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A Texas woman suffered a most embarrassing accident at a Colorado ski resort recently, Bill Ewton of Salado, Texas, tells me. His mother, who told him the story, claims the woman is a friend of a friend of hers. But Bill and I think the story is an urban legend.

This Texan was an inexperienced skier. After practising on the bunny slope, though, she was ready to try a run from the top of the mountain. As she got off the lift, Mother Nature called.She didn't see any rest room or lodge up there, so she skied behind a clump of trees, jabbed her poles into the snow and began to unzip.

Just as she pulled down her ski pants and thermal underwear, she began to slide down the slope. In an instant, she was skiing down the mountain backward, her pants down around her ankles. She waved her arms wildly, trying to stop, until she collided with a tree, breaking her arm.

She was rescued by a team of incredulous members of the ski patrol, who helped her to her feet and brought her down the mountain for medical care.

As she was leaving the infirmary, her arm in a sling, a man wearing an instructor's parka was carried in, his leg in a splint.

"What happened?" she asked him. "I mean, you're an instructor."

"You're not going to believe this," he explained, "but I was riding the lift when I saw this woman roaring down the run with her pants down! I laughed so hard that I fell off the lift. And what happened to you?"

"Oh, I just sort of fell," the woman said and hurried off to the lodge.

I first heard this story at Snowbird in Utah during the winter of 1979-80, and I've collected variations of it ever since.

In some versions the instructor is skiing down the hill when he is passed by the unbuttoned woman skier, and he is so shocked that he loses control and hits a tree himself. In others, the two meet while sitting in front of the fireplace in the lodge, nursing their broken bones.

There's also a version in which a husband holds his parka in front of his wife at the top of the mountain. After she unzips, she sees the coat start to move. She shouts, "Keep still, would you?" But it turns out that she's the one who is moving.

The Atlanta Constitution reported it as happening to an Atlanta stewardess on vacation in Aspen, Colo., while the Akron Beacon Journal described an Akron native who hit the slopes after a wine-tasting party at a resort in upstate New York. An Oklahoma reader heard it told about a wealthy Mexican visitor to Vail, Colo.; one from Saskatchewan heard it about a Canadian at the same resort.

And Linda Leisy of Bellevue, Wash., tells me that in 1980 she heard the story set at the Crystal ski resort there. Then her daughter heard it while skiing at Crystal last winter.

I've even come across a version of the story from Sweden, where it is told as an incident that happened to a young skier at a tony Swedish resort. The Swedes don't say whether she flew in from Denmark. But I wouldn't be surprised.

How does this legend get around? It seems that skiers everywhere, as they gather in front of the fireplace after a day on the slopes, can't resist telling this story of a skier less expert than themselves.