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I wrote the following non-fiction story after Canada defeated the U.S.A. in the 2014 winter olympics.
My favourite Snowstorm
Often, we plan to create good memories. There’s an upcoming anniversary, a surprise birthday party, or perhaps it’s just a poker game with some old buddies. Sometimes, however, the moments we cherish are the result of an unseen confluence of disparate events when fate has juggled random elements of our lives and then catches them awkwardly, resulting in an unexpected, but delightful combination. It proffers them with a sly grin, as if to say, “Try it, you might like it.”
February 20, 2014, I’m spending time with my family in Kelowna, B.C., and our planned memory is to be a day of skiing at Big White. The weather wasn’t promising. We checked the webcams, and the day looks foggy, then came the lapse of judgment that allowed for the day to unfold the way that it did. Even though the day hill was blanketed in fog, we decided to make the drive and maybe it would clear by the time we get there.
My brother has his own skis, so our plan was to take him to his locker, then return to gondola and ride up to the lodge and wait for him to take a run to the summit and come down with a report on the conditions. We would wait for him at the lodge.
I like riding a gondola to a ski hill–there is a sense of mounting excitement that increases as you rise higher on the mountain. You have time to ease out of the morning and transition from city to mountain. In Big White, the gondola passes over the village, and we are afforded a view of million dollar real estate replete with hot tubs on every balcony. The man we rode up with lamented how his young family could not appreciate the toll that skiing took on his aging body. Up at the lodge, we paused to look forlornly up the slope that was mostly obscured by mist. Visibility would be bad, but, I conceded to myself, at the speed I skied, I really didn’t need to see too far ahead of my tips.
We ordered hot chocolates and delectable cinnamon rolls, then grabbed a table and sat to wait. The lodge was crowded with people not skiing, and no one stood in the line to rent equipment. Most people seemed to be hovering around such as we were. Out the window, we saw that snow had begun to drift down—quite beautiful if you weren’t hoping to get in some runs.
It wasn’t long before my brother came down with the news that he had spoken to one of the Big White employees and was told that the fog was really a cloud, and it was laden with snow. There would be no skiing that day, and we thought that the morning was a bust.
But it was at that moment that we noticed the that gold medal game between the U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey teams was being televised on one of the flat screens. Since we weren’t done our hot chocolates, we switched tables and positioned ourselves directly in front of the television. I don’t know where we got this misperception, but we all thought we were watching a game that had been played the day before, and we believed that our girls had already the victory. Inexplicably, people keep stopping at our table and asking for updates on the score, which at that time was zero to zero. Awareness slowly dawned, and with it our excitement grew—it was a feeling slightly akin to that ride up the gondola. Surprised glances were tossed about the table, and we inched forward on our seats: this hadn’t been the gold medal game—this was the gold medal game!
A side note: during these past Olympics, I came to the realization (rather late in life, I think) that I really don’t enjoy watching live sporting events—not if I care who wins. The Grey Cup in Regina almost did me in, and that same feeling of intensity is always there during the Olympics, especially in hockey.
The question around our table was whether to stay or make the hour drive back to my brother’s. The skiing question was settled, but the game now was starting to take hold of us. The day was changing: the planned memory had been lost, but perhaps something else could take its place. And it was really more than just the game. The setting had its allure as well, partially because the crowd was international. The table beside us was from the U.S. I had heard some French and a language that I thought to be German. The majority of the employees at the lodge seemed to be Australians.
My sister asked one of the employees to turn up the volume on the broadcast, and the lady agreed as long as we kept her updated on the score. A bit more of a crowd began to form, and a bench was dragged from the wall to provide front row seating. The atmosphere was beginning to sparkle. Who needed to ski now?
Then the U.S. scored.
And then they scored again.
Time began to drag. People began to mill away. Maybe, we thought, it was time to head home. Nothing to see here. I had already watched Virtue and Moir skate perfectly, breathtakingly, and still be awarded a silver. Who needed to go through that again? Still, one of us kept saying, “But wait, if they can only score one goal, just one, then anything can happen. They could tie it up. We could get it in ovetime.” Prophetic words, but who could believe in a twist like that? It seemed too Hollywood, and anyway, in Hollywood, the “Americans” always win. We were the bad guys here.
But then Brianna Jenner changed our minds. Good God, she looked like a linebacker crashing through the defence. There was no way we were going home now. People passing through the great room stopped, and a new crowd began to form. The volume on the television was turned up again. It had to be, or no one would have heard anything now.
I kept looking around at where I am, smiling. The mountain outside now seems merely a backdrop, and the falling snow is just atmosphere. We’re now part of an “event.”
The clock ticks, and through the excitement the realization sifts the realization that they’re still losing. We’re still losing. There’s not enough time.
Kevin Dineen pulls the goalie. Epic.
Then comes the snafu with the official, and that lonely puck slides toward our empty net. It’s not moving that fast…. Fast enough that I don’t need that breath strangled in my lungs. Fast enough that we can’t gather our wits to talk, but it’s slow enough that my heart can drop all the way down to my stomach. And then the sound of it—that sonorous “ping” as it hits the goal post. I can imagine that toll reverberating in the ears of those women long after they have hung up their skates for good. Some will wake up at night and hearing that echo for years to come. “It hit the goal post? It hit the goal post!” The quiet pause of disbelief followed by the roar of elation. People write this stuff; it doesn’t really ever happen. We’re riding high again, and there is no talk of going home now.
Suddenly, almost anticlimacticly, Poulin ties the game, and the mass of people behind me erupt. Well, not all of them. And the Aussies leave their posts and come rushing in to see what madness has seized those crazy Canucks.
The last minute of the game passes with a mixture of elation and apprehension—it’s not over, and the U.S. woman too damn good to discount. And then it’s O.T.
You might think you know how this story ends. Canada won, and after all, it is now Olympic history, but you’re thinking about the hockey game, and my topic is moments of…well, moment. On that morning, Lady Fortune betrayed my expectations. She drew a curtain on the mountain, but in doing so directed us to another stage—one of improv and with an international audience. I have to admit that she probably didn’t do all this for me—Fortune smiles on the brave, not the megalomaniacal, yet my memories are my own, and, so far, that has been my favourite snowstorm.
Kenneth D. Reimer