The Ranch

The three of us stand at the top of the hill, blowing snow – like glass – cutting our faces, our cheeks red as much from that and the biting cold as from the hike up to this spot at the Ranch.

We are the only ones here. I have never seen this mountainside empty. Though I have only actually sled it twice before, I’ve spent my entire childhood driving by the vast field packed with people sledding down its north-facing slope. Even when the snow is cut by patches of ice and emerging greenery, there is always a group trying to make it down.

“I’ll go first.” It is easy to be brave when your text message was the one that brought the group up here, including my parents who are watching from the car. I seat myself in the long orange sled from the hardware store and stare down at the shine of the packed powder, squinting against the wind. Here goes. “Here I go.”

The sled takes off at first and slows just to the right of the major jump. I push with my hands and feet to get going again and pick up enough speed to pass the first leveling-off spot and make it all the way to the brush at the bottom.

I look back and see both of my friends, bundled in black, prepare to join me on the slope. One takes off on the long purple sled – the twin to my orange one – aiming for the jump I missed. She gives it a slow roll up the ramp and slides over like a wet noodle. Purple and black lines lay horizontal in the snow. She wasn’t going fast enough, I think as I start the climb back to the top.

That’s when the other one takes to her sled, this one an orange disc just big enough for her to sit cross-legged inside. She makes it about halfway down the hill before it flips out from under her and lays her flat. The sled, on the other hand, makes it all the way to where I am, easing over each mogul and coming to a stop a few feet away. I grab it, and we head back up the hill.

My parents are betting that it will be too cold. They imagine we’ll be back in the car in under thirty minutes, complaining of the wind. They think that will be the story we’ll take back to school with us on Monday.

Instead, we stay out for well over an hour. We get good at piling into the long sleds together. There is at least one air-jump and one cartwheeling landing. The wind whips snow off the top of the field, burning our eyelids and making sure we have the mountain to ourselves. It also makes sure the purple sled gets back up the mountain at least once, coming to rest just shy of the treeline. I take at least two trips to the bottom of the hill backward, looking over my shoulder so I’ll know when to bail.

The sun comes out, people return from tree-cutting, and the hill starts filling up just as we are counting down our final runs of the day. Each time, we run back up the slope and lay flat in the groove of our sliding stop at the bottom, catching our breath. In the end, we call it a day, I shed my coat and stack it on top of the sleds as we drag them back to the car.

“I’m so sore.” We laugh about our hair as we pull off hats and hoodies.

“That was awesome!” We replay the best parts.

“Let’s go get ice cream!” This is the story we’ll take back with us on Monday. It’s just a sleepover and a Sunday away.

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