Peter Shelton

Tears In The Snow

Posted in Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on March 3, 2011

Arnie Wilson looked up and saw the love of his life, Lucy Dicker, sliding down the couloir toward him.

She rag-dolled into the rocks where the chute made a dogleg right but kept on sliding and tumbling until she was almost upon him. Without thinking, Arnie dove at Lucy in what he described in his book Tears In The Snow as “a rugby tackle.” Somehow he held on, and the two of them careened another thousand feet down the slope.

Lucy’s skis were gone; Arnie’s were soon ripped away, too. Bumps tossed them into the air together. Glacier ice tore through Arnie’s ski jacket and stripped the flesh from his arm. A final jolt flung them apart despite Arnie’s desperate grip.

When they had stopped sliding, Arnie scrambled to Lucy’s side. She appeared to be staring at him but didn’t respond to his entreaties. And then he saw the blood bubbling out of her left ear.

This was on April 6, 1995, above La Grave, France. It had been just four months since the two of them had completed an audacious lark. They skied every day of calendar year 1994 on an around-the-world junket: 365 days, 240 resorts, five continents, 13 countries, 18 time zones and 109,000 miles by plane, train and Russian pickup truck.

It was a huge media coup. Arnie was the skiing correspondent for London’s Financial Times newspaper, to which he sent 50 dispatches during the trip. Lucy was the director of Touralp, a French tourism company in London. She was French, maiden name Richaud, with a mane of auburn hair and, as Arnie wrote, “a smile to melt glaciers.” The two had been together scarcely more than a year. She was 40; he was 10 years older.

With their travel and media connections, they garnered sponsorships from Degre 7, Snow + Rock magazine, Avis and American Airlines. Ski The Summit, representing the four ski areas in Colorado’s Summit County, gave them $25,000 cash.

I met them by chance in Big Sky, Mt., early in their quest. I was on some kind of press trip, and they were in and out, wined and dined, ski a few thousand vertical feet, and off to the next ski area. But it was clear, even in that short time, that they were charming, bright people, a little amazed by their own mad scheme, and very much in the first blush of love.

I ran into Arnie last weekend in Telluride, where he was skiing with resident historian Johnny Stevens and another Brit, Tom Herbst. In typical Arnie fashion, he and Tom were off that afternoon for Purgatory. And then, I’ve forgotten where.

It was the first time we’d crossed paths since Lucy’s death. He told me he’d since married, and he was now editor of Ski+board, the quarterly journal of Ski Club Great Britain. I told him how sorry I was about Lucy. He thanked me and said with his eyes that he had not gotten over her still.

I found Tears In The Snow on the bookshelf and re-read it this week. It is full of raw ache and a kind of stunned, unpolished storytelling. Understandably so. Early on, Arnie wrote, “I was planning to write this book with Lucy. Then when I lost her, she became the book.”

It was going to be a triumphal – maybe just a bit tongue-in-cheek – recounting (how could it not be?) of their outlandish Guinness Book accomplishment. How they managed to keep the string intact through the entire year (with a little help from the International Date Line) and despite numerous close calls: having to hike up a dirty patch of snow at sunset in Manali, India, after nearly 24 hours of travel from Europe; skiing in the rain and the dark on a Chilean volcano; sneaking in a run at the indoor Ski Dome in Tokyo to check off yet another day; skiing by the light of snowmobile headlights at 4 a.m. on the closed slopes at Mammoth Mountain.

And the book does recount these stories, along with the strains and the humor the trip extracted. But it is really about an all too brief love affair and its horrific end, as, of course, it had to be. The fall haunted Arnie’s dreams as he was writing. Sometimes he replayed it from his perspective, helpless, watching, impotent. Sometimes in the dream he was inside Lucy’s body as she smashed into the rocks.

Arnie’s revelations are unselfconscious to the point of embarrassment. Not his, the reader’s. He wrote that he couldn’t bear to keep Lucy’s bloody ski suit. But he also couldn’t bear to part with her underwear, which he keeps inside a cushion. He wrote, “All I wanted to do is tell her I love her. And say goodbye. Two things I couldn’t do when she died so suddenly.”

I asked Arnie if he and his wife ever talk about Lucy, or that year. “No,” he said. “She doesn’t understand.”

One Response

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  1. mary ann dismant said, on March 3, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    How coincidental that you ran into Arnie. I am sure your compassion touched him.
    You wrote it beautifully; a novel that only you could manage to write in a few pages.
    Oh, keep on, Peter.

    Mary Ann Dismant, Ouray, Colorado

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