Chapter Extract - WTSD

When the Snowgums Dance - PART ONE - Chapter One

Seventeen-year-old Kylie Harris knew she didn’t really have time to ski the slalom course before the school bus that crisp Friday morning.  She also knew that if her mother found out she was risking being late for one of her final year trial exams, she would almost certainly be banned from competing in the downhill race for the Lyrebird Cup tomorrow, a race she desperately wanted to win.  But in her mind she had no choice.  Three times now, she had fallen on Murphy’s Turn, the last steep bend of the course.  All she needed was a couple more goes at it. 

The sun was just peeping over the snow capped ridges of Victoria’s Snowy Mountains, as she crept out of the drying room, Sunburst Lodge, and onto the snow, clutching her skis and stocks and school bag.  Shivering, she zipped up her purple and white ski jacket, a hand-me-down from her elder sister Gwyneth. She adjusted the tight fitting ski pants she had saved six months to buy and which her mother heartily disapproved of and crunched quietly down the road.  Heart pounding guiltily, she stepped into her skis and pulled on her gloves.   She pulled the head band around her wild, flaming red hair and slung her school bag over one shoulder, glancimg quickly behind her to check the house was still sleeping.  Grabbing her poles she pushed off towards the express quad chair lift that would take her up to Koala Bowl and the slalom course. 

Kylie had stepped into her first pair of skies when she was two, staggering behind her five year old sister down the nursery slopes, it was not until Geoff and Susan Harris bought Sunburst Lodge in the heart of Lyrebird Falls ski resort eight years ago that Kylie’s passion for skiing really started to blossom. Encouraged by her parents, both good skiers themselves, she discovered she was a natural and she quickly started winning trophies. The prestigious Lyrebird Cup was the only junior trophy in the district she hadn’t won. This year was Kylie’s last chance to compete and she was convinced that if she could add this internationally recognised award to her collection, she had a far greater chance of being accepted into one of the overseas ski hire clinics.  She intended to apply as soon as she could afford the airfare.  For passionate, uninhibited, Kylie, the Lyrebird Cup was the start of her dream to become a ski instructor to the rich and famous. 

By the time Kylie had covered the distance between Sunburst Lodge and the chairlift,  she had convinced herself  if the worst happened and she missed the bus she could get around her dad. Not only had she inherited his adventurous spirit and fearlessness on the slopes, she knew how proud he was of her skiing achievements and that he understood how much winning the Lyrebird Cup meant to her.  She had also learned from him that there were times in life when you took risks. This was one of those times. Besides, her mother was far too occupied organising Gwyneth’s wedding to take her usual notice of Kylie’s activites.  Last night there had been talk of nothing else, her dad trying to work out how they were going to accommodate all the cars, while Gwyn and Susan went over and over the plans with such controlled precision and boring detail that Kylie had wanted to scream out ‘What happened to romance and fun!’ But she had kept quiet partly because she wanted her sister to be happy and partly because she was hoping that they would all stay up so late, immersed in the wedding they would be too tired to hear her slink off before school. Kylie had been right about slinking off.  There had been no sign of movement as she had slipped past her parent’s bedroom door this morning. 

Tom Wickham, the resort engineer was already on his daily rounds checking the chairlifts for ice and any mechanical problems.  He greeted Kylie with a cheery grin. ‘Bit early for the milk run.’ he laughed.

‘I know. I was hoping…please Tom, can I get an earlier ride?  I wanted to have another goes at the slalom course and I don’t know if I can make it this afternoon, with exams and everything.’  She turned her melting green eyes on Tom. 

Tom thought for a moment. ‘Go on then.’ he smiled. He radioed to his mate at the top of the slope, then pressed the button and the chairs slowly ground into motion. ‘Just you be careful up there today, there’s still quiet a bit of ice about,’

‘You’re tops!’ grinned Kylie. Quickly she slid her bag off her shoulder and handed it to Tom with a grateful smile. She skied through the automatic bars and onto the quad chair. ‘I’ll love you for ever.’ she shouted, pulling the safety bar down in front of her. 

Kylie’s mood changed from guilt to excitement as the chair sped her up the mountainside. She glanced at her watch.  It’d take her ten minutes to get to the top, if she went flat out she’d just have time for two runs and still make it to the bus. She looked around her, as always filled with awe at the beauty of the snowfields.  Behind and above her stood the main restaurant of Lyrebird Falls, the ski racks empty, the buildings silent.  Beneath her and to either side, clouded in a faint mist, stunted gumtrees lined the wide pistes, a faint dusting of snow on their frosted branches. The sent long shadowy blue fingers across the pristine, groomed slopes which were broken by the occasional rock starting to show through.  Snowmakers dotted the bottom of the slope, ready to spew out snow with the flick of a switch. Kylie’s eyes glowed with delight as the quad chair reached the peak; here the snow tinged a pinky gold by the early morning sun. This was the magic of Lyrebird the empty world, the crisp breeze stinging her cheeks, the challenge of the slopes.

Kylie adjusted her sunglasses then skied across to Koala Bowl and the top of the slalom course. Sheltered from the wind, with the sun on the slope for most of the day, the run was both delightful and challenging, with sheltered spots that could get icy as soft snow refroze.  Today it was groomed to perfection but the freezing overnight temperatures had left a hard crusty surface and icy patches.  A young man clad in the purple and green resort ski gear was placing the slalom poles in position. He waved to her. Kylie waved backand then skied across to the start gate, a built up mound of snow.  Perched on the steep slope she glancing down the mountain and her heart starting to pound. She set her watch and pushed off.  Knees bent, skis parallel she zigzagged down the slope, carving the first tracks of the day. The cold wind brushed her cheeks and made her eyes water.  She sped up, digging her ski edges in harder as she went, exulting in the pure rhythmic freedom. 

The first two corners were easy, the snow crisp and firm under her skis, At the next turn she almost lost her balance as her skis slipped over ice. Jolted, she took the next bit slightly more slowly, then covered a steep but fairly easy run across a wider piste, slid comfortably round the next curve and headed towards Murphy’s turn.  Her stomach muscles tightened as she neared the dreaded spot.  Forcing herself to relax she rapidly recited her instructions to herself, shifting her weight, bending her knees.  She was almost round. Heart pounding, totally focussed, she felt a rush of exhilaration.  She was going to do it! Just as she thought she was clear, her outside ski slipped and she lost her balance. She toppled sideways and slewed round on the icy surface, losing her left ski as she slid and skidded downhill at an alarming rate. Frantically she tried to grab onto snow, the side of the track, anything, her gloved hands grasping and scrabbling as she slid faster and faster down the slope.  Her other ski was wrenched from her boot, her poles snatched from her wrists as she fell. 

© Simon & Schuster Australia

© Anne McCullagh Rennie 2013