On Tuesday I had my second skiing lesson with Andre. This time it was up Vogel, that mountain 10 minutes away that is reached by means of a cable car. It was a day of blue sky and crowds.
Frank and Sally came along for an outing up the mountain, which means that I have some photos of the event. I was excited and somewhat nervous. Vogel is magnificent and my skiing isn't. I was worried I'd ruin its perfection by being, well, an old Englishman on skis (you know the type -- bent over, skis apart, a fixed grin, ungainly). I really want to be able to ski, just so I can go there and absorb some of the attractive essence that wafts from its patrons.
Andre is a man who doesn't muck about. He dispensed with the beginner slope to take me first down a small cliff, and then onto my first encounter with a chair lift. Seriously, everything is hard with skis on. Standing still is hard. Holding a conversation is hard because, without malice or forward planning, you simply begin to drift away from the person talking to you. One seems quite rude when wearing skis.
Considering the ludicrous complications that mount up when trying to achieve anything at all, I found myself in a queue of people four abreast moving slowly toward turnstiles and little flappy barrier things. Andre urged me forward for fear of being trampled to death and the more he urged the more I seemed to unwittingly travel backwards or sideways. "No no Peter, this way!" he would shout, as if I had made a conscious decision to slide sideways into perfect strangers.
Beyond the little flappy things, four of us stood waiting for a chair to come round the corner and smack us in the back of the legs. Of course, three of these people were standing in a nice straight line, poised, watching for the unstoppable furniture, while one person (me) was three feet behind trying valiantly to ski up a small slope toward them. "Hurry Peter, Hurry!" It's quite hard to hurry up hill on skis.
I just made it as the wide blue moving chair of destiny scooped us up and carried us off toward my first serious skiing event. The chair dangles you high above the snow, highest as it goes over the towers. After a few minutes the still warmth of the lower snow became a cold and windy waste, the view becoming so incredible that I completely forgot where I was. The day before, when I had booked the lesson from Alinka, I had bought some snow goggles. I thought they were overkill until I found myself being carried further and further into a scene from Scott of the Antarctic. Up there, the snow is dangerous, deep, and everywhere. I felt insignificant. I went to ski but I discovered something far more. I was being carried into a completely different world. Andre wrapped his coat around his face and had to shout above the wind.
Over the hump of the mountain ridge the chair descends slightly to a station and with Andre's instruction, I had to stand and ski away, using the chair's momentum to drive me away and toward a flat plain of snow. I did it badly, but with a little help I was out on the snow.
It was now a one kilometre slide back down the mountain. So far the longest I had skied was down a couple of short slopes. This was far more than I was expecting for my second lesson.
This route undulates, mixing fairly flat shelves that lead to steeper sections. Andre nursed me down and I fell once. When we reached the bottom, my feeling of achievement went far beyond the quality of my skiing. I wanted to go tell Frank and Sally, but we immediately did it all over again. This time I didn't fall.
I skied that slope three times before I was too tired to carry on. By the end I was hooked. I asked Andre where I should go when I return on my own and he said I should ski that slope. So that is what I'll do. Next week I am going to set myself the challenge of making my way to Vogel on my own, to ride the cable car to the top, have a little practice, then, alone, I'll go to the top in a dangling blue chair and slide back down. If I can do that, I'll feel pretty good.
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