I was 34 when I had my first tentative skiing lesson (aged 9 or 10 on this snap!). As a child, once we’d moved to Switzerland, my mother dutifully kitted me out in second-hand gear so I could try it out, but the infernally uncomfortable, vice-like grip of the boots and my flailing attempts to climb a small slope and slide down it again just didn’t seem worth it and so, I never learned. When a young teen, I took up cross-country skiing with my parents and enjoyed its more leisurely pace and the company of the family dog, though I also loved the downhill bits…
So, back to the ski lesson. Never particularly slim or sporty, though fairly flexible and agile, I was full of trepidation as I stepped into the bindings for the first time. The fact that my ski teacher had only one arm was only slightly perturbing – either he was an absolute crack skier to manage it, or it was going to be laughably easy for me with two healthy arms. Another more mature lady and I were sent off to a small slope away from the main runs to practice our “snowplough” and before we knew it, we were being whisked off to the chair lift for our first “blue” run (supposedly the easiest slopes…). At first it all seemed impossible, then became controllable and eventually, pleasure and appreciation began to kick in. And then the single week’s ski holiday was over (with many other highlights, I hasten to add!).
…why yes, I did knit the hat!
It was another 5 years before we got our act together enough for a renewed attempt at a ski week, always a logistically demanding exercise, with one child here, another there, ski school and snowboarding club, coordination of time and place and so on. I had another lesson – with Max, this time, who was somewhere between 70 and 80 and who had obviously been on skis for an equal length of time, his tanned, lined face a reflection of a well-skied piste! He refined my style a little, gave me tips on balance and had me performing impressive, snow-spraying stops – I felt like a pro! From then on, I have winged it (sometimes literally!) and found huge enjoyment in swishing down the slopes, mostly with my husband, sometimes accompanied by a skiing or snowboarding daughter or two (or three) and I even proudly more or less managed to keep up when out with my two fearless sons-in-law, albeit only for a couple of runs. My brother-in-law has joined us on occasion, too, which just goes to show what a family affair this whole thing has become. Unquestionably, it’s part of the attraction to have those we love able to join in and have fun together, even when all horizontal space in the holiday flat is taken up with sleeping bags, ski clothing, boots and dogs: real bonding time.
What struck me particularly this year when I stepped off the chair lift onto the sparkling mountainside, a pure blue sky above and blinding white slopes all around me, was how clever our brains and bodies are. For the 10th time, we are having a ski holiday, just one or two weeks a year when we ski, and I am no longer a very young woman. And yet, I didn’t have to think for a moment about where to put my feet, how to balance, which moves are required, whether a twist of the hip or a bend of the knee will achieve the desired result – my brain simply kicked into “ski mode” and sent me curving relatively gracefully down the run, the same blue run of my first attempts, the same blue run we greet joyfully each year, the same blue run that has steep bits and gentler sections, narrower and wider portions and the same blue run with the mighty panorama view of Alps as far as the eye can see.
There are plenty of other runs in this ski arena, neither one of the smallest nor one of the largest in Switzerland. A couple of long blue runs, wide as motorways, sweeping around enormous boulders, glittering in the sunshine and inviting for gentle skiing and boarding at all levels. Quite a few red runs with steeper slopes, bumpier bits or long narrow parts threading along snow fields that require some speed, for the more active skiers or for braver days. I leave the black runs to those who either have no sense of danger or who have been doing this since before they could think (even if many of them look surprisingly mature to be on skis at all!)… though I did once end up on one by accident and was immensely proud of myself to get down it at all and without breaking anything! On all of them, even the blue runs, there have been moments of anguish and terror, deep breaths and eye-squeezing, but as time has passed, I have overcome most of them and sometimes now smile to myself as I swoop easily down through a cut I once struggled with, sliding or tumbling painfully on my behind, unable to cope with the verticality of it all. Gravity always applies.
It’s a huge privilege to have the health and wealth (comparative!) to be able to do this. That feeling of privilege extends to the luxury of being able to enjoy a geographically beautiful area from a special point-of-view, to bathe in bright sunlight in January, have a sense of freedom high above the rest of the world, but also to wander through snow-covered woods, admire icy streams and sculptures, feel the sparkling cold, experience the glittering diamond snows and yet feel the power of nature in a snowstorm, hear an avalanche go down, the sensation of being entirely alone on a foggy ski run, wrapped up to the icy eyeballs and beyond in protective gear and the incredibly relaxing hour in the spa afterwards! Not to mention the breathtaking sight of the outlined mountains as that same blazing sun sets behind them, putting the cragginess into intensive relief against the deepening blue sky.
Next year, then.