The most obvious winter sport for me to have tried (apart from hockey and ice-fishing) would have to be skiing. Not the cross-country type, which involves gliding gracefully along beautifully manicured tracks. No, I’m talking terrifying, eye-watering, hair-raising downhill (skiing) …
I have skied once before – as an 18-year-old exchange student, when I was living in Belgium in the 1980s. A group of us hired a bus and travelled all the way across Germany to Holzgau, Austria for three days.
Honestly, I don’t remember much skiing taking place. What I do remember is night-time sledding, followed by plenty of gluhwein. The weather was foul most of the time we were there and we managed to get onto the slopes only once – most of us being the laughing-stock of our Canadian and Scandinavian friends, who were excellent skiers.
But I digress.
Back to Canuckistan. On the opening day of the ski season, some of the church’s youth invited me to go along to our local resort an hour from town – primarily because they needed a ride. Still nursing a throbbing wrist, from my hockey mishap the previous weekend, I was planning on sitting in the lodge all day with a good book and steady supply of hot drinks. But as soon as I saw the slopes, and all the smiling, excited ski-folk, that plan high-tailed it straight out of the door and up the bunny slope.
A couple of runs down said bunny slope had my confidence racing. “I can do anything,” I thought to myself. But it turns out the slopes and snow-ploughing were not the only things I had to master. Enter the dreaded T-bar lift – the system for transporting pairs of skiers and snowboarders uphill. Interestingly enough, the French name for it is “Pioche”, which translates to “pick-axe” in English. Which is most appropriate because the apparatus is as comfortable and easy to ride as an actual pick-axe would be. On my first attempt I smacked my T-bar buddy across the ear with my ski poles in a desperate attempt to jam the bar securely behind my derrière. My dismount was as disastrous as I panicked, skidded wildly off to the side and then fell flat on my back, smacking my partner in the head with my skis. But she survived, albeit with a few bruises.
Our first run down the mountain was reasonably uneventful and pleasant, and she forgave me my previous T-bar indiscretions, agreeing to go up to an even higher slope for our second run. This time I was the epitome of grace and poise as I mounted the disagreeable bar. “Well done,” she assured me. “But now, whatever you do, don’t fall, or we’ll have to walk the rest of the way up. This thing can be tricky!”
“Pffffffff,” I thought to myself, gripping the bar even tighter, “Me, fall? How rude!” And then I did. A few hundred metres from the summit my left ski developed a terrible wobble, which transferred itself up my left ankle, through the knee, thigh, and left buttock, to the taut right buttock, down my petrified right leg and, finally, into my mutinous right ski.
“I’m going to fa …” I shrieked, before hitting the ground in a puff of powder. Desperately, I tried to hold onto the bar, which dragged me inelegantly a few more metres before breaking free from my grip. Looking back I saw my partner glaring up at me from where she’d been deposited. We trudged the rest of the way, she muttering that she was finding a new T-bar buddy.
But that wasn’t the end of our adventure. We did a few small slopes – where I fell only a dozen or so times – once to much applause from some onlookers. Then we climbed higher on yet another T-bar to do a series of slopes from the very top … Swish, turn, glide, (etc.) we descended at pace to a point where the teens decided to do a short “powder” run through the trees.
“This is pretty hard,” one of them told me. “You don’t have to do it …”
“Ah, no problem, I’ve got this,” I assured myself (imprudently, it turns out.) “Wheeeeeeeeeee!” I launched down the slope, as the others zoomed out ahead. And kablooey, I belly-flopped into the powder a few seconds later. Deep. So deep that I had to dig my skis out. So deep that I couldn’t stand; couldn’t crawl. At one point I deliriously half-prayed for a St. Bernard to bound through the snow to my rescue, or for someone to toss me a life ring from the secure ground above. But the closest I came to any help was the few people who skied by, smiled, shouted an “are you okay?” over their shoulders and zipped out of sight before I could gasp an answer.
After what seemed like an eternity leopard-crawling out, and having coughed up half a lung, I finally flopped exhausted onto the harder snow. After a further eternity to clear the snow from my boots and skis, and get them reattached, I skied down the easier run wobbly-legged, as if in a coma. Amazingly, my T-bar buddy had waited for me a few hundred metres on – forgiving angel that she is. Somehow she coaxed me down to the lodge, where I dried out, caught my breath and steadied myself for a few more assaults on the slopes that afternoon.
We skied in freezing, blizzard-like conditions at times and I fell more than I can remember (although never on the T-bar again) but I had a blast. If there had been a T-shirt for everyone who made it to the end of the day, I would have it. In fact, I would have demanded two!
You can call me a useless skier, you can call me a stubborn old mule, but never call me no quitter, eh! Got that?