The Ski Trip from Hell

By Warren Miller

Warren MillerA few weeks ago, I set a new personal worst record on what can only be called the ski trip from hell. It took me 34 hours and 15 minutes to fly from Seattle to Denver for a one-week ski trip to Aspen and Vail.

I must admit I had my doubts from the start when I drove south on I-5 in a blizzard that slowed my car to a meager 15 miles an hour. I knew I might be late, but I also knew deep down that my flight would probably never leave on time anyway.

Since I was so late, I parked in the high-end parking structure for $20 a day. I hurried to the curbside check-in, so I wouldn’t have to stand in the ticket line and miss my flight. There I was told that my skis would cost $50 because I was only allowed two pieces of luggage. This was already becoming an expensive trip and I hadn’t even checked in yet. There were no other options available, so I followed the porter to the check-in counter where he went right to the head of the line.

I hurried to the security checkpoint, where the 16-inch steel rod in my right leg alerted the security guard who obviously enjoyed frisking people with his magic wand. By the time I had taken off my shoes, undone my belt and rolled up my pants, a lot of time had passed and I really had to hustle to the gate.

When I finally arrived at my gate, I learned that my flight had indeed been canceled. I was told to retrieve all of my luggage and then go back to the ticket counter and rebook for the 5:45 flight in case it actually went. With all outgoing flights canceled by snow and freezing rain, there were more people in the ticket area than there are at the Super Bowl every year. I waited in line until 4:30 in order to be rebooked for the 5:45 flight. Fortunately, I had my receipt for checking the skis the first time, so I avoided a second charge.

This time it only took an hour to get through the security barrier for the second time. I arrived at the gate just in time to board the 5:45 flight only to find out that this flight had been canceled also. I was told to rebook for the next day and of course, retrieve my luggage.

By 7:30, I was rebooked for a 7:00 flight the next morning. This meant I would have to be at the airport by 5:00. Having flown in and out of Seattle dozens of times in the last 20 years, I knew where and how to somehow get a room for the night.

It seemed as though the 4:30 am wake up call came right after I fell asleep. The hotel limo got me to the airport the prescribed two hours before the flight, but only after a large ice-laden branch had fallen on my shoulder and I had broken through some ice into a puddle that was ankle deep and got my feet soaking wet. After checking in my luggage for the third time, I proceeded to security, where only 3 of the 12 lines were in operation. Getting through security took every minute I had left to make the 7:00 am flight.

Hustling to the far end of the terminal, I was told, “Sorry, that flight is canceled.” I then found out that all of the Portland airplanes had been flown up to Seattle because the ice storm was going to be worse down there. The latest rumor was that the airline was short of de-icing equipment and was running out of de-icing fluid.

I went back out to spend an hour and a half in a line to rebook on a later flight. This time I was told that I couldn’t retrieve my luggage, but there was a chance that it might arrive in Denver about the time that I did. It was noon by the time I finally got rebooked. By then, the gossip amongst the line-standers was that nothing would be flying for the rest of the day and that everyone should go home and rebook via e-mail or telephone.

At that point, I had to get to a local strip mall because my shaving kit and clean clothes were impounded. If I left the next day, that would be two nights and three days for a trip that normally took two and a half hours.

As I rode back to the motel that I had booked, I thought, “If it’s at all possible, some of these stacked up planes will get de-iced and maybe one will even fly to Denver late tonight.” With that in mind, I headed back to the airport around 3:30. After another hour and a half in line, I was told, “We can waitlist you on the 5:45 to Denver tonight.” I went back through security once again and it was very hard to be civil on a trip that had already taken me almost 36 hours and I still didn’t know when, or if, I would ever arrive in Denver.

I ate my third junk food meal of the day while sitting around waiting for the 5:45, not knowing whether or not I would get on it. At the last minute, they found a seat for me and when the plane took off an hour and a half late, it was less than half full. I finally arrived in Denver just before midnight along with only two of my three pieces of luggage. The suitcase with my ski boots, ski clothes, knee brace, crash helmet and assorted clothing had disappeared into the bowels of the airline and has never surfaced again.

On one of my many trips during that day and a half through motel lobbies, frozen streets, parking structures and long lines, a man in a wheelchair came around from behind the bus. The wind was blowing about 20 mph and the rain froze to everything it landed on. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, no coat and had a tattered suitcase in his lap. He was all alone and moving right along in his wheelchair. He was of Viet Nam veteran age and had no right leg or left arm. He pushed the right wheel with his one arm and pulled the left side of his wheelchair with his one leg.

It was a moment I will not forget. I realized that I had absolutely no reason to be upset about freezing rainstorms, late airplanes or lost ski equipment. The ski trip from hell turned out to be great once I actually reached my destination.