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Christmas tales to warm the heart

Pique writers offer up a selection of stories to enjoy over the holidays.

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Hans, whose eyes were those of a hungry hawk, bereft of humanity or curiosity, was a fixture in every stage of the powder-day scramble. Later, for instance, he would be found poling relentlessly up the cat road above Emerald Chair, herring-boning into the teeth of a locomotive wind and driving flakes, heading for a first run in Rabbit Tracks. Hans always skated up the road while the rest shipped their skis over shoulders and boot-hiked, his powerful strides, Steve imagined, a by-product of younger days in the Alps. Hans had to get first tracks down his favourite line; he, and only he, should savour those 20-something turns to the flats before religiously traversing high left to milk whatever he could off the wall to skier's right of Chunky's Choice. By the time anyone caught up to him it was for the load up Emerald, where, while everyone bubbled over various descents, Hans remained expressionless, apparently intent only on working his way forward. This despite the orderly, alternating shuffle of North American liftlines where entry lanes funnel skiers into self-regulating mazes. Clearly he hadn't shed the Darwinian instincts honed in the slaughterhouse squeeze of European resorts, featuring wedge-shaped corrals in which the strong moved quickly to the front at the expense of the weak.

As usual, today Hans' eyes remained fixed on the bull wheel as it spun snow-covered cabins through the station. Steve glanced Hans' way a couple times but was preoccupied with something else when the rope suddenly dropped. The line behind him surged into the first gondola on offer, pushing Steve left toward the one in front of it, an empty cabin about to pass the door-closure cones. He made a quick decision, racking his skis and jumping in just as another body did the same to pile in behind him as the door closed. It was Hans.

Having scored first gondie, Steve was unconsciously smiling. Likewise Hans, who, as a result, now looked like he was going to talk. Hyped on the tension of the moment and locked in claustrophobic solitude with a sworn enemy, Steve was paralyzed at the thought of having to communicate. Hans said something in Austrian and nicht sprichst Deutsch Steve told him flatly. Parlez-vous Français, Hans added? No. Did Steve speak Italian, Hans persisted? No. After a short silence Steve asked Hans if he spoke Spanish. No. That's when he realized what Hans' isolation was really all about: he didn't speak English.