John Mahoney's Free-fire Zone
John Mahoney
John Mahoney
is editor of the Log Cabin Chronicles.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 01.20.03
Fool's Hollow, Quebec


An angel was watching

The seven young men who narrowly escaped freezing to death this past weekend during an all-night ordeal on the wild side of Jay Peak are facing a hefty rescue bill.

Rescue efforts by a mixed team of forty-five state and county police, National Guardsmen, and ski patrollers may cost as much as $20,000.

The president of Jay Peak Ski Resorts, Bill Stenger, said he will mail the New York state youths a bill for at least part of the cost.

Ironically, the seven skiers -- two of them had gotten soaked trying to cross a brook in their attempt to get off the mountain -- were within 100 feet of a logging road that led to a town road on which there are houses.

"I got a real bad chill," Adam Phillips, 21, who walked into the brook, told me on Sunday. "I knew we had to stay warm to survive."

Their ordeal began at 3:30 p.m. on Friday when they began their last run of the day down the back side of Jay Peak, missed a turn, and plunged into the wild side…

It was five degrees above zero and the light would soon be gone down in the 3000 acre Black Falls Brook area -- it's unmarked territory and over the years many have managed to get lost down there.

But the seven young men from New York state were confident they knew what they were doing and where they were headed.

They had spent the night before doing Jäegermeister shooters with Ted Quintin, the genial host of Grandpa Grunt's, the lodge in Montgomery Center where they were staying.

"I told them about the brook and how it leads right down to the Black Falls Brook road," Quintin told me on Sunday morning. He added that there are a couple of houses on the road.

"If I had known they weren't coming back," he joked, "I could have rented their rooms out. I had a full house and I've been booked solid since Christmas."

Adam Phillips didn't think falling in the brook was any laughing matter. His feet were soaked and, ex-boy scout that he is, Phillips knew they would freeze to death if they didn't keep warm.

It was getting dark but there was promise of a full moon. They had no food, no water, but one of them had a lighter.

They dug around the base of a tree and got some kindling and bark, and managed to get a fire going.

"We just kept feeding the fire," Phillips said. "We were throwing everything on it. The smoke and flames and sparks were rising up … I hoped someone were see it and come find us."

They kept feeding the fire and kept each other awake all night -- that's what saved them from certain death at 28 below zero.

Phillips said he was so cold he almost got right into the fire and melted his boots and gloves.

At dawn, they began to walk out.

But rather than follow the brook the 100 feet to the logging road, they began to trudge back up the mountain. Near the top they ran into a party of Jay Peak patrollers.

The skiers told them to hike back down the back side of the mountain and walk out.

On their way down they passed the ashes of their life-saving fire, then walked the last 100 feet in the bush before reaching the road they had been so close to all that long, cold night.