25 Shades of White – Ski-ing for the more mature, experienced woman…….
It had been some time since I had last skied. Over 30 years in fact. My ski initiation ceremony was at the tender age of 11 followed by a ski baptism aged12 both experiences on school trips to Zermatt. For 3 decades, I assumed I would never ski again.
This was partly because I spent most of those years bringing up a family and the expense of a ski trip for all of us was prohibitive but also, to be honest, because of the snob factor. I loathed and detested the whole “apres-ski-yahoo-boo-sucks-what-colour-culottes-is everyone-wearing–dahling?” thing that I occasionally came across in my then social life and had absolutely no interest in being part of that set.
However, life in Bavaria had seriously re awakened my interest. Everyone, it seemed, was doing it. Just ordinary families would pop their equipment in the back of the car and head down to the mountains for the day. No flights necessary. No expensive hotels. No fancy outfits. No faffing around afterwards posing. Just lots of fun, lots of snow and enjoyment of the activity itself and of the mountain air.
I had accidentally checked out some resorts whilst on trips to other places and many of them seemed as unpretentious as it was possible to be.
I was pleasantly surprised on year, for example to see the local Bechtesgarden bus crammed with adults and children alike, off to have a good time. It was only a matter of time before I really started to long to try skiing again – my memories of it were so good. But with my increasing fervour also came fear – how would my body cope physically after all this time? Where would I get the equipment from? how would I actually set about getting myself plus equipment onto a slope? Surely my ambitions were impossible?
January – 2014
The adventure really began last week with the purchase of clothes.Walking into sports and outward bound gear type shops traditionally brings me out in a rash. I may know what I want but rarely do I ever get it, so intimidated am I by the staff who invariably patronize and sneer……” Walking trousers in a LARGE size Madam? Well we have them in the men’s range…….”
So much so that my last major purchase of outdoor clothes was well over 10 years ago and both fleece, trousers and shell are indeed, made for men.
Having psyched myself up for a new ski outfit I headed to a shop in Freising (no way was I going to a big department store in town) and was accompanied on my quest by the lovely Charlotte who acted as my guide. No hanging about, she dived straight for the right size, shape and colour while I accosted the shop guy.
With this double whammy approach, after some shoving and squeezing, huffing and wheezing I got myself a natty little outfit which apparently is THE name in ski wear (like I’d know what that is) at a 20% discount. Not only that but it’s actually made for women! For the first time in my life I have bought hardy, waterproof and wind resistant gear that hugs my curvy bits! No more shapeless blobbing on the mountains for me!
Thus armed, we made our way to Warth in Austria. Actually, to be precise, we were picked up directly from work by Lisa who, after ensuring we were comfortably seated, plied us with prosecco and smoked salmon sandwiches in the back seat of the car. “ I know my customers!” she exclaimed as we woofed our way through half a side of salmon (well – I woofed my way through it: Charlotte nibbled round the edges).
Lisa, a good friend and ex colleague, was using us as guinea pigs this weekend. She has gone freelance and was in the process of setting up a new wing to her outdoor activities business, ‘Girls Ski Too’ for women just like Charlotte and I: that is to say, in Charlotte’s case, an experienced skier who had not skied for 15 years and in my case, a virtual novice. We were both keen to ski again but under confident as to how to go about it. Lisa wanted to try out her idea for tailor made tours for women only that included a wellness element. Well – we were only too happy to oblige!!
Our first full day began at the ski equipment rental shop.
This was a completely new world for me. After being measured, weighed and generally manhandled we left the shop with all the trimmings and headed for ski school.I began with 4 hours of 1 to 1 tuition with Rene, a very patient and encouraging ski instructor. You can imagine I had had every kind of apprehension about how these first lessons would go.
Would I be able to stand on the skis at all or, like the cross-country attempt last year, would I be flat on my back for the entire week-end? Would my knees hold out? what about the rest of my body? would my new outfit actually work for me or pull in the wrong places? did I have enough pockets?! Was I completely insane to be trying this again after all this time?
After I had (eventually) worked out how to get the skis on, I began moving very cautiously, hardly at all. I found that I could stand upright on the skis and it felt ok. Wooppee! moved a bit more….hey, still standing. Followed Rene on a little path on the nursery slopes and there was a curve in the bend.
Before I knew what I was doing I had automatically gone into a snow plough and turned to the left to stop next to him. Elation.
Where had that come from? He then put me through my paces and I rose to every challenge moving to the more ‘advanced’ nursery slope for turns to the right and left with snow plough challenges as we went. I got on the drag lift and was pulled up – again and again and again. Not one fall. My balance was totally there and it all felt very natural and instinctive. He took me to a steeper bit to practice slides. This wasn’t as successful but by then it was time to stop for lunch. I sat down, completely exhilarated and drained. The adrenalin finally washing out of me.After lunch, time for my first attempt at a blue run on the grown up slopes. This was altogether trickier.
First the chair lift – nervy to say the least. I got off it ok but then went flying off, a tad out of control. Suddenly there were other skiers schwi-shing by me at top speeds and I panicked a bit. Mostly 5 year olds with no sticks!! I followed Rene across the slope but it was all wrong. Suddenly I was worrying about rights and lefts, slides and angles, lean forwards lean back, goggles or no goggles- whoosh! – what was that! Before I knew it I was straddling the slope like some un co-ordinated baby giraffe. My first fall, it was a bit of a shock. Rene insisted I should stop thinking and just “Be in the moment”. Well! there was a concept I could relate to! so up I eventually got and carried on. This went on for a little while and then, completely exhausted I asked Rene to bring our afternoon session to an end a little early.
When I got back to the hotel I had a swim, a sauna and then a massage. I’m not going to tell you anything about that 45 minute massage – just close your eyes and imagine…….
After a lovely dinner in great company (and with a whole pile of cheese in a pram) we made plans for the next day.
In my profession of choice, the phrase ‘break a leg’ is offered by way of wishing each other good luck, prior to a performance. Clearly, this would not have been appropriate for Day 2 as I contemplated actually skiing down a mountain!
I spend all week trying to build confidence in students to a point where they can trust their bodies and take the risk to ‘be in the moment’ on stage and performing in front of others. Now it was my turn and although I wanted to get out there and do it, there was still that little nagging voice of self doubt in the back of my head. This is where Lisa really comes into her own. Her many skills include knowing precisely when to encourage and praise and when to challenge. After we had kitted ourselves out in the shop with helmets (and the sight of Charlotte lumbering towards me like some kind of well dressed Frankenstein will live long in the memory!) we set off à trois, for our mountain tour.
Up in the lift, the weather was perfect and I had to gasp at the utter breathtaking beauty of the sunshine on the snow covered mountains. Just stunning. I barely remember going down that first blue run because I swear, I was in some kind of state of euphoria. Up again for another run.
Then a bit of a challenge as the next blue run had a bit of red thrown in for good measure. I guess you could say it was purple! My first really steep slope and I froze. Back to panic zone. I confess I was scared. Lisa talked me through every single move and somehow I got to the bottom of that slope. Then – and this was extraordinary – pointing to another slope that led to the hut – Lisa very calmly said, “Now Sarah, you need to pick up some speed here because it goes up on the other side. Don’t think about falling just go for it and keep the skis straight”. I did what she said and it was phenomenal.
Utterly exhilarating. Hut visit over, we had to go off piste for a while to get to the next slope. Not so cool and yes I did fall off the side of the mountain. Never mind! I managed to hang on to a tree to pull myself up!
A little further on and I had another monster to negotiate – a slope covered in ice. I did it though. Eventually.
Once more encouraged by Lisa. Back on a lift we were able to see just how bad conditions were (so I was told). Still lots of grassy patches, brown bits of snow and patches of ice. Then back at the top of the mountain, it was time to come down the other side. This was a mixture of sensational sections of skiing with, apparently the whole universe open to me and some more tough challenges. My confidence to cope with these challenges had increased, helped by not a little determination and by my friend Bono singing in my head,
“It’s not a hill it’s a mountain, when you start out the climb”…… (remember that tune?) I didn’t even think about my muscles or my bones or anything other than talking myself through the moves and focusing on getting down that mountain. Somehow I made it down after 4 hours of ski-ing!
Today there are not that many aches or pains and I find this extraordinary and not a little overwhelming. All day, I’ve been asking myself how is it possible to be able to return to doing something like skiing after so long? The only answer I can find is that way back in 1976 I was taught well as a child, and had an awesome experience that has stayed in my mind. What a phenomenal thing the human mind (and body) is. Like learning to ride a bike…..you never quite forget. But it could be much more simple than that. As Lisa said, “Sarah – you’re just in a good place right now”.
It’s not a hill it’s a mountain
As you start out the climb
Do you believe me or are you doubting?
We’re gonna make it all the way to the light
But I know I’ll go crazy if I don’t go crazy tonight
From: I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
(U2 from ‘No Line on the Horizon’)