A Nancy Drew Christmas
Going for the Gold
THE DREADED DOUBLE BLACK DIAMOND. The most dangerous trail on the mountain. Most skiers take one look down the impossibly steep slope and ski the other way. Not me. I’d been training for this my whole life.
Cold wind smacked me in the face, a steady sheet of falling snow shooting past me like I was a Nancy Drew-shaped rocket ship skiing through space at warp speed. My skis carved up the pristine slope, white powder flying as I slalomed through a gauntlet of densely packed pine trees that would have taken out a lesser
athlete. I was in the zone. Out in front of my skis. So balanced my skies slid over moguls like performance tires over freshly paved road. The kind of perfect run skiers dream about.
“Yes!” I wanted to shout, but the most dangerous part of the run was coming up. Keep your focus, Nancy, I thought. If I was even a few inches off when I hit the last rocky drop-off, they’d be carrying me out on a stretcher.
I shot toward the ledge, visualizing the airborne flip that would propel me over the fifteen-foot drop to the crowd waiting below at the finish line. But maybe one flip wasn’t enough. . . . I was going to go for two!
And then I went airborne, flying through the . . .
DING, DING, DING . . .
“Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts as we prepare for our final descent into Border View Regional Airport,” the flight attendant announced over the plane’s loudspeaker, snapping me awake.
“Huh?” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes and looking around at the other passengers.
I was airborne, all right. It just wasn’t on a double black diamond ski slope. It was on a plane!
I chuckled, laughing at my ridiculous dream. I’m really good at solving mysteries. Skiing, not so much.
But that was about to change!
I looked out the window at the snow-covered peaks stretching across the landscape thirty thousand feet below, where I hoped to make the leap from wobbly beginner to unshakable expert. Okay, I’d probably settle for decently balanced intermediate. A girl can only learn so much in a week!
That’s how long I was going to be staying at the Grand Sky Lodge, the newly renovated eco-friendly ski resort perched right on the Montana-Wyoming border.
My dad’s law firm had represented the lodge’s co-owner, Archie Leach, on a real estate development case a few months back, and I’d done a little sleuthing to dig up the evidence my dad needed to win the case. Detecting has always been a hobby of mine (my best friends, George and Bess, might swap
the word “hobby” for “obsession”), and sometimes it comes with cool perks. Archie had sent a giant fruit basket to thank us, which was pretty nice of him. The nicest thing about it wasn’t the fruit, though. It was the invitation that came with the basket for an all-expenses-paid trip to the Grand Sky Lodge’s grand reopening the week before Christmas!
“Word is Leach and Alexander Properties put a lot of moolah into revamping this place,” the stylish woman in the seat next to me observed as she flipped through the Grand Sky’s brochure. “They’re touting it as the model for environmentally sustainable ski resorts. They talk as much about wilderness conservation, renewable energy, carbon footprints, and locally sourced goods as they do the skiing. We’ll see if it’s the real deal or a publicity stunt to cash in on the eco craze.”
My dad and I weren’t the only ones who’d gotten a special invitation to the lodge’s grand opening. I don’t know if theirs came with a fruit basket, but the popular travel magazine Travel Bug got one too. The writer
they sent, Carol Fremont, turned out to be my new seatmate after my dad had to reschedule his flight for a last-minute deposition on one of his big cases.
Carol gave the Grand Sky Lodge’s recycled-paper brochure a skeptical flick with a well-manicured fingernail.
“Archie Leach really does believe in sustainability,” I told him. “I haven’t met his business partner, Grant Alexander, but I know from the work my dad did for their firm that Archie plans to make it the focus of all their new development projects.”
“Well, if it’s all as grand and green as they claim, then it’ll make a killer feature for the magazine,” Carol replied. “The eco trend grabs eyeballs too, and I’m hoping to land the cover story for print and online.”
“I think sustainable businesses are a lot more than just a trend,” I told her. “If enough businesses get on board, it could make a huge difference in the fight against climate change. I think it’s great that a travel site with as many readers as Travel Bug is raising awareness by featuring places like Grand Sky Lodge.”
“As long as it’s my name people see on the byline, I’m all for it,” she quipped.
I was starting to get the impression that Miss Fremont wasn’t the most objective journalist. I just hoped for Archie’s sake that she gave the Grand Sky a great review.
“What I’m really excited about is their new restaurant, Mountain to Table,” I admitted, my mouth watering just thinking about it. “I’ve been dying to try Kim Crockett’s food since she swept Top Chop Challenge. It’s one of my favorite shows.”
“It’s another great angle for the story, that’s for sure,” Carol said. “You don’t see many celebrity chefs leaving fancy big-city restaurants to run a kitchen in middle-of-nowhere Montana. The farm-to-table movement may be hot with foodies in the city, but trying to turn a remote mountain into a fine dining destination, now that’s a challenge. . . . Hey, maybe I can get two feature stories out of this!”
She flipped open her laptop and started typing a note to herself.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the flight attendant chirped, leaning over Carol’s seat. “You’ll have to close that until we land. We’ll be on the ground in just a few.”
Carol wasn’t much of a conversationalist after that. She started typing furiously into her phone instead, and as soon as we landed, she stalked off to baggage claim, talking to herself, dictating notes into her earbuds.
Not that she had very far to walk. The airport wasn’t exactly an international hub. In fact, it was downright tiny.
With Dad still back in River Heights, I was traveling solo for now. I didn’t mind, but I usually had Bess and George with me on trips like this, so it felt little strange being on my own. I couldn’t wait to get to the lodge and tell them all about it.
One thing seemed clear the second I stepped into baggage claim. I might have been the only person in the whole airport without their own ski gear! The baggage belts were full of it. Ski bags must have outnumbered suitcases two to one. Grand Sky wasn’t the
only ski resort around—there were a handful within a few hours’ drive on either side of the Montana-Wyoming border. And apparently, just about everyone at the airport was headed for one of them.
I’d just caught sight of my bag and was on my way to grab it, thinking I’d soon be a good enough skier to warrant a set of my own skis too, when . . .
“Oomph!” I blurted, as I tripped over a ski bag I hadn’t noticed and tumbled headfirst toward a terrified-looking little girl!
I was inches away from plowing into the poor kid when a powerful arm grabbed me around the waist and lifted me back onto my feet.
“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry,” I apologized to my rescuer, and turned around in embarrassment, expecting to see one of the macho ski dudes who’d been waiting for their gear.
“No problem,” said an athletic twentysomething woman an inch or two shorter than me. “Sorry about the obstacle course.”
With the sun-bleached blond streaks in her dark
hair and stylish Burton-brand gear, she looked like she could have stepped out of a ski magazine. But with the action-hero strength she’d exhibited catching me mid-fall, she could have sidelined as a superhero. I could see a long, thick scar peeking out under the cuff of her tapered fleece pants as she kicked the ski bag I’d tripped over back toward the pile of gear.
She grinned at the little girl, who was still frozen in place, and ruffled her curly hair. “We’re going to have to work on those reflexes, kiddo. We’re teaching you how to ski, not how to be a tree.”
The girl nervously bit her lip.
I smiled at her. “Well, I managed to wipe on out on skis without even leaving the airport, so you’ll probably be a better skier than me in no time!”
The girl blushed and hid behind the woman, who gave me a wink.
“Okay, guys, gather your gear,” she announced to another girl and a boy who had been goofing around by the baggage carousel. “The Grand Sky Lodge is supposed to have a van waiting for us outside.”
“Hey, it looks like we’re headed to the same place!” I said, offering the woman my hand. “I’m Nancy.”
“Liz,” she said with a smile and a death-grip handshake as she nodded to the kids. None of them looked older than ten. “And these are Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three.” The kids giggled as she continued, “Otherwise known as Grace, Kelly, and Jimmy.”
“There you guys are!” shouted a tall, shaggy-haired guy Liz’s age, carrying a bunch of camera gear.
“And that’s Big Thing,” Liz announced. “Aka Brady. I let him tag along with me sometimes because he’s a great action videographer.”
“Thanks, sweetie.” Brady grinned and kissed her on the cheek. “You really know how to flatter a guy.”
“You guys are shooting a ski video at Grand Sky?” I asked.
“Brady’s doing the shooting; I’ll be giving the kiddos their first ski lessons,” she said, resting an arm on Jimmy’s shoulder. He and Kelly beamed. Curly-haired Grace looked nearly as terrified as she had when I was about to plow into her.
“That’s so cool!” I gushed. “I just hope you don’t catch me tumbling down the mountain in the background of any shots.”
“Archie Leach saw an article about the documentary we’re making on Liz’s work with kids in foster care, and he invited us to help break in the slopes. And no one knows how to shred a mountain like Liz,” Brady added proudly. “Two-time World Cup gold, three-time X Games gold, and she had some of those big-time Team USA girls quaking in their skis before the Olympics a few years ago too.”
“Aw, you’re gonna make a girl blush,” Liz teased, giving him a shove.
“See, that’s how you’re supposed to flatter a person,” Brady asserted.
“It’s been a while since I won any medals, though,” Liz said, pulling up the leg of her pants to show her scar. “I was on an extreme backcountry ski expedition in the Alps when our chopper crashed. I didn’t know if I’d be able to walk at first, let alone ski. Kinda cut my professional career short.”
“So she started another one!” Brady said.
“I dreamed about skiing when I was a little kid, but I grew up in the foster-care system in the city, where the only hills we had were covered in concrete,” Liz shared. “I’d never even really seen nature before besides a few trees when the family that adopted me moved to the mountains. I got to learn how to ski, and it totally changed my life. So when I wasn’t able to ski competitively anymore, I started a nonprofit foundation to give other city kids like me growing up in the foster-care system the same chance I had.”
“Yeah, I’m going to win a gold medal at the X Games one day too,” Kelly declared.
“Me too!” shouted Jimmy.
“I believe it!” I exclaimed. “That’s really amazing, Liz. If there’s anything I can do to help, just say the word.”
“And she can still ski circles around some of those pros, too!” Brady insisted.
Liz gave him a playful shove toward the door. “Yeah, yeah, stop dawdling, everybody, and let’s go find that van. We’ve got skiing to do!”
I spotted Carol and waved her over, introducing her to Liz’s crew as we walked outside.
It wasn’t hard to tell which vehicle was there to pick us up. Everyone who passed was taking note of the brand-new hybrid passenger van with the giant Grand Sky Lodge logo waiting by the curb.
“Ahoy, skiers!” a chipper voice shouted as the middle-aged woman driving hopped out and walked around to greet us, jingling oddly as she went.
Or I should say limped around to greet us. She was wearing one of those walking boots they give you when you break a foot or ankle, and she was using a cane. Dangling from the boot was a cute little strand of mini sleigh bells. Big pouffy red earmuffs framed her short hair, and a gaudy Christmas sweater decorated in woven skiers and snowflakes completed her seasonal ensemble.
“Welcome to Montana!” she said cheerily, swinging open the van’s back doors. “Toss your gear back here and hop on in. Since your flight was late, we’re gonna have to rush to make it back in time.”
“Thank—” I barely had the word started before she resumed talking at an impossibly perky, rapid-fire pace.
“I’m Jacqueline, by the way,” she declared enthusiastically as she opened the van’s passenger doors next. “But everyone calls me Jackie. Or Jackie-of-All-Trades, if you prefer. I’m the lodge’s guest services liaison, which is a fancy way of saying I do a little bit of everything. And my job right now is to get you folks to the lodge in time for the big grand opening ceremony at noon!”
“Thanks, Jackie—” I tried to say again, but she bowled right ahead before I could blurt the words out.
“Head count!” she announced, pointing to each of us as she counted aloud. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Perfect! All aboard!”
“Nice to meet you, Jackie!” I chirped (finally able to complete my sentence!) as I climbed in. Jackie was so intensely cheerful, it was hard not to be cheery in response.
“You too, Miss Drew!” She smiled into the rearview mirror. “Mr. A’s told us all about how your detecting
skills saved the day on that big business case of his. You’re practically a celebrity at the lodge!”
I blushed as Liz, Brady, and the kids gave me curious looks.
“Detecting?” Brady inquired.
“Do tell,” Liz prodded.
“I have a reputation for solving mysteries back in River Heights, my hometown,” I explained. “My dad’s a lawyer. I don’t usually help him with cases, but this one just sort of fell into my lap. Anyway, Dad represented Archie’s firm on a routine real estate case, and I found out the other side wasn’t acting fairly, and we were able to get the case settled pretty quickly.”
“Don’t be modest. Mr. A says your sleuthing personally saved him a fortune. He can’t wait to see you again. And he’s excited to meet Miss Fremont and Miss Garcia, too,” Jackie added, looking at Carol and Liz in her rearview as she drove. “Our grand reopening! This is so exciting!”
“So you worked at the lodge before the big renovation?” Carol asked, notebook open, reporter mode on.
“You betcha! Been working there practically my whole life, and done just about every job there is, from housekeeping to restaurant hostess to ski patrol to concierge.”
“That’s great they kept you on,” Liz said. “A lot of times, old lodges will get gobbled up by a handful of big ski conglomerates, who end up canning all the locals to bring in their own people.”
“Leach and Alexander are actually a pretty small development firm,” I said. “This is the first ski resort they’ve owned.”
“And kooky old Mrs. Bosley didn’t give them a choice,” Jackie informed us. “She made sure to put it right there in the contract when they sold the lodge: anyone who wants to stay, can. And just about everyone did. Well, most of us, anyway. Not everyone was happy about the change. The Bosleys’ son, Dino, used to be the GM, but he hasn’t set foot in the place since Mr. and Mrs. Bos signed the paperwork. Guess he always figured he’d be the one calling the shots one day and didn’t like taking orders from someone who wasn’t his
ma or pa. Not that he liked taking orders from them either. Oops . . .”
Jackie eyed Carol in the rearview. “Probably shouldn’t be telling you folks all this. Some people say I’m a gossip, but I say I’m just a people person who likes to talk about the people I know. And I know everybody! Well, everybody in Prospect, at least.”
“The Bosleys are the old owners?” I asked.
“Yup. Mrs. Bosley’s family owned it for generations going all the way back to Prospect’s gold rush days, before tourists ever took to skiing up here. Miners, fur trappers, hunters, lots of trades lodged here before the ski resort became the big thing.”
“Doesn’t sound like it’s been much of a big thing lately,” Carol said pointedly. “I heard the Grand Sky hasn’t been all that grand for a while.”
Jackie nodded sadly. “Hard times. Mr. and Mrs. Bos just didn’t have the cash to keep up with the other resorts around here. Like Miss Garcia said, conglomerates have been buying up all the little guys and turning them into big guys, and that makes it
hard for the leftover little guys to get by. But we’re all sure hoping Mr. A and Mr. G can change that! The Grand Sky was the place to be when I was a kid, and I’m just tickled pink to think it can be again.”
The van zipped by the vast snow-covered mountain landscape as Jackie talked.
“Did you break your foot skiing?” Grace asked timidly. They were the first words I’d heard her speak.
Jackie guffawed like it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. “It would be a lot more glamorous if I did! I’d lie and say I broke it on one of the diamonds, but I’m a terrible liar. Truth is I dropped a log on my foot chopping wood for the big opening-night bonfire. It’s pretty much the least glam ski lodge accident ever! Luckily, our doctor on the hill, Doc Sherman, was there when it happened and was able to patch me up lickety-split.”
“Doctor on the hill?” I asked.
“Resorts usually have a doctor on-site,” Liz answered. “They keep a radio on them when they ski so they can triage accidents as soon as a skier goes down.”
“Used to be, Doc Sherman would have to transport
you all the way to the local hospital to do any real doctoring, but our new owners put in a state-of-the-art on-site clinic where he can handle just about any routine ski accident right there at the lodge.”
The landscape suddenly changed from a narrow, twisty mountain road to a wide-open valley as the van reached the top of a steep hill and headed down the other side toward just about the cutest little ski town you’ve ever seen.
“Welcome to Prospect, Montana!” Jackie announced.
Looking at it from above as the van rolled down into the valley, you’d think you were staring at a picture-perfect Christmas card. A frontier-style main street with holiday decorations strung between the buildings over the road led straight through the center of town. The flat facades rising over the awnings of the quaint two- and three-story buildings were mostly all joined together like the Old West towns in movies and photographs. If it weren’t for the cars and a few traffic lights, you’d almost think you’d traveled back in time to a real prospecting town. Or a snow globe.
With sun shining off the snow-covered rooftops and awnings, the town seemed to sparkle. Shining brightest in the distance a couple of miles beyond the end of Main Street was the Grand Sky Lodge’s mountaintop perch. The lodge itself looked tiny from so far away, but there was no way to miss the gleaming white slopes crisscrossing their way down the steep mountain above it.
“Yes!” Brady said.
“Come to mama!” Liz exclaimed, giving him a high five.
“Whoo-hoo!” Kelly and Jimmy yelled, joining in the high-five fest as Grace shrank down in her seat.
“Are they all that tall?” she asked meekly.
“They better not be,” I said. “I’m going to be right beside you on the bunny slopes for the first day or two until I get the hang of things.”
At the base of the mountain, not far from the lodge, was a small frozen lake. Steam rose into the sky from one end, which was where I guessed the hot springs advertised in the Grand Sky’s brochure must be.
“I can see the Travel Bug cover now,” Carol said, practically drooling.
“I’ll tell ya, I’m not as crazy about these cold winters as I used to be when I was y’all’s age, but this view never gets old,” Jackie shared as the van descended into the valley. “Your friend Jackie’s got her eye on trading in snow for sand and retiring to the Caribbean like the Bosleys did, but I sure will miss seeing this when I go.”
“It could use a paint job,” Carol muttered a few minutes later as the van hit Main Street.
The town was still supercute up close, but you could tell from the chipped paint and a couple of boarded-up storefronts that some of the buildings had seen better days.
“Mr. A has big plans to help renovate the town, too, once the new lodge takes off,” Jackie said. “He says having a topflight green ski resort is going to make us an ecotourism hot spot and turn Prospect back into a winter sports paradise.”
“What’s going on there?” Liz pointed to a large
crowd of angry-looking people holding signs gathered at the end of the street, spilling into the road and blocking traffic. “Some kind of holiday parade?”
“Um, not exactly,” Jackie said, her voice a little less cheery than usual.
“It looks like some kind of protest,” Brady commented as we got close enough to read some of the signs being waved by the protesters.
SAVE OUR MOUNTAIN . . .
PEOPLE OVER PROFITS . . .
THERE IS NO PLANET B . . .
STOP THE PIPELINE . . .
OIL SPILLS KILL . . . This last one had drawings of dead fish with Xs for eyes and a kitchen sink with a poison symbol dripping out of it.
Traffic had come to a halt and people were honking. Some of them gave thumbs-up to show their support for the protesters. Others screamed out their windows for the people to get out of the way.
Protesters weren’t the only people gathering along Main Street, though. A row of police officers in full
riot gear were lined up on the other side of the street, guarding the Prospect town hall. More officers were escorting a group of men and women in a mixture of business attire and ski wear out of the building and shielding them from jeering protesters.
At least one of the men didn’t look like he needed the extra protection, though. He had on a perfectly tailored pin-striped designer overcoat that was a lot more Wall Street than Main Street. The expensive coat was accessorized by a silk scarf—and two hulking bodyguards of his own.
Most of the others exiting the building looked less conspicuous, including one man I recognized from his picture as Montana state representative Grant Alexander, aka Archie’s real estate partner and co-owner of the Big Sky Lodge.
Carol had her phone out and was eagerly snapping pictures through the window, a sly smile on her face. “Looks like trouble in paradise to me.”