Ringing the Bell for "Black Diamond"

As part of my job at Schweitzer, I’m responsible for ringing the bell at the clock tower some mornings.

This is a pretty big deal as the bell signifies that the lifts are open and those anxious skiers and riders waiting in line can finally be released to tackle the mountain. Typically, the bell ringer waits by the clock tower a few minutes ahead of time and becomes a witness to all the various people getting ready to ski. Some mornings, I get to listen to the racers talk about their training plans for the day as they figure out just who is going to carry the race gates on the lift. Sometimes it’s ski groups from all over the country, anywhere from 10-30 people, waiting for our Group Sales team to take them on their tour of Schweitzer. Some mid-week days, it’s just me out there, bantering with the lifties at Basin Express about the weather. But my favorite days to ring the bell are the days the school groups are here.

They come piling out of the rental shop across from the clock tower, ski boots unbuckled, coats unzipped, goggles askew with the biggest grins on their faces. They are shouting and laughing with their friends, posturing about just who is going to ski - cue scary music - Black Diamond.

I love that.

Now, understand that there is no single run called “Black Diamond” at Schweitzer but there’s something about this legend of “Black Diamond” that just fills these kids with crazed horror and excitement. Somehow, there is a myth that lives in the minds of Boundary & Bonner County 4th graders that conquering “Black Diamond” is the biggest thing you can possibly do at Schweitzer. Ever. Not getting off the lift in one piece or even learning how to stop. The biggest thing is surviving Black Diamond.

“My sister skied Black Diamond,” I once overheard a little boy say. “She ended up going off a cliff and breaking the rental skis!” “Oh, yeah,” another 4th grader replied. “Well, my dad did it too without stopping THE WHOLE WAY.” The crowd of 5 became silent, mouths agape, as if they’d just been triple dog-dared like in A Christmas Story.

At that point, one of the other kids in the group pointed out that since this was only his second day ever on skis, getting on Black Diamond was just not going to happen. “I just want to stay on Musical Chairs today, you guys,” he said zipping up his bright red coat. “I want to get the feel for turning before I try anything like Black Diamond!” “Yeah, that’s smart. I’m sticking with you,” said another kid as he buckled his boots. The rest of the group all nodded in unison and started throwing their skis down onto the snow. As they finally clicked into their bindings and started skiing off, I heard the boy in red shout out to his friend, “But you know … if I do well in lessons today, I could totally ski Black Diamond over Spring Break.”

I stood there watching this fantastic group dynamic and smiled to myself. Learning something new, like skiing, is awesome and scary. Confidence is key and taking it bit by bit is the best way to get there.

I’m looking forward to seeing these kids back at Schweitzer over Spring Break and in the years to come. I know that all of them will conquer Black Diamond someday and I can’t wait to be the one ringing the bell just for them.

*This article first appeared in the April 2018 edition of "Neighbors," a Bonner County Daily Bee supplement.