An Urban Legend From The World Of Skiing.

Editor’s Note: Jan Harold Brunvand is a frequent contributor to An avid skier, he is a retired American folklorist, researcher, writer, public speaker, and professor emeritus of English at the University of Utah. Jan is best known for popularizing the concept of the urban legend, a form of modern folklore or story telling. Urban Legends are “too good to be true” stories that travel by word of mouth, by print or the internet and are attributed to an FOAF: friend of a friend. “Urban Legends,” Brunvand says, “have a persistent hold on the imagination because they have an element of suspense or humor, they are plausible and they have a moral.”  We asked him if there are any skiing urban legends, and he submitted the following. 

In all my years of collecting and researching urban legends I’ve encountered only one story that involves skiing, but it’s a doozy.

I first heard it at Snowbird during the winter of 1979-80, but it’s probably older.

A young woman from California after taking a couple of lessons on the bunny slopes felt ready to try a run from the top of the mountain. But as she got off the tram, Mother Nature called, and she didn’t see any restroom or lodge up there.

So she skied behind a clump of trees, jabbed her poles into the snow, and began to unzip. Just as she pulled down her ski pants and thermal underwear, she began to slide down the slope. In an instant, she was swooshing down the mountain backward, her pants around her ankles, trying to stop, until she collided with a tree.

She was rescued by the ski patrol who brought her to the base for medical care. As she was leaving the patrol first aid room, her arm in a sling, a man wearing an instructor’s parka was carried in, his leg in a splint.

“What happened?” she asked him. “I mean, you’re an instructor!”

“You’re not going to believe this,” he explained, “but I was riding the lift when I saw this woman roaring down the run backwards with her pants down; I leaned over for a better look, and fell off the lift. So, what happened to you?”


I have an inch-thick file of letters, clippings, and notes re-telling different versions of this story. Typical of folklore, there are countless variations in detail while always preserving the core yarn of the hapless novice skier. She may be an Iowan at Aspen, an Oklahoman at Vail, an Atlantan at Squaw Valley, A Chicagoan at Alta, a Missourian at Sun Valley, an Ohioan at an Upstate New York resort, etc. etc. etc.

The same story is also told about skiers from Canada, England, and New Zealand on ski holidays either at home or abroad. In a version from Australia the injured lady who has been skiing in the Snowy Mountains is flying home to Sydney when she finds herself seated next to a young man with his leg in a cast. “What happened to you . . . ?”

For years a photocopied version circulated bearing the title “How’d You Break Your Arm?” Now you can find it on the Internet. It’s also a favorite story for after-dinner speakers.

The December 1983 issue of Ski magazine quoted the story from a Montreal newspaper with the variation that the half-dressed snow bunny was skiing frontwards, and she crashed “under a fully loaded chairlift.” This publication as well as one from a Swedish magazine had a cartoon illustration.

I have two questions for readers: First, what version of The Ski Accident have you heard? And second, aren’t there some other urban legends about our favorite winter pastime?





  1. Jan
    I had never heard the story. I’ll be retelling it to by ski buddies.
    Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Peter McCarville says:

    Thanks Jan
    As usual I enjoy your stories. Will you be skiing with us this winter?
    Peter McCarville

  3. Ha! My roommate Patti at Mills College. Skiing Sugar Bowl winter 1964. Not only went into trees, but was simultaneously enjoying a cigarette. Yes, slid out onto the run, pants down, cigarette in fingers. However, she did not break her arm.

  4. Edward Cocca says:

    Thanks Jan,
    I am still wiping tears of joy from my eyes. This story will be told many times among my ski/ride friends.
    Think snow,

  5. Yvette Cardozo says:

    what I’m telling is NOT an urban legend because it happened to me. I was with CMH trying (but not necessarily succeeding) to heli ski. It was before fat skis, before special heli skis. I was not doing well. But that’s beside the point. Nature did, indeed, call and I asked my Austrian guide as politely as I could where I should go. It was the ’80s and I was trying to use cute euphemisms, which were sadly lost on someone whose first language wasn’t English.

    So he pointed to a spot. And I went over, pulled my jumpsuit down around my ankles and was happily engaged when … the next chopper load descended, practically atop my head.

    I’m guessing he thought I was trying to ask where the next chopper landing site was. I quickly discovered that trees (thick trees) are a far better choice.

  6. This also happened to someone on a ski trip that I was on. She shall remain anonymous!

  7. KENNETH D ROTH says:

    In the 60s and early 70s I was an instructor working for a bus tour group (Alta Ski Tours) out of Brooklyn running trips to Hunter, Kilington, Gore and Whiteface. I told this story to every novice class i taught. It never failed to get a laugh.

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