Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Highs and Lows

I have right now a dreadful cold or flu that's knocked me out--high temperature, joints aching, cough, and so on. It will go, but it can't wipe out the experience of skiing for the first time as I did last week. The cold is the low but the skiing is one of the most exhilarating highs I've ever known.

It all started when a group of friends talked about skiing, something which I have never wanted to do. I prefer to be in the warm and, if it involves equipment, scuba diving in the Caribbean. One of the group liked to ski and very casually suggested we should go one winter. The dinner had been long and the wine drunk. A sussuration of assents was heard.

At the beginning of December it started to become real. Possible locations were scouted, dates mooted, flights examined and it was no longer fantasy but real. We chose Andorra in the Pyrenees--mountains, snow, and duty free. Time now compresses and it's mid-January and five of us are in Soldeu girding our loins for our first skiing.

Of the five, two are experienced skiers. We three who are absolute beginners are wondering what we have let ourselves in for. Early in the morning we head to the ski rental shop for boots, skis and poles. I give my size and a pair of Robocop's shoes are thrust my way. I gaze in awe, but what exactly do I do with them? I poke in a toe and it's lost in the blackness. I can't get any more of my foot in; I must have the wrong size. Just as I call out, a stranger comes over and passes his hand magically over the boot and it opens for me and my foot disappears. The first hurdle is over.

I move to the skis. The attendant asks if I've skied before and I say never. His eyebrows rise, "never?" "Ever!" I reply. He sighs and adjusts the skis. I am equipped. Now I look like a skier, but I don't feel like one, except for my feet in their Robocop boots. My walk is almost as good as his. I'm clumping on air.

Next it's the gondola, which doesn't stop at all. I have to hurl my skis into a slot just wide enough to take them--this is harder than at the fair when shooting ducks--and leap on. Take that last phrase poetically. I never saw Robocop leap, nor did I. I scramble on. I scramble off and as we leave the gondola station before us is the harsh, white reality of lots and lots of snow.

We agreed we three would stick together with lessons just for us. We are assigned Mandy who is "great with beginners". For two hours a day she will lead us to the slopes. On the last day her husband, Elvis (he performs at the Aspen Bar on Wednesday nights and very good too) would take care of us.

Unfortunately, Mandy had been assigned to another slope so Dave was substituted at the last moment--a no-nonsense Yorkshireman. He took us up a slope, approximately 5 degrees off the flat, so almost flat, and told us to ski down with a right hand turn. Fear clenched my guts as I so slowly drifted down this hardly perceptible incline. I was a wimp. [More to come...]
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