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Surviving a ski trip gone awry

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerry Babcock is the executive director of the Police Athletic League and a 21-year St. Petersburg Police Department detective. Babcock, his daughter Jamie and wife Donna recently vacationed in the Swiss Alps. Here's his account of what happened:

Skiing is something my family and I try to do every year. Last month, we went to the Swiss Alps.

My wife Donna, my 10-year-old daughter Jamie and I decided to ski a mountain called Jungfrau because we could see the Olympic downhill trials from there.

We took a robot train up the mountain and selected a stop 9,000 feet up and about 2,000 feet from the summit.

As we got close to that stop, the wind got real strong, and snow and ice slammed into the train.

Just as we stopped, a message came over the intercom, but it was in German and French, so we couldn't understand it. The wind was blowing at around 100 miles per hour. The visibility was zero, the temperature was about zero and the wind chill was anybody's guess.

We didn't think we could ride the train back down, so we got off. I had to hold my daughter, because at her size the wind would have carried her away.

About eight feet away was a building, so we went over to huddle behind it. Just then, the train's doors closed and the train went back down the mountain. We later learned the intercom was telling us that part of the mountain was being closed to skiers.

Three people were ahead of us, and we lost sight of them completely. We saw goggles and ski equipment flying by in the wind.

After a while, we decided we needed to find a path, so we started crawling down the mountain. It was almost impossible to stand upright.

Then the wind died down. I told my wife and daughter to stay put and skied down about 100 feet. Then the wind started up again, and I lost sight of them.

I called their names, but the wind drowned me out. I crawled up the mountain against the wind, thinking that I would never see them again. Then, after about 70 feet, I heard their voices and went back to the building.

Then I heard a rumbling sound. It was a snow plow, about 50 feet away.

I ran up to the driver and tried to explain our situation, but he said that he was allowed to help us only if we were injured.

About this time, we just panicked. We had been up on the mountain for more than two hours; we were falling into snowdrifts as we walked and were standing up to our chests in snow. The air was thin, and we had trouble breathing. My daughter cried uncontrollably, and I thought she might be going into shock.

As a police officer for 21 years, I have been involved in many dangerous situations. But this was something else. It was the first situation I had ever been in that I thought I might not survive.

But, the snowplow did us a favor. It left a path. We followed it several hundred yards and found a man who spoke a little English. He said if we went down another 1,000 yards or so, there wasn't any more wind.

We went another 500 yards, and the wind declined dramatically. We skied the rest of the way down.

Once we got back to the hotel, my daughter wanted to go skiing again.

UPDATE: Largo's Thomas Sweeney, who last week wrote us of his love for baseball great Ted Williams, dropped us another note:

My morning newspaper was still warm from the presses when I received a very personal phone call. It was so sudden. Like a line drive coming right at you. I was talking to Ted Williams himself.

We spoke for about 15 minutes, a time period that will forever stand in freeze frame. Before he hung up, Ted said that I was his friend. A benediction from a baseball deity. It felt good.

_ THOMAS J. SWEENEY, LARGO

Up next:Obituaries

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