FICTION: A Merchant Banker in the Mountain Kingdom

Andrew Skillington
By Andrew Skillington
February 6th, 2014

One winter afternoon, Jim was walking along Columbia Ave. He loved the little town of Rossland and the quaint little shops that lined its streets. He spent many memorable late afternoons strolling around, perusing and chatting to friends about the days skiing just gone. From behind, Jim heard someone calling his name. He looked around to see a person walking towards him whose face was familiar, but not immediately placeable. ‘Jim, it’s me, Geoff, Geoff Clayton.’ It all came back, Jim had been at school with Geoff years ago, but hadn’t seen him in ages.

‘G’day Geoff, what on earth are you doing in Rossland,’ he asked in a surprised voice. ‘Just arrived, flew in today from Aus, on my way to Toronto for work, thought I’d get a few turns in on the way through.’ ‘Awesome mate, what are you up to these days, haven’t seen you for years.’ ‘I’m a merchant banker, working for a big firm in Australia, we’re doing some work with the Canadian Government, I’ve been going back and forth to Toronto quite a bit over the last year or so.’

Jim thought for a moment, a merchant ‘wanker’hey, he grinned to himself. ‘Wow mate, awesome!’ he said in as impressed a tone as he could muster. Geoff replied, ‘what about you Jim, what are you up to these days.’ Jim considered his response for a second and replied tentatively, ‘pretty much ski bumming, spending the winter here and working the rest of the year.’ ‘What sort of work,’ inquired Geoff. ‘Just different stuff, whatever comes up you know,’ said Jim.

‘I’m staying at the Prestige Hotel, you doing anything tonight,’ asked Geoff. Jim had nothing planned, but wasn’t sure he wanted to catch up any further with his old school friend, especially since they had taken such different paths. After a little consideration, he thought it would be rude not to.  ‘Nothing planned Geoff, do you want to catch up?’  ‘Tell you what, if you can show me round the mountain tomorrow, I’ll buy you dinner.’ ‘Now you’re talking,’ said Jim, who could never turn down a free feed. ‘Perfect,’ said Geoff, ‘I’ll meet you at the Prestige Hotel around eight.’

Jim thought back over his school years when he had known Geoff; he remembered that he was a bit arrogant, but ok at sport, so that had got him into the in crowd, of which Jim was a part. He remembered back to exam times, when everyone was cramming, Geoff would walk around the room telling people how prepared he was and skite about how much he knew, this used to really annoy people, including Jim. He had never been close to Geoff, but had hung out with him because they were in the same group.

Jim arrived at the Prestige a bit after eight. Geoff was waiting in the foyer. ‘G’day Jim, ready for dinner or would you like a drink at the bar first.’ ‘Always like a drink,’ said Jim. They sat down in the lounge and Geoff ordered a couple of beers.

Jim had stayed in touch with several of the group that he and Geoff used to knock around with at school and was still quite good mates with a couple of them. He asked Geoff if he had stayed in touch with any of their mutual friends, but Geoff hadn’t seen any of them since leaving school. Geoff responded to Jim’s surprised look.  ‘I was just too busy at Uni and then at work, work 15 hours a bloody day, no time for having fun, you know how it is.’ But Jim didn’t get this at all, he couldn’t comprehend how someone could spend every day of their life working, so he said; ‘you must really enjoy your work.’ ‘Yes I do,’ replied Geoff, ‘but my company certainly gets their pound of flesh, I get paid well though, including bonuses, I cleared $400k last year.’ ‘Shit,’ said Jim, quite shocked, ‘what on earth do you do with all that money.’ ‘Seen the cost of housing in Melbourne lately,’ replied Geoff, ‘can’t even get an old shitter for less than half a mill.’ ‘Far out,’ said Jim, ‘you’d buy a bloody mansion here with that sort of money.’ ‘Is that so,’ said Geoff, ‘well if you can sell me on this place tomorrow, I might just do that.’

Jim didn’t like hearing about rich successful people, as, amongst other things, it made him feel guilty. His dad had instilled in him that he must, foremost in life, get a good education so that he could get a well paid job. But Jim hadn’t done that, he had followed his heart and his love of skiing and the mountains. He had pretty much become a ski bum after leaving school and worked odd jobs to support his habit. His dad was pretty upset that he didn’t go to university and had told him so quite a few times. It wasn’t that his parents had disowned him, he was still very close to them, especially his mum. It was just the guilt of being a ski bum when his dad had worked so hard to provide him with a private school education, that Jim continually had in the back of his mind. Jim thought how proud his dad would have been of him if he was Geoff. He changed the topic and updated Geoff on what he knew of their old group of school friends. Geoff listened, but seemed somewhat un-interested.

They had some more drinks, moved into the dining room and ate, everything was going on to Geoff’s tab. ‘Sure you don’t want me to buy the next round,’ said Jim, to which Geoff replied; ‘No mate, remember our deal, you show me around the mountain, I’ll cover the meal and drinks, I’ll just put it on my expenses, chicken shit to them.’

The more they drank, the more evident it was becoming that Jim was able to hold his drink a lot better than Geoff and the more Geoff drank, the more painful he became. After a few hours, Jim knew how much Geoff had earned in each of the last five years, how many houses he owned, the value of his share portfolio and what a brilliant skier he was. Jim was told that Geoff was a frequent flyer when it came to heli skiing. ‘I’m a double black skier Jim, I hope you’ve got some of that sort of terrain here, I don’t want to mess around on the baby slopes.’Now Jim was a lovely guy and well liked in the small Rossland community, but he was also a little naive and had a tendency to take people on their word.

As he got more drunk, Geoff’s skiting slowly transformed into a slurring affection towards Jim. ‘I always liked you at school Jim, you were solid and looked out for others, remember that night down the bay, when those guys went us; Jonesey and Phil pissed off and you could have to, but you stayed to help me, I’ll never forget that mate.’  Jim thought back to that night, he remembered it vividly, they were in about grade 9, Geoff had been giving this guy lip and telling him what an arse he was, when out of no where, 3 or 4 tough guys appeared. He remembered telling Geoff to shut up and move on, but he kept talking. When the heavies turned up, everyone scampered, he was torn; should he run with the others and let Geoff get what he deserved, or stick by. He chose the latter and by some sort of miracle managed to talk their way out of getting their heads punched in. He remembered Geoff being really angry with him afterwards because he reckoned they could have taken them on. Funny how people’s memories became skewed he thought.

Jim finally convinced Geoff that they had had enough, and if they were going to ski at all the next day, they needed to go to bed and get some sleep. Jim had  to almost drag Geoff up to his room.

The next morning was clear and cold, no new snow over night, but a great day to show someone around the mountain. Jim gazed out of his window at Mt Roberts and Red Mountain and sighed contentedly. A few years after coming to Rossland, he had bought a little miners cottage that looked directly at the mountains, it was so cheap that his his mum had been able to lend him the money without his father knowing, and he was still in the process of paying her back. He loved his little place, it was his only real home.

He drove down to the Prestige and arrived a bit before 8.00am. To Jim’s surprise, Geoff was waiting for him in reception, in his ski clothes and ready to go. ‘How you feeling mate,’ he asked. ‘Never better Jim,’ Geoff’s replied. ‘Wow!’ said Jim, ‘ you were hammered last night, practically had to carry you up to your room, I’m surprised to see you out of bed, let alone ready to go.’ ‘Work hard, play hard, thats my MO Jim,’ said Geoff. Jim was impressed. They walked over to Clansey’s for breakfast and coffee before heading up to the mountain.

Geoff was studying the trail map while they ate breakfast. He asked Jim to name the steepest non-tree’d run on the mountain. Jim thought for a few moments, it was difficult because there were quite a few; ‘probably Booty,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘Excellent,’ said Geoff, ‘here’s our plan of action, we’ll start on Booty and then hit the steep trees.’ Jim looked aghast; ‘Geoff,’ he said assertively, I think we should do some warmups on the groomers in the Paradise area before hitting Booty’s, when did you last ski?’

‘Don’t you worry about me Jim, I haven’t skied for a couple of years, but I’ve only got a day and its like riding a bike, I want too get right into it, remember, I’ve done shitloads of skiing, double blacks are second nature to me.’ Jim replied in a resigned voice, ‘ok, if thats what you want.’

After driving up to the mountain in Jim’s old rust ridden truck, which Geoff loudly berated for the entire journey, they lined up at the Silverlode Chair a bit after nine. As they climbed toward the top of Granite Mountain, Jim once again tried to convince Geoff that they should go to the paradise area first, he told him that once you committed to Booty, there was no way out. Geoff would not hear of it.

After they unloaded the Motherlode chair at the top of Granite Mountain, Jim led the way down Buffalo Ridge towards the start of Booty, straight lining the last half. Jim wasn’t a speed addict, but he did love the weightless feeling you got as the pitch steepened near the top of Main Run. He stopped at the entrance to Booty and turned around to see where Geoff was. As he turned, he got a face full of snow, and simultaneously saw Geoff hurtling head first towards him. He managed to jump out of the way in the nick of time as Geoff whizzed past him horizontally.

Geoff had attempted a hockey stop at high speed with the full intention of spraying Jim. The manoeuvre had been half successful as Jim did get sprayed with snow, but Geoff would not have received to many points for execution. As Geoff’s skis came to a sudden stop, his body kept going causing him to double eject out of his bindings and hurtle straight at Jim. ‘Hey Jim, what are you doing going so slowly, what an awesome tuck eh, did I get you,’ cried Geoff as he was getting up and dusting himself off.

Oh shit thought Jim, this guy is a real wanker, we’ll see how he goes down Booty. Geoff walked back to his skis, laughing and yahooing and clicked back in.  ‘You ok,’ said Jim, ‘good thing you didn’t hit me.’ ‘Mate, I’m fine,what a ripper,’ replied Geoff.

‘Ok, this is Booty, just down here,’ Jim said tersely, frustrated by what had just happened, ‘why don’t you do go first, it looks like you ski a bit faster than I do, you just head straight down, its opens out once you get through those trees.’ ‘Pretty steep and tight,’ said Geoff anxiously. ‘You’ll be fine,’ said Jim, whose care factor had decreased markedly since nearly being wiped out the minute before. In fact he was so frustrated, that he didn’t notice how terrified Geoff had very quickly become.

Geoff hesitated and suggested that maybe Jim should go first. ‘Mate, after your last effort, there’s no way I’m getting in front of you again.’ Geoff very tentatively started off, but it was quickly very evident that he was struggling and not at all confident. He managed a couple of turns, but could not control his speed. He tried another turn but was in the back seat and going to fast. The next instant his tips had crossed and he was catapulted over the front of his skis, then he was sliding and screaming head first into Booty. ‘F-A-R-K,’ yelled Geoff as disappeared into the trees.

Jim watched it all unfold in horror. He observed Geoff’s path carefully and skied down towards the point where he last saw him. As he skied down, he was thinking to himself; he’s dead, I’m to blame, I’ll get manslaughter, but as he got into the trees, to his delight, he saw Geoff desperately clinging to a tree. He skied down and stopped just below him in the steep terrain.

‘Geoff, are you alright,’ he asked as calmly as he could. Geoff didn’t respond, his face was white with terror. ‘Are you hurt,’ asked Jim. Geoff shook his head slowly. Jim gave a sigh of relief, ‘Ok mate, we’re going to have to get you out of here.’ ‘No way!’ gasped Geoff, ‘its way to steep, I can’t move, if I move I’ll fall, If I fall I die.’

Jim thought about his options, other than alerting Ski Patrol, he couldn’t think of any thing he could do. There was no way he could assist Geoff in skiing down, not in his current state. Suddenly Jim heard someone else above them and saw a skier come into sight. ‘Hey Jim.’It was Cody, a mate of his, ‘What’s up?’‘Great to see you,’said Jim, ‘Geoff here’s an old school friend, he’s in a bit over his depth.’‘Shit,’said Cody, ‘what did you bring him down here for.’‘That’s a long story,’replied Jim, rolling his eyes, ‘I’ll tell you about it later, could you go and get Ski Patrol, or do you have  cell phone, we’re gonna need a sled to get him out, I can’t see any other way.’

‘Do you think you can ski down,’Cody asked Geoff, but Geoff’s response did not change, his face had grown even paler. ‘He took a slide from the top,’said Jim, ‘I don’t think he can move.’ ‘OK,’said Cody, ‘I’ll lap round and tell the Patrol, I haven’t got my cell.’‘Thanks a lot,’said Jim, ‘I’ll wait here with Geoff.’

It only took about ten minutes for the Ski Patrol to arrive; the patrollers belayed the sled down from below the top of the ridge, using a tree as an anchor. Jim assisted with getting Geoff loaded into the sled. Geoff was paler than ever. ‘What if I fall out? What if you drop me,’Geoff asked in a panicky tone. The patroller was very re-assuring, ’don’t worry buddy, you’ll be fine, the sled is roped in, we’ve done this loads of times.’Geoff’s grimace eased slightly. Jim marvelled as the Ski Patrol lowered the sled down Booty. When the steepness  eased at the bottom, the patrollers asked Geoff if he could ski the rest of the way down, but Geoff was to shaken and wanted a ride all the way to the base of the mountain.

Jim followed the procession down to the base lodge, where Geoff was helped out of the sled. Jim didn’t even ask if Geoff wanted to ski any more, as it was evident by his actions that he wanted to get back into town as soon as possible. Jim drove him back to the Prestige in silence. ‘Thanks Jim, I had a great time, see you again sometime, I’d better head back to Spokane to get my flight to Toronto.’‘Are you ok,’asked Jim, ‘are you sure you didn’t hurt yourself in the fall. You were bloody lucky, you could have died you know.’‘Never felt better Jim, look forward to seeing you again next time I’m passing through.’  Geoff got out of the car and walked in to the Prestige.

Jim thought about what to do next, it was about midday, so he still had time to go back up to the hill. He needed the toilet so he decided to use the hotel’s facilities.  On his way out  he saw Geoff talking to the receptionist. He positioned himself where Geoff couldn’t see him and listened in on the conversation: ‘So how was your stay in Rossland sir,’ the receptionist asked, ‘did you get up to the mountain and go skiing?’‘Sure did,’ replied Geoff confidently, ‘I met up with an old school friend who lives in Rossland and he showed me around a bit. He didn’t stay with me for long though, I was keen to explore the most difficult runs. I skied Booty, Needles and all around that area, my friend wasn’t quite up to it, he preferred to hang around in the Paradise area.’‘Well those runs are very steep sir, you must be an excellent skier.’‘Well you know,’said Geoff in a laid back confident tone, ‘I travel a lot and get to ski some pretty gnarly stuff, those runs were indeed challenging, but no real issue for me.’

Jim thought about his life as he drove back up to the hill. He lived in a beautiful place, skied some of the best snow and most amazing terrain anywhere on earth. Sure he didn’t have much money and he battled to pay off his little miners cottage. But he wouldn’t trade it for anything, especially not to be merchant ‘wanker’like Geoff.

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