December 2010

Snowed under

By Suzanne Strazza

Every year, when the snow flies, I am reminded of my winter in Utah, where every minute of my day was influenced by snow. And with those thoughts, comes the story of one particular day. . . .

I was living, alone, in the Wasatch Mountains. It was a 3-mile ski in, over a pass, across a huge meadow and into the woods where my little A-frame cabin sat perched on the hillside. I had electricity, but no heat and no running water.

Honestly, it was heaven, until S, the guy who owned the cabin, who was my occasional lover, returned unexpectedly from South America and suddenly, we were living together.

The one plus about our co-habitation was that he brought with him a snow machine.

I was very anti-motor, but there were times when it came in handy. Like the day my friend was supposed to come visit and I asked to borrow the damn thing so I could pick her up instead of making her ski all the way in.

He said yes, on the condition that I would “run an errand” for him first. I had to take something up to another friend’s cabin about two miles away as the snowmobile flies.

Well, his machine had a little trouble starting, and the easy solution was to pour gas into the carburetor, which was fine when I was at home, but not so easy to do when I was somewhere else without a gas can.

I knew that if I could prop the throttle open and give that pull-thingy a hard tug at the same time I could get it started. Unfortunately, I was too small to do both simultaneously.

So, slightly panicked at the thought of telling my sort-of boyfriend that I had to leave the snow machine at the neighbor’s, I began looking around for a solution to my dilemma and came up with…

A hair elastic.


And it worked. Turns out, a little too well. The snowmobile started up like a champ, but then I gave the throttle a little squeeze, a little more juice and the damn elastic tightened up and suddenly we were at full throttle and I was not sitting on the machine.

In a millisecond, I was on my ass in the snow watching the snow machine race in a straight line across the football-field-sized meadow in front of me.

“This can’t be happening,” ran through my head as the snowmobile cruised farther and farther away from me. Somewhere in the back of my head was also a voice saying, “Suz, you’re hurt.”

But I didn’t have time to worry about that.

Then, in what seemed like slow motion, as I told myself that this couldn’t possibly end badly, it hit a tree – a huge ponderosa. But it stopped and that was a plus.

Adrenaline coursing through my veins, I ran (as much as you can in waist-deep snow) across to the tree, telling myself that maybe it wasn’t so bad.

Then, amidst much creaking and groaning, the tree fell over onto the now-quiet machine.


Still in denial about the collateral damage, I made it to the tree and out of the corner of my eye I saw the bird that had been in the tree but was now in the snow, dead.


Just as you’ve read about, the superhuman strength that comes in a desperate situation helped me to push the tree off the snowmobile. And there it was, flattened, crushed with the front end wrapped in a U-shape around the base of the now-stump.

Yes, it was as bad as I had imagined. Worse, actually.

Knowing that I was hurt and that I only had so much post-trauma adrenaline, I made the walk back to my cabin. When I got home, I took my glove off to see my thumb dangling lifelessly, nothing holding it place but skin.

We had just gotten one of the very first cell phones – about the size of a baseball bat – so I called a snowmobile company that ran tours around my “neighborhood.” I begged them to send someone up to get me, knowing that I wasn’t going to make it out on skis.

When the guide got me down to dry ground, he asked if I wanted to go to the hospital or to my boyfriend’s work site first.

Duh, hospital! I wanted to put off telling the S for as long as I possibly could.

After the doctor told me I need surgery, put a cast on my hand, and put me on painkillers, I went to the construction site where S was working.

I walked in, hand held up in front of me, like a white flag of surrender, declaring, “I am hurt, please take great pity on me,” and told him what had happened. Fortunately, he was nice about the whole thing, even holding my other hand through the operation.

So, each year, when the snow begins to fall and everything around me turns white and I am reminded of that fateful day, I think that maybe I should move south.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.