22941_000_013After gliding down the mountain that day, I was horrified to see just how far I had slipped.
I walked into the small office tucked in a deserted locker room and shook hands with the bearded man. Terrified, I introduced myself. I stole glances at the pictures cozily hung on the wall featuring an ocean of red coats, white crosses, wind-burned faces, and jagged, snowcapped mountains. I envisioned myself kneeling between the black and brown marbled German shepherd and the man with the scruffy whiskers.
The interview was comparable to others I’d had, but I never wanted a job so badly.
I could think of nothing more than sifting through untracked inches of light powder and getting paid for every turn I made. I gave no attention to the challenges I knew would accompany me throughout the cold winter season as a 19-year-old female Church member on the Park City (Utah) Mountain Resort ski patrol.
And I got the job.
My first day of training came in October after the leaves had promenaded their flashy colors and now provided a dull and crunchy carpet on the ground. I waded through masses of fellow patrollers lining the walkway and held my breath, shielding my lungs from the thick cloud of cigarette smoke that circled above our heads. I also attempted to conceal my disgust at the tobacco-spitters’ club in the corner.
What are you doing here? my mind prodded as I caught people stealing peeks at me and seemingly furrowing their brows in doubt.
For two weeks we trained in sunshine, fierce wind, freezing temperatures, and blizzards to learn and perfect a patroller’s duties. It was in these harsh elements that people’s more colorful sides emerged. I received such doses of foul language, dirty jokes, and untamed lifestyle stories that my mind almost became numb to them by the end of the season.
My standards were first tested the week before Christmas when I attended the ski patrol party. I walked in the front door and was immediately greeted by seemingly happy and carefree co-workers. People who had never said a word to me before now seemed to think we were best friends. Their beer spilled on my clothes as they stretched their arms out for a hug. A fellow rookie approached me and unleashed his frustration at not having the personal strength that I exhibited in avoiding alcohol. I was surprised by his sincere concern as he continued to share his disappointment in his lack of conviction.
The beer sloshed out of his cup as he gestured with his hands, and I explained to him the Word of Wisdom and the personal choice I made long before not to drink. As I drove home that night, I felt peace that I had been an example to one person.
Starting to slip
Unfortunately, as the season progressed, I found myself slowly letting my guard down. One day when I was working the Jupiter Peak rotation, I responded to an accident. My co-worker and I sped down the steep terrain with a toboggan, fighting to keep it steady. Upon arriving at the scene to help the victim, we laughed at the blunders we had made trying to get there. During our storytelling, I slipped in a colorful adjective.
I thought nothing of it until, in a conversation with the victim, he told us he was a BYU student and was preparing for a mission. I realized that to him I was probably just another coarse mountain patrol woman. I had given him no reason to believe otherwise. At that moment I reaffirmed my desire that no matter where I am, I want people to know I am a disciple of Christ. And isn’t that what we do when we take the sacrament each week—take His name upon us and stand as witnesses?
When I slipped in my conduct that day, I was embarrassed that the injured skier wouldn’t associate me with the Church. But I was far more embarrassed that I hadn’t first been ashamed that Heavenly Father had also heard me.
Being on the mountain patrol challenged my moral strength and convictions. But even more than that, it strengthened them. It is from opposition that we grow stronger. Through my trials, my reliance on Heavenly Father and the scriptures helps me to be strong in the face of temptation. The lessons I learned while on patrol taught me to avoid the temptation to lower my standards to better fit what others are doing.