain peaks with showers of gold.

Days like this lied to people, told them they could fly.

The air wasn’t so cold as to frighten the hordes of skiers into their condominiums or the après-ski bars, nor so warm as to turn the mountain into a river of slow-moving slush. Instead, a perfect day, rich with the fragrance of white pine and cedar, the powder dusting up behind him as he shredded the fields of untarnished snow, as his board carved through the white, soundless and free.

Dangerous. Because this kind of weather seeped into the bones of the extreme skiers who dared the back bowls and mogulled faces of Blackbear Mountain and turned them . . . well, as his father would describe it, reckless.

Or, more precisely, into idiots out to get themselves and others killed.

Like the kid dressed in an inflatable T. rex costume that Gage had chased down the mountain this morning.

Once upon a time, Gage had been that reckless T. rex. Maybe not wearing that ridiculous outfit—not when he had sponsor gear to display—but chin-deep in the lifestyle of the epic snowboarder, grinning for the cameras, basking in the limelight and cheers that came with the sport of backcountry skiing called freeriding.

Now he’d turned traitor, donning the red coat of a ski patrol and chasing down the renegades who sneaked past the roped-off areas for the run of their lives.

He stood at the edge of the perimeter of Timber Bowl, binoculars pointed to the tree-rutted, cliff-cut powder, scanning the undesignated area, just to make sure that hotshots like T. rex and his buddy hadn’t returned for a late-afternoon run.

The sun glistened off snowfall so deep it could bury a man, a condition unbearably tempting for a true powder hound. Gage could hear it calling to him, the vast, crystalline fields of white, feel his board cutting through the snowpack like it might be frosting.

Never mind the deadly, concealed ledges, drop-offs, and steel-edged boulders.

Or the threat of avalanche. No one thought about death chasing them down a hill as they attacked the powder, but with the five inches of fresh, heavy snow layering the snow pack, the cornice ached to break free and rush down the hill in a lethal wave.

And if tonight’s forecast was correct, he and the avalanche control team would be blasting another layer of powder off this slope come morning.

Gage had risen early with the rest of the Blackbear ski patrol, ridden the gondola up, and bombed the crust, the snow falling behind him, scarring the bowl. Then he’d skied through the layers, cutting into the pack to loosen it.

Still, it posed enough of a danger that they’d closed the slope and put up an orange safety line cordoning off the area from the early morning skiers sliding off the Timber Bowl express lift.

And that’s when T. rex showed up. Gage pegged the snowboarder at about nineteen or twenty. His buddy was attired with the appropriate GoPro, which made their intentions clear.

Gage had caught them just as they edged near the tape.

“Dude—the bowl is closed,” Gage said, keeping it easy.

T. rex gave him a face, like, C’mon, really, and Gage saw himself, not so long ago. So he put a growl into his reply and threatened to confiscate their tickets.

Which apparently meant nothing, because not fifteen minutes later, as he’d scanned the mountain, he’d spied the duo some two hundred feet downslope, cutting through the pristine powder, catching air off a cliff, then disappearing into the treed perimeter below.

The dinosaur had slipped out of his radar, but Gage promised himself that he’d hunt the two hotshots down and kick them off his mountain if it was the last thing he did today.

“Ski patrol, we have a downed snowboarder just below the Timber lift, tower 37.”

Gage lifted the radio attached to his jacket. “Ski patrol, Watson. I’m just below the lift, on Timber Bowl.”

“Roger, Watson. The lift stopped, and apparently he jumped for the pole and missed. Possible fracture. We have another hanging from the chair.”

Oh, for crying out loud. “I’m en route. Watson out.”

Gage clipped on his radio, then unsnapped his splitboard and pulled out his skins.

Faster to climb his way to the top and ride his board down through the trees.

He put oomph into his climb and in a few moments spied the tower through a scrim of pine trees.

“Ski patrol, Watson. I’m on slope and heading down to the victim.” Gage snapped his splitboard together and shoved the skins into his backpack.

Sheesh, he could have found the boys with his eyes closed, the way they were shouting. Keep it up and the Blackbear patrols wouldn’t have to set off charges to bring down the mountain.