It’s time to shove my poor feet into these heavy instruments of torture, clip them to flattened sticks and slide down a mountain. We are skiing again. I never dreamed as a child that I would grow up to be one of those people like pretentious Margot and browbeaten Jerry in the Good Life who went skiing. And wasn’t the skiing holiday just a shorthand way of describing the propensity of people with much more money than sense to ruin an otherwise perfectly nice mountain holiday by breaking a leg and having to walk on crutches for months on their return? Hilair.
There is always a day during the skiing holiday when someone is ill. It’s a sudden cold or a 24 hour bug but this time the Boywonder has picked up a tummy bug (or maybe it was nevous panic at the thought of his impending exams) and Miss DD has one of her dizzy spells but managed somehow to ski down the mountain before it became completely debilitating. We managed just under two hours’ skiing today and have had to write off the afternoon’s skiing. So I’m sitting here this afternoon in our suite apartment, looking out over the town square with this view, the friendly Moose and his minder, greeting passers-by in his inimitable Canadian manner.
Imagine my trepidation when, ten years ago just as Britain and the US invaded Iraq to seek out those pesky weapons of mass destruction pointed at us, I found myself on my first ever skiing “holiday” in Killington, Vermont having what amounted to individual tuition with a huge bear in a large ski helmet. I can only remember him by his nickname, Balloonhead, now but I think his name was Keith. I say holiday but lessons with Ballonhead for five of the six days were as tough as bootcamp and although I did learn the basics of skiing, I’m not sure I retained much except memories of ski boot-related pain and the vast amount of bruises and jars to my shoulders and hips after many and varied falls, some of which were quite spectacular. Of course I’m a lot fitter now than I was then.
Two years later was our first trip to Tremblant and the first time we put our children in ski school for the whole week. I have seen and heard lots of people describing it as a perfect holiday break where the little ones are cared for all day while the adults can go off and do as they please, meeting up only in the evening. I must say it upset me. It’s not my idea of a family holiday but the result after a week at the Tremblant ski school was two children who had become competent skiers with a lifetime love of the outdoors and fresh, clean air and sliding about on mountains. It was worth it but I now watch parents of small children on skiing holidays with such admiration. How on earth did we cope with a 5 year old and an 8 year old, dressing them up in so many layers of clothing, smoothing out wrinkled socks in their tight-enough ski boots, carrying their skis and their poles as well as ours, making sure they had their helmets and sun cream and getting them into ski school for 9am after a sleepless, jet-lag filled night? Nonetheless that trip made me think there was at least a possibility of one day starting to like skiing and I looked forward to our next ski trip.
Which was to Obergurgl, in Austria. Oh yes. Suited, booted I made my way up with the family to the top of the mountain on the first day, took one look at the piste and said “I’m not skiing down there.” Unhappily I tried the first little bit, had no idea how to tackle it and took off my skis. Eventually, sobbing, I walked back up to the ski lift and then took a different cabin down to the mountain. It’s a lonely old journey, that. No-one goes DOWN the mountain in a gondola cabin unless they are ill or a total loser. I found myself on the wrong side of the mountain and had to walk back up the hill, skis in hand for about three quarters of a mile to the hotel. I didn’t know that the rest of the family was having a nightmare of similar proportions involving lost children, lost poles and second-guessing strange Germans who took pity on them and skied down with the tinies between their legs. It was then that we decided it would be a good idea to start a ski holiday with a proper ski lesson from a proper teacher. Preferably on the first day, a point brought home to me the following year when I lost my nerve even on the nursery slope.
Now, Obergurgl is a traditional Alpine resort with pistes that are quite narrow in places. The final push down to the village is steep and I have skied down it only once without falling. And when you fall over on a steep slope, it’s really difficult to recuperate your skis and fix them them back onto your boots against the pull of gravity, especially with umpteen English Rah women in this season’s fur-trimmed Moncler jackets swishing close past you, sneering, scolding loudly and nasally, “You can’t stop THERE.” As a holiday, it’s not stress-free for those of us who ski like Lara Croft only in our heads. Nevertheless, I’ve even tried, and survived, some of the easier reds up at Obergurgl, high up above the tree line where the ice on the stark, bald piste rasps underneath the skis and you get the sense that one false move and you’ll tumble down and down for miles into the Ötz valley.
This year, after a three-year absence from skiing, we’ve returned to Tremblant. We’re not in the same plush hotel, though it’s all perfectly adequate, but the village has hardly changed in eight years. I do enjoy it here. I like slipping from English to French and back again when I find the Québecois accent a little too strong. The pistes are wider and a lot less steep than the Alps for people like me and not full of braying English people. We’ve found a quaint little coffee shop and last night went for a Japanese meal.
I’m not great with speed or slopes so you’d think skiing wasn’t at all for me. But still I push myself, the worst and slowest skier in the family, in the faint hope that one day I’ll be able to keep up with the rest of them without making them stop, that my turns will be fewer and much more S shaped than hairpin-like, that I’ll one day actually start to look cool. Every morning the ride up to the top of the mountain fills me with dread, and it takes me a good hour to get into my slide and start enjoying myself. Naturally fairly risk averse, it’s difficult to learn at 38 years old and know that you’ll inevitably be the worst skier in the family, but that if you have an accident the whole family will do nothing for months.
It’s great seeing views like this in the morning but I’m not keen on early morning grinding ice. I like the way the slightly slushier afternoon snow makes a plouff sound under my skis and swishes away through the trees on the lower reaches past houses and tastefully-appointed apartments, over a road bridge, through a tunnel. I do enjoy it, really, I do. Today’s enforced afternoon off has brought frustration rather than relief. I just wish I were a bit better at it, that’s all.