There was a line at the ski lift. The group of boys who had come on the bus had joined it, one next to the other, skis parallel, and every time it advanced—it was long and, instead of going straight, as in fact it could have, zigzagged randomly, sometimes upward, sometimes down—they stepped up or slid down sideways, depending on where they were, and immediately propped themselves on their poles again, often resting their weight on the neighbor below, or trying to free their poles from under the skis of the neighbor above, stumbling on skis that had got twisted, leaning over to adjust their bindings and bringing the whole line to a halt, pulling off windbreakers or sweaters or putting them back on as the sun appeared or disappeared, tucking strands of hair under their woollen headbands, or the billowing tails of their checked shirts into their belts, digging in their pockets for handkerchiefs and blowing their red, frozen noses, and for all these operations taking off and then putting back on their big gloves, which sometimes fell in the snow and had to be picked up with the tip of a pole. That flurry of small disjointed gestures coursed through the line and became frenzied at the front, when the skier had to unzip every pocket to find where he’d stuck his ticket money or his badge, and hand it to the lift operator to punch, and then he had to put it back in his pocket, and readjust his gloves, and join his two poles together, the tip of one stuck in the basket of the other so that they could be held with one hand—all this while climbing the small slope in the open space where he had to be ready to position the T-bar under his bottom and let it tug him jerkily upward.
The boy in the green goggles was at the midway point of the line, numb with cold, and next to him was a fat boy who kept pushing. As they stood there, a girl in a sky-blue hood passed. She didn’t get in line; she kept going, up, on the path. And she moved uphill on her skis as lightly as if she were walking.
“What’s that girl doing? She’s going to walk?” the fat boy who was pushing asked.
“She’s got climbing skins,” the boy in the green goggles said.
“Well, I’d like to see her up where it gets steep,” the fat boy said.
“She’s not as smart as she thinks she is—you can bet on that.”
The girl moved easily, her high knees—she had very long legs, in close-fitting pants, snug at the ankles—moving rhythmically, in time with the raising and lowering of her shiny poles. In that frozen white air the sun looked like a precise yellow drawing, with all its rays: on the expanses of snow where there was no shadow, only the glint of sunlight indicated humps and crevices and the trampled course of the trails. Framed by the hood of the sky-blue windbreaker, the blond girl’s face was a shade of pink that turned red on her cheeks against the white plush lining of the hood. She laughed at the sun, squinting slightly. She moved nimbly on her climbing skins. The boys in the group from the bus, with their frozen ears, chapped lips, sniffling noses, couldn’t take their eyes off her and began shoving one another in the line, until she climbed over a ledge and disappeared.