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“Tell me how you survived the avalanche,” the reporter said. He placed his phone on the kitchen table between us, then pressed Record. With his pen poised over his notepad, he looked at me expectantly. He smelled like grass and ink and summer tomatoes from the garden. Without thinking, I glanced around for my brother, but he wasn’t in sight. “You sure you don’t want to talk to Ryan, too?” Dad asked the reporter, filling his cup with coffee. “He’s got a good eye for detail.” “Maybe later.” The reporter smiled at me. One tooth along the top was slightly crooked and stuck out. “I want to hear it from Ashley first.” “The avalanche wasn’t even the worst part,” I began. “But I’ll never forget the roar. How fast it all happened. One minute we were skiing, the next we were being swept down the mountain at lightning speed. It just grabbed us and I couldn’t stop myself from falling. I couldn’t breathe. The snow was everywhere, choking white blizzard in the air. Couldn’t see . . .” “Wait.” The reporter stopped recording. “I explained to your parents, Ashley. I’m writing a series about brave kids like you, surviving in the wilderness. Readers will want to know everything you were thinking, everything you did, so they can learn what to do if it happens to them. Where were you, and how did it happen? Try to tell me everything you remember.” He didn’t look at Dad, or anyone else. Only me. I felt suddenly anxious about being part of a series about brave kids. I was used to just being Ashley Hilder, twelve years old, twin sister to the awesome Ryan Hilder. I had never been anything special before, compared to him. The reporter pressed the red Record button again. “Tell me your story.” I sat back in my chair, trying to conjure up the memory of that day. “It all started with the wolverines.”
Two months earlier
“Try to keep up with your brother, Ash,” Dad said. I had heard that my whole life. “You have to push yourself if you want to get faster and be the best on the team,” he continued. The shushing from my skis muffled his voice, but I heard what he was saying loud and clear. Be as good as Ryan. I wanted my dad to be proud of me, too. The guide from the lodge where we were staying had dropped us off at the Chiseler Ditch trailhead. We were here to ski the famous mountains of Wyoming. Snowy peaks rose up like white daggers around us. We had mountains back home in Vermont, but none like these. The late-March ski conditions were perfect. Fresh snow from yesterday had set us up with pure powder. We’d be making first tracks, which was always my favorite part of alpine touring. The guide told us that the avalanche danger was only moderate below the tree line—a two out of five. It was three out of five, or considerable, in the upper alpine sections, but we were staying low today because of Mom. She wasn’t as comfortable on skis as the rest of us. We stopped for lunch and studied the pamphlet we’d been given at the lodge earlier that morning. It provided information about wolverines along with a map. Some group was doing a study to figure out how recreational activity was affecting the wolverines. They had a sticky trap set on Colt Summit to catch the hairs of passing wolverines. “Listen to this quote from Douglas Chadwick’s The Wolverine Way,” Ryan said, reading from an excerpt in the pamphlet. “If wolverines have a strategy, it’s this: Go hard, and high, and steep, and never back down, not even from the biggest grizzly, and least of all from a mountain.” Ryan clawed his hand in front of his face for added drama as he read. “Climb everything: trees, cliffs, avalanche chutes, summits. Eat everybody: alive, dead, long-dead, moose, mouse, fox, frog, its still warm heart or frozen bones. Whatever wolverines do, they do undaunted. They live life as fiercely and relentlessly as it has ever been lived.” “Gross about eating everybody,” I said, and tossed a snowball at him. “Imagine seeing a wolverine for real,” Ryan said, his eyebrows high the way they get when he’s excited about a new plan. Ryan always has a new plan. After lunch, we continued down toward the Marmot Shelter, a heated yurt where Mom said she wanted to take a “proper break.” Ryan led, as usual. I was next and then Dad. Mom struggled to keep up behind him. We skied along the trail, which was carved out between snow-swept spruce and fir. When Ryan sped up, I glanced behind to our parents before racing after him. “Keep going,” Dad called after us. “I’ll stay with Mom. We’ll meet you at the shelter.” Ryan’s backpack, filled with his usual ski touring gear, bounced as he sped along the trail. I knew where he was heading. “You coming or what?” he said over his shoulder. “We’ll have time to check it out if we hurry.” “Wait,” I said. “We don’t even know where it is.” Ryan stopped and pulled out the map he had stuffed in his pocket after lunch. He pointed to Colt Summit. “Yeah, we do. It’s not far. And besides, going off-piste is what you wanted, right?” I’d always told him I thought skiing was more fun off the established trails. It was what excited me the most about our vacations. Ryan returned the map to his pocket, then pulled his helmet from his pack and snapped it on over his hat. “I know you want to skin up this face to hit untouched snow.” He grinned at me. I could see Colt Summit now through the trees. “Eat my dust,” Ryan said, pushing off sideways and gaining speed down a slight grade. “Hey!” I lurched after him. We sprinted a rowdy race to the next outcrop, but it was no use. I never beat him. Being twins is hard. Everyone compares you. Even though he’s a guy and I’m a girl, we still look alike. Dark hair, dark eyes, pointy chins, and dimples in the same left cheek. We do the same activities. We’re even on the same ski team. But people point out right in front of us that he’s better at almost everything. The pack bumped my back as I hit a rough patch, and I stopped to pull my stainless steel water bottle out of the insulated sleeve. The bottle was nearly empty. The frosted Grand Teton, the highest point in the Teton Range and the second highest peak in Wyoming, rose up in the distance, and Colt Summit was just ahead on our right. I blew my breath out in a cloud and wrapped my glove around my ski pole. When we stopped at the fork in the trail, Ryan took out the map again and pointed at it. “Look. I was right. Here is where we’d go left to the shelter in Marmot Valley. But the wolverine hair trap is set up there on Colt Summit. Let’s go see if we can spot a real wolverine.” Scratching at my hat, I looked behind us. “You sure we have time?” It had started to snow, adding more powder to our ski. Large flakes melted on my hot face when I gazed up at the peak. I pulled up beside Ryan and reached for one side of the map. “We’d have to follow the right fork till about here,” I said, reading the map we held between us and pointing. “And then cross that ridge before we got to the approach to Colt Summit. We should wait for Mom and Dad.” But after a few minutes of standing still, we got cold. The sweat on our skin began to feel icy. I pulled out my own helmet, put it on, and secured the strap under my chin. We glanced at each other, and then in unison headed up the right fork in the trail, gaining speed to warm up. Ryan led. “Hurry,” he said. “We can be up and back before they catch us if you get moving. But if not, they’ll see our tracks and know where we are. No worries, little sister.” Six minutes is apparently very important when it comes to birth order. Ryan never let me forget which one of us was born first. With enough speed, we headed up a slope and around a tight bend on the edges of our wide touring skis. The air was crisp. When we left the trail, I glanced behind us and smiled at our new tracks in the clean snow. I twisted back to face forward and scanned where I thought our route should take us up to the summit. It was going to be so fun coming down. The only sounds were our skis shushing in the snow and my ragged breathing in my ears as we pushed upward. Once the terrain got steeper, we stopped to unroll our mohair climbing skins and then attached them to the bottoms of our skis to avoid sliding backwards. I glided a few strokes, getting used to the feel of not sliding back. My tracks behind me drew straight lines in the snow like two long highway stripes. But when I faced ahead, I spotted different tracks. “Ry! Look!” Large oval footprints just like the ones on the pamphlet from the lodge crossed our tracks and zigzagged ahead. They were almost the size of my boot. “Are we sure they’re wolverine? They’re so big,” I said. “Wolverines are only, like, thirty-five pounds,” Ryan whispered, peering around. “But I read that their paws are as broad as the paws on a hundred-and-twenty-pound wolf. It’s so they can walk on top of the snow.” I could clearly see the imprint of the claws. “These must be very fresh,” I said, glancing up at the falling snow. “They haven’t been covered yet.” The prints bounded ahead toward a crop of conifers shrouded in snow. “Let’s get to that stand of trees over there,” Ryan said. “Maybe we’ll surprise the wolverine.” The evergreens looked promising, but there was a large open expanse between us and the trees. I waited for Ryan to ski forward first, leaving a good distance between us like we’d learned in avalanche training at our ski club. I remembered if you had to cross avalanche terrain, you shouldn’t expose more than one person to danger at a time. I watched him and then followed. Out in the open, I had a better sense of the sprawling landscape that surrounded us. Mountain ranges spread out in every direction. As our skis broke through the crisp, thin coating of hoarfrost underneath the new layer of snow, we heard a muffled whump. We both froze and looked at each other. An ominous sliding sound began. I felt the ground move beneath me. With growing horror, I saw the snow around us slab and break away. “Avalanche!” I screamed.