A Look At Life: Skiing

14th March 2014

Going Off Piste…

Heather Harris

At the age of 50 I’ve mastered most things, except swimming butterfly, applying eyeliner, decoding sudoku – and skiing. The first three I can accept, but my ineptitude on skis… that’s different.

I run marathons, after all; have no fear of heights and have a balancing ability that would make a flamingo blush. But for some reason the ability to get down a mountain from A to B on a pair of wooden planks just seems a step too far.

‘Step’ is the operative word: that’s what I do. Even inside Hertfordshire’s very own Alpine resort in downtown Hemel Hempstead, I walk gingerly across the artificial snow lifting each leg parallel to the ground.

Encouraging shouts of ‘glide’ and ‘relax’ from a succession of ever patient instructors (and the sum I’ve paid for private lessons equals a daily trip to Klosters and back by private jet) fall on deaf – and very chilly – ears.

And I hate it.

Everything from the kit (which takes longer to put on than the average spacesuit) to the sheer hard work makes the term skiing ‘holiday’ a bigger oxymoron than ‘fun’ run. Not to mention the cost. Can anyone explain why a ‘lift pass’ (allowing the buyer to swing precariously thousands of feet in the air in a cable car or to sit on a small piece of steel to be dragged skyward) costs the arm and leg that you are likely to break during your trip?

My usual philosophy is ‘If at first you don’t succeed… do something you might be good at’. I jettisoned golf and cooking easily enough but skiing has a certain parental guilt attached. There’s nothing like the pull of the apron strings to get you out of your comfort zone and into your salopettes. You see, my kids and husband all love it. Before the first snowdrop appears, they’re polishing off their goggles and talking black runs and red runs, when all I want to do is run – as far away as possible from the latest ski brochure.

I could, of course, just stay at home, a suggestion they’ve all made at various times as I trudge off every morning with the under eights for my ski lesson and they head ‘off piste’. The problem is that it’s the only holiday we still do as a ‘family’.
Even my offer to pay for a fortnight in the sun (yes, that’s bribery) will not lure teens to a quiet villa in Spain, but the whiff of a free ski pass has them rushing home from college faster than an Olympic bobsleigh team.

And everybody else can do it. Each year 1.2 million Britons go on skiing holidays and despite the recession the market isn’t going downhill fast. Come November social gatherings, the subject automatically slides headlong onto favourite winter and spring resorts. Friends who shun exercise for 11 months of the year and balk at walking from an overflow car park suddenly develop quads of steel and the strength of a Yeti when placed at the top of a mountain.

As I snowplough – knee caps touching, teeth clenched – on the nursery slope, praying the gradient won’t go off horizontal, they speed effortlessly past. They even smile.

Meanwhile I’m being once again dug out of the snow by a group of small children who ski better than they walk – and I believe that’s the answer. Start young and it comes naturally; wait until you hit the age of reason and the brain takes over. The comparative sizes of me, the surface area of the skis and the lack of brakes just don’t add up.

Just as horses and dogs can smell fear, so can the mountain. It knows I can’t do it, so it trips me up. And then I get cold. My family all come home with the smug, panda-eyed tans of the natural skier; I have the red nose and chapped lips of the average tramp.

But perhaps this year the Winter Olympics have come to my rescue. Like a St Bernard dog with a barrel of brandy, they have offered hope. Glued to the coverage, marvelling that housework on ice (curling) could have netted Team GB two medals, I was transfixed by the Skeleton. Any sport that has me lying flat on my face on the ice to start with and provides sides to stop me careering into the nearest ravine makes far more sense than skiing. And 51 is the perfect age to begin.

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