As the howling whiteout raged around her, Harking struggled to stay on her feet, the biting cold piercing every part of her body.
There’s no way we’ll make it, she thought as she stood there, shivering.
Barely able to see the tips of her skis as the heavy snow encrusted her eyelids, she swiped a gloved hand across her face, then tightened the scarf over her mouth and nose.
Grabbing the front of her toque she pulled it down across her forehead, then fumbled with the drawstrings of her hood, cinching it tight so only her eyes were showing.
Turning her head, she peered behind to see if the others were still with her. Just able to make out a series of shapes distorted by the squalls, she returned her attention to the ski track she’d been following.
Peering into the whiteout, she called out to her father, but there was no reply.
“Dan,” she repeated, yelling his name again.
Hearing nothing but the wind, she leaned into the tempest.
Every step forward was a confused struggle for balance, trying to decipher up from down as the freezing cold confused the senses, any notion of depth perception nearly impossible as firm ground morphed seamlessly with the air above it.
Without warning, something or someone pushed past and she stumbled.
Ramming a ski pole into a drift, she saved herself from falling face first into the snow then cursed out loud.
Regaining her footing she carried on, confused by what was happening out there in the whiteness.
Mustering every ounce of strength she fought to catch up, gaining ground.
“Stay back,” she could hear her father yell.
“Dan,” she called out, ignoring his warnings and forging ahead, trying to catch sight of him.
“Stay back Har…” he yelled again, her name lost to the wind.
Still she edged closer.
As she powered through the deep snow, thigh muscles burning, she could just pick out his ghostlike shape.
She had almost caught up when a loud Boom! reverberated across the slopes like a cannon.
“Get back…,” her father yelled again, his voice lost in the confusion.
For an instant, time stood still.
And then it hit her, the torrent of air knocking her off her feet.
Tumbling downslope she clawed at the emptiness, instinctively swimming for the surface, her overpowering will to survive pulling her out of death’s grip.
When the madness stopped, she was buried up to her waist.
Panicked, she scanned the mounds of snow for any sign of her father.
Then she saw him, an arm and head sticking out of the snow.
“Dad” she screamed.
Shifting her body, she tried to pull herself free but the weight of snow held her captive.
Realizing her predicament, Harking frantically clawed at the hardening snowpack encasing her body, extracting one leg at a time.
Free at last, she leaned back and rolled away from the hole.
Struggling to her feet she scrambled through the debris field and fell to her knees next to him, digging for all she was worth.
“Dad,” she screamed as she cleared the snow away from his head and shoulders. But there was no response.
Carefully she eased his head to the side to clear his airway … but his face was suddenly lost in a blur of swirling snow.