OUT OF BOUNDS
Reader's Digest Canada|April 2021
MARK GAYOWSKI TOOK AN UNMARKED SKI TRAIL INTO A DEEP RAVINE. EVERY ATTEMPT AT ESCAPE ONLY LEFT HIM MORE LOST.
Brett Popplewell
Mark Gayowski was determined to squeeze as much fun as he could out of the last days of the year. Shortly after 9 a.m. on December 30, 2019, the 34-year-old Rossland, B.C., carpenter said goodbye to his roommate and headed to nearby Red Mountain, one of North America’s oldest ski resorts. He planned to ski all morning, followed by an afternoon watching the latest Star Wars movie with a friend.

Gayowski had spent his youth at the ski resort; its three peaks towered over the town. He knew the 119 ski runs as well as anyone. But it was the challenge of the routes that weren’t marked on the trail maps that appealed to him the most.

By 10 a.m. he’d clicked into his skis and pushed off for the first run of the day. For two hours, he cut tracks all over the mountainside. Then he got on the lift for one last ride up the mountain.

The chairlift hummed as it ferried him to the resort’s easterly peak. Gayowski pulled out his phone and called his mother, Cindy Reich.

Reich, a 56-year-old retired figure-skating coach, lived in Rossland with Gayowski’s stepfather, Raymond. She and her son spoke nearly every day. He told her how he’d spotted what looked like untouched powder in the unkempt bush that ran down the far side of the 2,048-metre-high mountain. He planned to follow it for a few minutes, then return to a run lower down and glide back to the parking lot.

She listened, then wandered to a whiteboard in her kitchen and pulled out a marker. She’d suffered a concussion in a bike crash four years earlier and hadn’t trusted her memory ever since. Following her mother’s instinct, she wrote the name of the trail and peak on the whiteboard: “Left of Unknown Legend, Kirkup side.” She asked him to call or text her when he finished the run.

“I will,” he replied. Then he put his phone back in his pocket, slipped on his gloves, got off the chair and began gliding along the left side of a steep trail for experienced skiers, looking for the ideal point to dip into the trees.

He found his spot alongside fresh ski tracks next to an out-of-bounds sign. He ducked under the rope barrier, lowered his goggles and snaked his way through the alders and pines, dodging cliffs and boulders and descending deeper and deeper into a ravine. It took a while for him to realize that he may overshoot his planned exit. Then the snow beneath his skis grew thin and the brush thicker. Soon there was no way for him to ski around the logs and downed branches that boxed him in.

Gayowski slid to a stop and took a look around. He’d lost the fresh ski tracks he’d started with almost as soon as he’d gone into the bush. He’d veered so far off-course that he was now stuck 1,500 metres into a ravine, with no easily discernible exit. He pulled out his phone and found that it had no service. He clicked out of his skis and looked back up the mountain. The climb was too daunting.

He could feel the weather starting to change as he slowly made his way down deeper into the ravine. The winds were picking up, and clouds gathered overhead. Then the snow began to fall. He didn’t yet realize how much trouble he was in.

REICH WONDERED why her son hadn’t texted or called to let her know he’d finished his run. She credited it to forgetfulness, but as the hours passed and he failed to reply to her half-dozen texts, she began to worry. She called him but got his voicemail. She knew he’d been planning to meet a friend that afternoon for a movie, so she reassured herself that he’d turned the phone off and was just sitting in a theatre. At 5:00 p.m., when she still couldn’t reach him, she drove to her son’s apartment to make sure he’d made it off the mountain.

Gayowski’s roommate was perplexed when Reich knocked on the door— he’d received a call from Gayowski’s friend earlier that afternoon, when he didn’t show up at the theatre to catch the movie. It wasn’t like Gayowski to just disappear unannounced. Outside, it was -3 C and already dark. Reich looked toward the mountain, began to panic and called her husband. They agreed it was time to call 911.

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