How'd Yer Hubby get his Nickname?

Short Stories Apr 3, 2024

On ski fields, crap happens. No falls, no balls. No guts, no glory.  No spills, no thrills. But Col Craddock’s fall in 1979 gets better with each telling. It’s legendary stuff on the South Island. These days, his wife licks her lips when people ask her, “How’d yer hubby get his nickname?”

 Lucy and Col Craddock had jetted across the Tasman for a fortnight’s skiing on the South Island. Col was a gung-ho skier whose self-belief greatly exceeded his actual skill-set. They’d stopped for a night in Fairlie, near the glacial-fed Lake Tekapo, and after purchasing ‘fush n chups’ and red wine, they resiled to a modest motel in the small township. Mt Dobson’s skifield wasn’t on the radar of more ambitious skiers because there was a lack of infrastructure. It certainly wasn’t for the beautiful set. In 1979, Mt Dobson was serviced by basic pomas and T-bars to get skiers up the mountain. Chairlifts weren’t installed until later.

 Overnight rain had cleared by dawn but it telegraphed a day of slushy skiing. Should they bother skiing Dobson or move on towards the more fancied Coronet Peak? Yeah…Nah… But they were here now, so by 10am the Aussies were tearing down Mt Dobson’s white face. Clouds had disappeared, wind was non-existent, the joie de vivre was measured against the volume of Col’s incessant whooping and hollering. It was sticky snow, but smaller crowds on Mt Dobson compensated for the inconvenience of having to use pomas and T-bars.

 Around the clump of nondescript, pre-fab buildings at the base of the ski-run, olive-green keas loitered, eager to leap onto hot chips, or tear rubber from car windows or wipers. The buildings, similar to demountable classrooms, served as ticket office, café, restrooms, ski-hire facilities. On basic bench seats in the snow outside the café, the Craddocks shared a lunch of pizzas and hot chocolate, observed closely by hungry keas intent on mischief.

 “I’m goin’ back up now!” Col announced dramatically. He leapt to his feet while simultaneously cramming two huge wedges of an ambiguous pizza into his distended mouth. It was reminiscent of a python dislocating its jaws to swallow an antelope.

“Sit with me for a while, Col. What’s the rush? We’ve got the rest of the day,” Lucy urged her husband. But Col’s suggestion box was locked.

“Nah, ya’ snooze, ya’ lose,” he shot back, placing his right thumb and pointer finger on his forehead in the shape of a capital L.  Clicking his boots into ski bindings he joined the T-bar lift queue.

“I’ll watch for you with my binoculars,” Lucy called after him.

 Reaching the loading point, a ski instructor with a group of learners approached Col and asked him if he’d mind sharing his T-Bar with one of the beginners.

“No problemo. I’m a gun skier. I’ll settle him down. T-Bars can be daunting for first timers,” Col grinned.

 When skiers are dragged up the mountain in one line all day, the snow on that track compacts. Inevitably it becomes solid ice which can be problematic for beginners. Col sensed nervousness in Neil, his newbie buddy, and talked him through his wobbles all the way up to the three-quarter mark. It was here that all hell broke loose. With a castrato scream, Neil’s left leg and ski shot backwards under the T-Bar and he clung on desperately while the bar kept dragging him laterally up the mountain.

 “Let go, mate! Let go, roll away to the side!” Col roared at Neil.

But Neil hung on defiantly, his eyes resembling saucers even through his ski goggles. Summoning youthful strength, the newbie pulled his leg forward with a violent jerk but unintentionally jammed his ski between Col’s legs. The effect was to lift Col’s legs and skis upwards, causing him to him topple backwards over the T-Bar. Oomph! Col landed unceremoniously on his back, on the steep icy track, legs and skis waving inelegantly at the sky like a dying fly. As he fought to flip his body over, gravity won out.

 On his back, on a sheet of steep, frictionless ice, Col was soon bearing down rapidly towards the couple behind him on the T-Bar. He saw the look of fear in the eyes of two newbies from the ski school. It was a perfect strike. Got them both! But Col’s velocity increased again as he fought to roll off his back. He heard pained shouts of “Ohhh, shiiiit!” just prior to ploughing into the next couple of beginners and dislodging them from the T-Bar. But there was a further salvo in this train wreck. Unable to stop his momentum, with arms, skis and legs flailing wildly, he slammed into a third couple and sent them crashing. Fortunately, the last pair contained only one beginner who was having her skiing experience destroyed. The other was the instructor.

 Col’s body count by this stage included five beginners and their instructor wiped out. Fortuitously, the last collision speared Col sideways off the icy track and onto softer snow. It arrested his uncontrolled slide. Feigning injury, he retrieved his ski which had snapped out of its binding in the last collision. He clicked sheepishly back onto his skis and checked the well-being of each of the bowling pins he’d scattered across the mountainside.  After reassuring a scrum of startled onlookers and ambulance-chasers that he was OK, Col tracked in a cautious S-pattern down the slope, tail between his legs, smarting with the sting of humiliation. He slid to a controlled halt at the outside table in front of his wife and snapped out of his skis.

 “You’ll never guess what just happened!” the ashen-faced Col jabbered.

Lucy, unable to keep it in check any longer, erupted in convulsions of belly laughter and pointed repetitively at her binoculars.

“I witnessed the carnage! The whole lot, Crash Craddock!”

 If you ever meet Lucy Craddock, and you’ve got an hour to spare, don’t forget to ask how her hubby got his nickname.


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